By Victor Young, LAGOS
As Nigerian workers today join their counterparts globally to mark International Workers’ Day, commonly known as May Day, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has described the last year as terrible and excruciating for workers and other Nigerians.
This came as workers in the petroleum, electricity, maritime, manufacturing and other sectors, decried the present level of misery, poverty and hopelessness across the country.
They urged the incoming government to address the worsening poverty, insecurity, unemployment, inflation, high cost of living and frustration in the nation.
‘It’s been tortuous’
Speaking with Vanguard on the conditions of workers in the last year, NLC General Secretary, Emma Ugboaja, said: “The last one year has been torturous for Nigerians, especially workers in every sector.
‘’Tertiary education has been severely fractured, the manufacturing sector has been comatose as energy supply, layoffs and high cost of doing business have characterized the sector.
‘’There was no growth due to the inability of operators to access foreign exchange to buy raw materials, spare parts and other necessities. This impacted negatively on the workers, stagnated wages and worsened unemployment and poverty in all sectors.
“Road transportation was among the worst hit because the supply of petroleum products was disrupted in most parts of the year to the extent that besides the scarcity, the prices were prohibited and unaffordable.
“The health sector has remained in a sorry state. Government officials are comfortable driving government vehicles, they are comfortable living in government houses and among others, but uncomfortable going to government hospitals. It has been terrible.
‘’The cost of living has been criminally high, unemployment, poverty and insecurity of life and property are just beyond description. The last year was really bad.”
On expectations of the incoming government, the NLC scribe declared: “We expect the struggle for the rights and welfare of workers to be more intense because when President Buhari made a famous quote in the earlier part of his eight years regime to say he wondered how state governors went to beds and slept knowing that workers were being owed huge arrears of salaries, he was speaking directly to the pains and feelings of workers.
“He had also in appreciation of the torture and agony the working people and their families were going through as a result of his inability to manage the refining capacity and fuel supply in Nigeria, resisted the pressure from cosmetic economists that see everything wrong in discussing production.
‘’He had resisted their pressures to continuously increase the fuel pump price, knowing that they were urging him to set the nation on fire.
‘’However, we have a President-elect whose direct voice said the opposite, even in his campaign. His own direct voice said he was going to deal with the issue of managing the downstream sector pressure, not minding the level of protest and anger that will be borne out of it. That clearly shows you a direction of his insensitivity.
“It is not like Buhari who denied every word that was spoken to convince Nigerians to vote for him and the storyline we got was that it was never said by him, but by his supporters and party.
‘’In this case, it was a direct quote from Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the direction he would pursue regarding the mainstream of the Nigerian economy, which is fuel management.
“You know that effort to refine in Nigeria cannot cause an uproar, but set up of refineries in Nigeria will cause jubilation. It will be a spontaneous scream for joy if Nigerian refining capacity is restored.
‘’What will present an outrage and force people into the streets will be an astronomical rise in the cost of petroleum products. So, we are waiting with bated breath to know what will happen.
“In fact, this might be the first time we will be wishing that a politician will not honour his campaign promise. It is an irony and cruel joke. But it might be one time in Nigeria that electorate will be praying that a politician does not honour his campaign statement.
“Whatever that comes, we are prepared to face the challenges because we have no other country but Nigeria. But for workers, there won’t be Nigeria. When our leaders rush to spend holidays in other countries, the workers are the ones that keep the country going.
“When they rush to spend time in hospital beds outside the country, Nigerian workers keep the country going. We do not have the luxury to do what they do. They spend their holidays outside the country to the detriment of our economy.
“They pursue their health status outside the country to the detriment of our economy. They pursue the education and training of their children and family members outside the country to the detriment of our economy.
“So, the workers are the ones that keep the Nigerian economy going. We are Nigerians and it is us that would continue to cry and struggle to keep our country because we do not have any other place.
