As Nigeria Friday joins workers across the globe to celebrate Workers’ Day, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) has asked the federal government to work towards a reduction in the prices of food and drugs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
TUC President Quadri Olaleye, who made the plea Thursday in a May Day message in Abuja, said 2020 workers day “is an unusual one. It coincides with a period the world is facing extinction if we are not careful.”
Olaleye said the demand for the reduction of food and drugs was hinged on the fact that the last four months were as traumatising for the whole world and spared no race or colour.
“We advocate reduction of food and drug prices to enable Nigerians who survived the pandemic to recuperate well, because COVID -19 pandemic met us in a state of unpreparedness,” he said.
Job losses/May Day message
On possible loss of jobs, the TUC boss said: “We call on government to protect the workers from some uncharitable employers. Workers should not be made victims of COVID-19.”
He said: “COVID -19 has affected our lives in such a way that it is as if the country is starting life de nouveau. To this end, we must together- Government, Employers and workers to give all to rejig our economy to avoid the looming acute recession.”
Speaking on the theme: “60 Years of Nationhood: Insecurity, Wage Poverty and the Future of Work in Nigeria”, the union leader said: “Five months away from today, our country will be 60 years and all the issues captured in our theme are critical and can define our political, economic and welfare trajectories as a people.”
He said the TUC was than before, concerned over how Nigeria can survive COVID – 19 and build a political economy that would keep the country out of imminent recession.
In the message, Olaleye said: “Similarly, it has been brought to our knowledge that some employers are saying they cannot pay salaries for the duration of the COVID-19 lockdown. It is evil and inhuman to come up with such decision. This is the time individuals and organizations should show that workers are partners in progress.
“COVID 19 has once again brought to realisation that any economy dependent on a sole commodity is incapable of taking that country out of the wood. Nigeria must take advantage of her natural and human resources now. Diversification and incentives from government are key to successful industrialisation.
“We call on government at all levels to exploit the potential of the agricultural sector. The Small and Medium Scale businesses (informal sector) should also be encouraged because of the critical role it plays in employment generation.
“The Congress advocates tax rebate of at least (3 months) to companies in Nigeria, especially the unionized ones. This will to help reflate the economy. We also recommend 2 months free electricity to SMEs generally and Nigerians in general.
“Again, we demand that the sector be made to work efficiently. If it will take a review of the privatization process to resolve the power question government should go ahead no matter whose ox is gored.”
Also, the textile workers Thursday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to intensify efforts at reviving the textile industry to create mass decent jobs and boost the Nigerian economy.
Speaking under the aegis of National Union Of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), the union, which dedicated the 2020 Workers Day to two veterans that died recently, commended workers on the front line of the fight against COVID-19 for their efforts, while tasking other workers to increase their productivity as federal government gradually eased the lockdown from Monday.
In a joint statement by its President, Comrade John Adaji and Acting General Secretary, Comrade Ali Baba, the workers “salute our members in the textile, garment and tailoring industries across the country, veterans, Nigerian workers and working people worldwide on the 2020 May Day. Our NEC extends May Day greetings to all our employers, government, the civil society, development partners and friends.
“We salute President Muhammadu Buhari for his commitment to revive the labour intensive textile industry, the bold and innovative measures by his administration to revive the cotton, textile and garment (CTG) sector in line with the vision to diversify the nation’s economy. Textile Union will continue to partner and support President Muhammadu Buhari in his determination to revive the industry, create mass decent jobs and rebuild the nation’s economy.
“May Day offers us the great opportunity to celebrate the dignity of labour. For the working class, it is a period of reflection and a period to celebrate the role of workers in the fight for democracy and social justice. It is a special day to draw global attention to the plight of workers worldwide. Unfortunately, for the first time in over 100 years, workers around the world will not be able to celebrate this year’s May Day with the usual fanfare due to the novel coronavirus disease.
“We salute workers worldwide for sustaining humanity during this pandemic. We commend the front line healthcare workers and other workers, including those in textile and garment, emergency services, agriculture, food and retail, print and electronic media, transport, education, energy, oil and gas and informal sector who have continued to work hard to keep society functioning at a time most countries are under various forms of lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
“We join the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the global labour movement to call on the government and private sector employers in particular to protect jobs and ensure full pay for all workers, particularly at this period of COVID-19 pandemic through a variety of means, mutually agreed through collective bargaining.
“Salaries are core elements of employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements. We will resist any attempt to slash or deny our members their salaries on account of COVID-19. It is more necessary than ever for both employers and labour to consult each other and collaborate on this and other issues of vital importance to the survival and growth of the organisation and welfare of workers.
