By Muyiwa, Abuja and Andrew Ojiezel, Lagos
As Nigerian workers join their counterparts across the world to mark this year’s workers day, issues of poor welfare and insecurity have again popped up as their prime concern.
This year’s celebration is coming at a time the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) and Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) are currently on strike over improved welfare packages.
It is also coming at a time when workers, especially in the health sector are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 amidst complaints of poor welfare.
NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, lamented the state of insecurity in the country, saying workers are mostly targets for kidnapping and killings.
In his May Day speech, said so many teachers, health workers, agricultural and food chain workers had been either kidnapped or killed.
According to Wabba, so many working families have had the lives of their breadwinners brutally cut short, leaving behind open wounds that could be the sores for another cycle of counter-violence.
He therefore urged the Nigerian security apparatus to do more, even as he reiterated the call for improved social protection and investments in social services to deal with human insecurity which is the bane of physical insecurity.
He said, “It is unfortunate and a terrible injustice to the memory of Nigeria’s founding fathers that virtually every part of the country has been engulfed by one form of security challenge or the other. In the North East, there is the challenge of Boko Haram terrorism. In the North West, there is the challenge of rural banditry and kidnap-for-ransom. In the North Central, there is the challenge of farmers and pastoralists clashes.
“In the South South, armed militants still operate in the mangroves engaged in all manner of economic sabotage. In the South West and South East, local militias are filling the vacuum created by the absence of the state and are heating up the polity with ethno-religious rhetoric.
“In the midst of this confusion, Nigerians are asking, ‘where is the state?” Many Nigerians understand the grave dangers of surrendering our sovereignty to a mob of violent and non-descript non-state actors. Already the numbers are piling up as the humanitarian carnage left in the wake of Nigeria’s medium to high intensity conflict continues to rise.”
On other issues affecting the country, the NLC President said quality wages has also been an issue in the face of the rising cost of living, but more especially, the payment of the new national minimum wage.
He said, “A few states are yet to begin the implementation of the new national minimum wage. We have already asked affected state councils to proceed on state-wide industrial action. Some states also are yet to conclude negotiations on the consequential increase in salaries.”
Wabba also lamented the moves by those he called “a section of Nigeria’s ruling class” to scuttle the minimum wage as enshrined in the ILO provisions. He, however, vowed that workers would resist such moves.
He said, “The National Minimum Wages serve as social protection by providing a minimum income floor to safeguard low earners. Today, there are attempts by a section of Nigeria’s ruling class to kill the National Minimum Wage by removing it as an item from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List. This is most despicable.
“Hiding under the mask of “fiscal federalism”, a few Nigerian politicians want to rob workers of the meagre national minimum wage which by today’s foreign exchange is equivalent to $US60 – a far cry from the first national minimum wage of the equivalent of $US125 which was signed into law in 1981 by the Late Shehu Shagari. We will resist this evil!”
Secretary-general of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Comrade (Barrister) Lawal Ozigi, said what Nigerian workers need most is security.
He said, “Job security, security of lives and properties. Security starts from home; everyone should be concerned about security.”
In the same vein, the TUC Scribe called on the government to pay national minimum wage as and when due, adding that “government should pay minimum wage and consequential adjustment first.”
He said, “Security concerns all. Citizens should support the government. Government, on its part, should seek external assistance possibly from African countries to cooperate in the continent.”
President of the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU), Comrade Lawrence Amaechi, in his reaction to this year’s workers day celebration, said while workers are agitating for payment of their wages and other welfare packages, security challenges remains topmost on workers’ agenda as it is becoming very worrisome
He said, “Insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and others are our main concern at the moment. In other words, insecurity across Nigeria is worrisome.
“Right now that (minimum wage payment) is secondary because it is when a worker is alive that minimum will have meaning, though we still urge the remaining states that are yet to pay the national minimum wage to do so without further delay.”
On his part, the president of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), Muhammed Usman, said workers currently face inadequate welfare packages.
He also reiterated that the workers want the government to prioritise security for every Nigerian
He said, “Well, the challenges workers are facing include inadequate welfare packages, bad retirement benefits, medical attention, transportation, and inadequate staff quarters.
“We expect a total charge to all what I listed for the betterment of Nigeria workers but most importantly the security of life and properties of the Nigerian people. Government should try by all means to restore the security challenges the country is going through. May Allah bring to and end all these calamities we are facing as a nation. May he give our leaders the wisdom to pilot the affairs of this country and give more strength to our brothers and sisters who are in the war front to safeguard our dignity, lives, pride and territory.”
On the on-going strike action, he said the workers remain resolute to sustain the action because autonomy for State Assemblies will improve the nation’s democracy.