“They have dual nationalities and they have homes all over the globe. We are here, it is our life and we are not going to lay back and get crushed. We are down but we are not out. He that is down needs fear no fall. We will keep crawling, struggling and pushing to get on our feet.”
On his part, President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum Workers, NUPENG, Prince Williams Akporeha, said: “The last one year has been traumatic and frustrating for workers in the oil and gas sector.
“The working conditions have continued to worsen and workers are going through what can be best described as modern-day slavery. The rate of casualisation, outsourcing and contract staffing of workers is very alarming.
“Every day, the job security of workers is being threatened with one form of a precarious employment policy or another. Full employment of workers is disappearing like the wind, while non-pensionable employment policies with unbearable working conditions have become the order of the day.
“It is unbelievable that workers in the sector are paid between N70,000 and N100,000 monthly. We cannot continue like this.
“We call on the incoming government to be more assertive on the welfare of Nigerian workers in the oil and gas industry. The incoming government should eradicate slavery employment policies that dehumanise Nigerians in their fatherland.
“It is also important for the incoming government to deal with the Japa syndrome by creating gainful employment opportunities for the youths and providing basic social amenities, social security, stable power supply, security of life and property, quality and affordable healthcare services, among others.”
Similarly, President of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Martins Uzoegwu, said: “Nigeria more than before, has been bedeviled with a lot of challenges which would have crippled lesser breeds of people.
“We are facing serious economic, social and political challenges. These challenges added to the specific challenges (economic challenges manifesting in arbitrary sack, non-negotiation of conditions of service, stagnation of salary, lack of promotion, insecurity, unconducive working environment, casual/contract appointments, poor salaries and other conditions of service amongst others) faced by Nigerian workers make it very daunting to continue to provide excellent services.
“However, it is, indeed, worthy of recognition to appreciate all Nigerian workers. We salute the courage and doggedness of the hardworking employees in the power sector who continuously provide excellent service amid these challenges and notwithstanding the lack of adequate infrastructure to discharge their duties.
“Nigerian workers can no longer offer their labour to slave drivers whose only interest is profit maximization and capital mobility. The leadership of the congress and the union has identified and isolated this issue as a major advocacy concern and we can tell you that our strident struggle will soon translate to major legislative wins.”
In the same vein, the President-General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, Prince Adewale Adeyanju, said workers in the sector had continued to battle the refusal of the international oil companies, IOCs, to obey Marine Notice 106 and extant stevedoring regulations, mandating all companies and persons engaged in stevedoring work, to engage stevedoring workers and companies to carry out operations on their platforms and premises.
‘’We also have lingering issues over refusal of government to pay aged seafarers monthly pensions, in spite of court ruling, refusal to restore registered onboard ship gangway security and tally men(pooling system), absence of Collective Bargaining Agreement, CBA, in the shipping sub-sector .
“There are grievances also over government refusal to issue seafarers identity documents, non-dredging of Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt ports and confusion over long expired contract of terminal operators, among other issues.
“So, the last one year has been challenging to maritime workers. Generally, the issues of insecurity, unemployment, high cost of living, unstable power supply, inflation, port access roads, etc have been a major challenge,’’ he said.
Speaking in a similar vein, the National Secretary of the National Union of Chemical Footwear Rubber Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees, NUCFRLANMPE, Joseph Dada, said: “Since the last May Day, the socio-economic conditions of our members have worsened.
“We have been confronted with factory closures, casualisation, outsourcing and contract staffing have become the new employment policies. Full-time employees are retrenched in place of casuals, outsourced and contract workers with dehumanizing conditions of service.
“We have witnessed some multinational companies close full departments and laid off the entire workers in the last year. Some conducted outright retrenchments, only to recruit more casuals, outsourced and contract staff with very poor and dehumanizing working conditions.
“The problems were compounded by unfavourable government policies. We are appealing to the incoming government to address the issue of forex scarcity, multiple taxations, high cost of living, insecurity, unemployment, underemployment, deindustrialisation and unwholesome importation of goods and services.”