“We shall continue to intensify our campaign for productivity improvement on the part of our members and at the same time maintain zero tolerance to exploitation and violation of workers’ rights. As economic activity gradually resumes, we call on our members to redouble their efforts towards productivity improvement.
“COVID-19 is far from being over. We must therefore continue to observe the preventive measures both at home and workplaces; wear your face masks and hand gloves, wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer regularly, maintain social distancing, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Employers must provide adequate protective equipment for the workers to avoid workplace transmission.
“We dedicate this year’s May Day to two great veterans of the union who died recently namely; Comrade Nasiru Adeyinka Lawal, 4th democratically two-term elected President of the Union (1996-2004) died on Tuesday April 21, 2020 in Lagos after a brief illness and Comrade Andrew S.E. Aisagbonhi, former Deputy General Secretary of the Union (2004-2009) died on Thursday April 23, 2020 in Benin, Edo state,” the statement added.
Ekiti workers on pay cut
Meanwhile, the organised labour in Ekiti state has told Governor Kayode Fayemi not to consider any move for salary reduction despite the economic challenges facing the government.
The labour unions, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (NUT), also requested immediate payment of outstanding salaries by Governor Fayemi to ease the effect of lockdown on the populace.
Governor Fayemi had Tuesday announced the slashing of his salary, that of his deputy, Mrs. Bisi Egbeyemi and political appointees by 50 per cent.
They spoke at a press conference jointly addressed by the chairmen of NLC, Comrade Kolapo Olatunde and his TUC counterpart, Comrade Sola Adigun in Ado Ekiti ahead Workers’ Day celebration.
In his address, the NLC boss said, the menace of COVID 19 had affected every worker, saying this time remains the most appropriate opportunity to assuage their sufferings by paying their salaries promptly as well as palliatives.
“We are still being owed three months’ salary arrears, outstanding leave bonuses, backlog of promotion arrears, while the minimum wage was yet to be implemented across board.
“As of today, the local government workers and primary school teachers are owed six months’ salary arrears while the secondary school teachers and civil servants are owed three months respectively. We have waited for over one year and we have done our best and made the right sacrifices.
“The national president of the NLC gave me a marching order to tell our governor that the salaries of our workers can’t take them home and there shouldn’t be any reason for government to think of pay cut in Ekiti,” he said.
Olatunde appreciated the government and health workers in the state for working hard to reduce the number of COVID-19 victims in the state to eight, saying “the reduction in the number was because the government woke up early to take precautionary measures.”
On his part, the TUC boss, Comrade Adigun said what the workers were collecting in Nigeria was never a living wage, expressing optimism that they would breathe a sigh of relief someday.
“We thank the governor and members of his cabinet for sacrificing part of their living wage to fight the menace of COVID-19. Workers are not collecting a living wage, so we are not expecting any reduction in our salaries.”
Adigun advised the government to deploy more energy to promoting the people’s welfare and devise ways to defeat the pandemic, Boko Haram insurgents, kidnapping, corruption and all manners of criminalities.
The TUC boss advised the Ekiti government to encourage farming among civil servants, in the spirit of diversification, to halt the state’s sole dependence on federal allocation.
APC counsels workers
In its message to the Nigerian workers, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) urged them to take advantage of the current lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic to equip themselves with new skills.
The party assured that President Muhammadu Buhari was putting all necessary measures in place to ensure workers and, indeed, all Nigerians were not negatively impacted from the economic effects of the pandemic now and in the future.
In a statement signed Thursday in Abuja by its spokesman, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, the party said the 2020 International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day, or May Day, came at a time the world was combating the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that had kept economies across the world locked down.
Issa-Onilu said: “No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented disruption in our normal lives, particularly work. However, the long-term consequences of the pandemic — how it will reshape our work culture, ways of doing business, provision of services and new opportunities — are still difficult to imagine.
“We enjoin Nigerian workers to use the lockdown to equip themselves with information and skills that will enable them productively function in the changing global work culture and tap into opportunities that the eventual and gradual easing of the lockdown will bring.
“The APC acknowledges the tireless efforts, resilience, patience and commitment of the Nigerian workers in the onerous task of nation building. While assuring our workers that the Federal Government would continue to prioritise their welfare, the APC also assures that President Muhammadu Buhari is putting all necessary measures in place to ensure that workers and, indeed, all Nigerians are not negatively impacted from the economic effects of the pandemic now and in the future.
“The various economic stabilisation policies by the government and the establishment of the Economic Sustainability Committee by the President, which is headed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is a clear demonstration of the seriousness the Federal Government attaches to the well-being of Nigerian workers in particular, and Nigerians in general.”
The statement urged workers not to relent in their support for the current administration as it “battles COVID-19, in addition to getting the nation’s economy back on its trajectory of growth as quickly as possible.”