As workers across the world today mark this Year’s Workers’ Day, otherwise known as International Labour Day, organised labour has decried the worsening living condition of Nigerians as well as continuous struggling in its quest for good governance after several years of independence.
Labour noted that successive regimes, administrations, and political leaders across different strata have promised good living and working conditions, as well as improved economy over the years but failed ultimately.
Some of the labour representatives who spoke during the May Day celebration highlighted the high rate of unemployment, galloping inflation in the economy, devaluation of the naira, low wages, widespread insecurity, the rising cost of living, incessant strike in the education sector, failing healthcare sector, among others have made life more grueling for workers.
They, therefore, stressed the need for the Federal Government to address these issues urgently.
The President, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria, Quadri Olaleye, however, faulted the inactive participation of Nigerian workers in past general elections, saying it is partly responsible for the “pitiable condition the workers have found themselves, especially in the area of minimum wage implementation.”
Olaleye said that the union was mobilising members across the country to be fully involved and participate in the forthcoming general elections to elect good leaders.
Speaking on this year’s May Day theme, “Labour, Politics, and Quest for Good Governance and Development in Nigeria,” at a pre-May Day symposium, organised by the Lagos State Council of the NLC, and the TUC, Chairman, TUC, Gbenga Ekundayo, said that the theme and this year’s celebration was about how labour could galvanise the common man to get involved and elect good leaders that could move the country forward.
He said that the TUC had set up a commission to galvanise and mobilise the masses in the political process leading to the 2023 general elections so that everyone could be involved.
“The theme is how can labour get involved in the political space so that we can have good governance and control the narrative of who gets into which office, so that we can be sure that those people there are best to give us the development we desire, through the provision of water, good roads, rail networks, good waterways for alternative transportation, provision of constant electricity support and adequate healthcare, among others.
“It is when we have good people in government piloting the affairs of the nation, with the right vision and mission, with right developmental projects that we can have good governance.
”What we just need to do is to galvanise ourselves, ask the right questions, demand that the right things are done and also make sure that good people get to offices. That is the essence of this year’s May Day celebration,” Ekundayo said.
He also said that the expectations on this year’s May Day, does not lie so much on the government, but on the workers.
“The May Day is about us searching ourselves. How committed are we to the course of mankind, to the cause of labour, and ourselves to live better lives?
”It is pertinent that we do soul searching, how well have we contributed to this space, do we want to sit back and watch?” he asked
He advised workers to be more committed and steadfast, adding that “enough of sitting by and expecting a miracle. We have to take the bull by the horn.”
Earlier in a pre-May Day rally in Abuja, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, called on the governments of Taraba, Cross River and Zamfara states to immediately commence the payment of the arrears of national minimum wage owed their workers.
He also called on the Abia State government to immediately clear the backlog of pension arrears owed its retirees.
This is just as the union pledged to embark on a three-day warning strike if the Federal Government continues to ignore the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). It said it would hold a nationwide protest within the 21-day ultimatum issued to the Federal Government.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, had also in a statement, called for a speedy and amicable resolution of the ongoing negotiations between the FG and ASUU.
Lawan, who made the appeal in his congratulatory message to Nigerian workers on the May Day, said, this would enable the continuity of research and learning in the higher institutions.
The Senate President noted that the Nigerian workers deserve appreciation and respect for their contributions to national development.
Speaking also, the Secretary of the TUC, Lagos State Council, Abiodun Aladetan, lamented that in some states that were yet to implement the national minimum wage, some of their leaders could afford to purchase the N100 million presidential nomination form of one of the political parties.
He said that one of the ways to stop such persons is for every worker to get permanent voters’ cards (PVC) and state very clearly through the ballot box that ‘enough is enough.’ According to him, Nigerians needed to elect people, who would prioritise the welfare of workers.
Similarly, a member of the civil society and women’s rights activist, Dr Abiola Afolabi, said that there was need for labour to build alliances to address lingering issues bedeviling the movement.
Afolabi noted that labour has a big role to play in empowering Nigerians, she charged labour to be at the forefront of addressing the ASUU issue by canvassing that students should be in school.
“This year’s celebration is more of sober reflection. What role can labour play to change the dynamics of Nigeria? Labour must think deeply and reflect more on what this trouble means to the entire country and I think that is where labour is missing the point,” she said.
In his message, the President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Festus Osifo, called for urgent and immediate fixing of the nation to avoid a looming disaster.
He said that Nigerian workers, in recent times, have been plagued with harsh social and economic maladies, ranging from a hike in prices of some petroleum products to epileptic power supply, occasioned by low generation, transmission, and distribution with the resultant effect on the high cost of manufactured goods and services.
