Nigerian workers yesterday joined their counterparts across the globe to mark the annual May Day celebration with a demand on President Muhammadu Buhari to take immediate steps to revamp the country’s economy.
In the coming years, the workers specifically urged the president to check the worrisome unemployment among the youths and the widespread poverty in the country.
The demands were made by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) at the rally to commemorate the day in Abuja.
They urged the federal government to quickly finalise the salary adjustment structure of civil and public servants occasioned by the new N30,000 minimum wage.
In his address, NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said that the recent struggle for a new national minimum wage of N30,000 hadbeen one of the most arduous and long-drawn in the history of labour as a movement in Nigeria.
Wabba commended President Buhari for keeping to his promise of signing the new minimum wage bill into law despite the opposition by state governors.
He said: “We have already wasted a lot of time arriving at the new national minimum wage, we should not waste a single more second implementing it across board. We urge workers to remain vigilant till the battle is over.”
The NLC boss said that though official data from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) indicate that inflation on all items had dropped from 11.44 per cent in December 2018 to around 11.25 per cent in March 2019, the reality shows that life is becoming increasingly excruciating for the average Nigerian worker and the citizens of the country.
According to him, “the phenomenal hike in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known as petrol in 2016 and the devaluation of the naira the same year as well as the increase in the cost of electricity in the past five years have sustained high inflationary rates. The persistence of double-digit inflation and stagnant remuneration for workers has almost wiped off their purchasing power.”
Wabba added that the impact of the prevailing hyper-inflation on pensioners and workers was better imagined than experienced and lamented that “working families are unable to meet up with the basic costs of living, especially feeding and decent accommodation thus plummeting living standards to an all-time low.
“The worse is that most Nigerians are not even enjoying utility services such as public power supply, potable water, public education and healthcare despite very high user access charges. In the absence of cushioning palliatives, it appears that workers have become the sacrificial lamb on the slab of all that is not working in Nigeria. This is indeed very unfortunate,” Wabba said.
The NLC president, however, stated that despite the best efforts of the government at diversifying the economy, attract foreign direct investment, increase foreign exchange revenue and create more jobs, the efforts were being frustrated by systemic challenges.
Wabba identified the challenges as endemic corruption, institutional chaos, crises in the social sector, and disabling physical infrastructure – electricity supply, water, rail system, road network, and inland waterways transportation.
He observed that despite the promising nature of Nigeria’s economy, it was yet to be weaned from import dependency.
“Our economy remains essentially rent seeking, subsistence, non-inclusive, vulnerable to shocks from the global commodities’ market, fraught to unwieldy inflationary trends and unable to create sustainable mass jobs,” he said.
On unemployment among the youths, Wabba appealed to all tiers of government to provide incentives to drive and sustain the growth of labour-intensive industrial sector.
He said that there were millions of jobs locked down in the untapped value chains in agriculture, petroleum and mining sectors.
Wabba said that “now is the time to unlock them and provide decent jobs for our youths. Now is the time to reconstruct the sour narrative of exporting jobs and prosperity to other climes and importing joblessness, poverty and misery into our motherland.”
He said that organised labour was concerned about the increasing debt accumulation by governments at all levels.
While noting that there was nothing wrong in borrowing in order to invest in infrastructure with the capacity of enlarging the public revenue base, the labour leader admonished the government to ensure that “our debt profile does not get toxic and return Nigeria to another milieu of debt trap.”
Workers Have Critical Role To Play In Next Level – Osinbajo
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said that the workers are central to the implementation of the “Next Level” agenda of the Buhari administration. He assured the workers that the N30,000 minimum wage, recently signed into law by President Buhari would be fully implemented by the current administration.
Osinbajo who spoke at the Eagle Square in Abuja, venue of this year’s Workers’ Day celebration thanked the leadership of the Nigerian workers for the understanding they showed during and after the negotiations of the new wage.
He said that the workers would be called upon to play greater roles in supporting the government to attain its goals.