He said, “As for our agitations on the Implementation of the Financial Autonomy granted by the president, we are resolute and still on strike until our demands are met. While wishing my members happy workers day, I want to remind us that the Legislative arm is not a toy to be played with or looked down on. We must salvage it together.”
For the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), this year’s workers day comes with excitement following President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the consequential adjustment in the pension of retirees under the defined benefit scheme.
The approval followed agitations by the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), urging the federal government to review the minimum pension for retirees after the signing of a new Minimum Wage in 2019.
According to a circular released by the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, the approval by President Buhari for the new pension increase takes effect from April 18, 2019.
The circular dated April 28, 2021, with file number SWC/S/04/S.542/ll/298, was signed by Ekpe Nta, the acting chairman of the commission.
In its reaction, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) commended the president for the release of the circular.
NUP’s head of Information, Comrade Bunmi Ogunkolade, while reacting, said the approval was a workers’ day gift to pensioners, saying “NUP appreciates President Muhammadu Buhari for the release of the circular”
Also reacting, the TUC chairman, Lagos State chapter, Comrade Gbenga Ekundayo, warned the National Assembly not to remove the national minimum wage from the exclusive list through the backdoor or face the wrath of Nigerian workers.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend on expectations of Nigerian workers in the 2021 May Day celebrations, he said, “He reiterated his warning that if the National Assembly does not rescind the plan to remove minimum wage from the exclusive bill, then they will be prepared to face the consequences.
Ekundayo challenged any state that is not willing to abide by payment of the national minimum wage as approved by President Buhari to desist from collecting federal allocation or be ready to face the anger of Nigerian workers.
Likewise, he called on the federal government to tackle the issue of shortage of vaccines which has rendered many people from taking it thereby preventing most people.
“The plight of Nigerian workers is very glaring for everyone to see. Coronavirus pandemic did lots of havoc to the living conditions of many workers. Many lost their loved ones; some lost their means of livelihoods. Those having jobs today are just managing as some have their salary slashed or some are still working from home.
“Though some have jobs retained but they are not enjoying it, as most of them now have many mouths to feed. They are the only bread winners in their families. Level of income of average Nigerian workers has been rendered meaningless; the average worker is now having many extended families to cater for.
“We expect the government to ensure that most jobs lost and factories shut down by the pandemic are brought back to life to enable people now roaming the streets or merely sitting at home to get tangible things to do through useful engagement in meaningful jobs. Giving room for people to earn salaries is the best solution to the current conditions facing the country.
“This is better than equipping police and other security personnel. Not that such equipment is bad, but that insecurity can be tackled through job creation whereby most of those involving themselves in crimes out of idleness will find useful means of livelihoods”.
It’s Criminal Not To Pay Minimum Wage, Oshiomole Tells Governors
Meanwhile, former national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomole, said it was criminal for any governor not to pay workers national minimum wage as and when due
He alleged that the over 35,000 workers recently sacked by Kaduna State government had contributed greatly to the current insecurity experienced in the state.
Speaking at the 2nd NLC Peace and Security Summit with the theme, ‘Overcoming the Siege of Insecurity in Nigeria: Imperative of Human and Physical Security’, Oshiomhole said, “When they deny workers such payment, can there be peace? I submit with the International Labour Organisation that the condition for national peace and security does not necessarily need much bullet but decent jobs but when you are in an environment where jobs are being killed, jobs that do not exist cannot even be decent.
“If the oppressed stop antagonising and organise themselves, and find a common unity across the country that would be the beginning of laying the foundation for sustainable peace in Nigeria.
“The 36 state Governors are united. The oppressors are united against you (workers). When we are through with discussing the issue of insecurity, we can then start discussing the issue of security of wage and jobs.”
The former NLC president also observed that those retrenched and left without any means of livelihood have now been forced into crime, even as children abandoned by the society are now grown and have turned against the society for turning their backs on them.
“Who are the bandits? Those 35,000 workers in Kaduna city whose livelihood have been taken, what are they doing? What will their children and grandchildren be doing now? It’s common sense to know that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.
“I suspect that those Nigerians that we abandoned and don’t provide for them, as you can call them almajiri or beggers, have all grown up. When you talk about unemployment, the biggest problem is having the biggest population of unemployed because they never had any opportunity of being taught by a qualified teacher.”
Also speaking, secretary to government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said the choice of the theme of the summit was to underscore the importance of government and labour working together for the common good of the Nigerian people.
He said government and labour interaction would constantly be needed to seek ways of improving the best for the country.
“I want to thank the NLC for creating this avenue and which is very important, as we begin to think and find solutions to all that are bedevilling us and we must find solutions,” he added.