He also mentioned challenges occasioned by energy transition, difficult business environment, youth unemployment, disruption in the educational sector, especially at the tertiary levels due to incessant strikes by ASUU over unfulfilled signed agreements with the government, and intense hunger arising from the dislocation of farmers by insurgents.
According to him, the most frightening of them all is the worsening insecurity, with kidnappings and deaths soaring on a daily basis.
”These tragic indices, the PENGASSAN boss said, were indications that the nation was gradually descending into a failed state. He added that if nothing drastic was done to curtail these, the naysayers and prophets of doom may be proven right,” he added.
The union’s petroleum counterpart, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), in a message to workers on May Day, decried the inhumane and indecent working conditions that have continued unabated in one form or the other in the country.
It said this was evident in new forms of employment including child labour, trafficking, casual, contract, and outsourced labour.
According to NUPENG, millions of working people have suffered one form of dehumanisation and exploitation from unscrupulous employers, while many have died in the process.
The union condemned in strong terms the most unfortunate and avoidable deaths and destruction arising from the explosion and inferno at an illegal refinery in a forest at Abaezi, Ohaji- Egbema local council of Imo State with hundreds of lives lost.
NUPENG said, “There is no doubt that the high level of unemployment and struggles for survival drove these hundreds of able-bodied young men and women to seek for self-help and died in the explosion that happened at the illegal refinery.”
The workers called on FG to rise up to its responsibilities in stemming the increasing thefts of the crude and the continued loss of revenue.
Some civil servants, who spoke with our Correspondent decried the current hardship in the country, arguing that their salaries could no longer sustain them. They called on the government to further review upwards the N30, 000 minimum wage.
Mary Ezechi, said, “I am a Level 9 officer and my salary can no longer sustain me due to high cost of living. I plead with government to review our salaries. We are just living from hand to mouth.”
Another civil servant, Samuel Thompson, said, “Labour has failed us. We can no longer trust the labour movement because they are no longer speaking with on voice.
”The NLC and TUC need to come together and form a formidable force so that when they speak, government will listen to them.”
Meanwhile, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the University of Ibadan (UI) chapter, on Saturday congratulated Nigerian workers for surviving in a country that lacked a workers’ friendly government.
In a release in Ibadan by Chairperson, ASUU UI, Prof. Ayoola Akinwole, the Union lamented that the human development index in Nigeria bears no repetition, saying: “Ours has become a story of no and never (to workers’ demands); failure and fear (in genuine legal business transactions); death and disasters (using public utilities and infrastructures).
“We are lost in a labyrinth of leadership failure, mediocrity, and vicious indolence. Our political elites are ravaging bandits, stealing our peace in the name of politics; disguised terrorists raiding our common patrimonies.
“Our economic elites are conniving mongrels. The traditional rulers no longer serve the deities and the ancestors. They are asleep to the cries of workers and now serve at the altar of mammon. They have sold their peoples to slavery and abandoned their sacred obligations to deities. Religious rulers are now chartered prophets, prayer contractors, ministers of their bellies, and priests of violence.
“While workers are told to tighten their belts, politicians and their families are living large like medieval princes. The Nigerian people have been abandoned to the elements, to bandits and terrorists, to disease and scarcity. They are fed with words on empty stomachs and are nourished with promises that are never kept,” the statement said.
The union also demanded a living wage for all Nigerian workers while calling on workers not to allow the government to turn them against fellow workers to misrule the country.
On his part, the President, of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Dr Tommy Okon, said that ASCSN expected government to make a clear pronouncement on gratuity, which has been pending for years.
“With the current effort to amend the Pension Reform Act, we have a very strong hope that government will take a position on the matter. Employers should be made to pay gratuity to employees, which will serve as a stabiliser for retiring workers,” he said.
Okon lauded the Federal Government for increasing the retiring age of education officers to 65 years, saying, “though the President made a pronouncement on the matter, there was no law backing it up.
”Now that the President has signed the bill into law, it is a milestone because it has addressed our agitation for many years. This will go a long way in motivating the education officers to give their all.”
On the global stage, workers’ unions, under the aegis of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), also called for workplace health and safety to become a fundamental right for working people on the occasion of the International Workers’ Memorial Day.
The ITUC noted that as the number of workplace cases of COVID-19 shows, failures in health and safety at work can have catastrophic effects, not only on workers themselves and their families but also on individual businesses and even whole economies.
It said that it is in the interests of workers, employers and governments ought to make occupational health and safety an ILO fundamental principle and right at work.