The vice president, who stressed that industrial peace was central to economic stability, said that every industrial disruption costs the national economy very dearly in money and man-hours.
He said that the Buhari administration would continue to provide the enabling environment for higher productivity, industrial peace and harmony, as well as a congenial atmosphere for effective collective bargaining amongst trade unions and employers, while also protecting the fundamental rights and other lawful rights of the Nigerian people, especially the working class
Osinbajo said: “At the just-concluded general elections, Nigerians and indeed Nigerian workers gave our administration another mandate to govern them. We shall reciprocate this electoral gesture by focusing on the critical issues that will advance speedily and improve the quality of lives and livelihoods of Nigerians.
“These include the building of infrastructure, roads, and rail, hydroelectric power, and also reforming key driving sectors of the national economy in order to put the country on a sustainable path of economic growth and prosperity
“I want to thank you all for the support given to our administration in our first tenure and solicit for the greater support and cooperation of all our workforce to enable us to build a country, where our youths would be gainfully employed; there will be security of work and tenure for them and they will be assured of the protection of their fundamental rights and the fundamental rights of all working people in our country,” he said.
The vice president said that on assumption of office in 2015, in spite of the daunting economic challenges, which confronted the administration at the time, the government ensured that no worker was retrenched across the country.
Osinbajo said: “We further kept faith with this commitment by providing bailout funds for states unable to pay salaries and other benefits in order to pay accumulated arrears. We also released the Paris Club refunds owed the states since 2005 to make sure workers were not owed anything.
“We also ensured the payment of outstanding benefits of retrenched Nigerian Airways workers owed for decades. We also ensured the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) also paid arrears owed parastatals and civil service pensioners numbering 101,393 on all grade levels and 76,310 parastatals pensioners across 186 agencies.
“This is in addition to arrears paid to pensioners in the police and customs services in 2016 and 2018. Our administration also settled the issue of benefits of Nigerian armed forces and paramilitary personnel who were dismissed and later pardoned for participating on the side of the secession in the course of the civil war from 1967-1970. All of these veterans have now been paid their benefits,” he said.
Osinbajo added that “our Social Investment Programme is the largest of its kind in Africa, and it is directed at ensuring that we are able to provide opportunities in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy.”
He disclosed that the N-Power programme currently employs 500,000 young Nigerian graduates and an additional 75,000 in specialised training as builders, automotive technicians and in other vocations.
On the Homegrown School Feeding Programme, Osinbajo said that it feeds 9.5 million children daily in 30 states of the federation and provides opportunities for over a 100,000 cooks and farmers across the country.
Speaking on “TraderMoni and MarketMoni schemes, the vice president declared that almost two million petty traders in all states of the federation have benefitted from them, adding that at the “Next Level of our administration, we intend to expand the scope of these micro-credit loans to traders and artisans.”
Highlights of the event were march past and presentations by various workers’ unions where Osinbajo took the salutation on behalf of President Buhari.
C’River Workers Protest Early Payment Of May Salary
Meanwhile, Cross River State workers yesterday stunned many as they protested the payment of May salary on the first day of the month.
The state chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Clarkson Otu, said workers and the leadership of labour were unhappy over the early payment of salary by the state government.
According to the labour leader, even though the government means well, labour was nonetheless not happy with the situation because workers are likely to run out of cash before the month ends.
“We do not support the early payment of salary. We have told His Excellency that it is not proper. April salary was paid only last week and on May 1st, he paid May salary.
“We are surprised he still paid early this month in spite of our protest. We will continue to engage him on that,” he stated.
Also speaking, the state chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ben Ukpepi decried the early payment of salary assuring that the union would engage the governor with a view to putting an end to early payments of salary in the state.
Meanwhile, Governor Ayade has expressed his administration’s readiness to implement the new minimum wage recently passed into law by President Mohammadu Buhari once the necessary modalities are sorted out by the federal government and made available to the state.
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