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Workers’ Day: At Least I’m A Worker Are You?

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A story is told of a young boy who decided to work in order to keep himself busy after graduating from secondary school. He applied to several places and was turned down because he lacks the requisite working experience. Luck finally shined on him or so thought, as he was called for an interview. During the interview, it was discovered that he is without experience. However, his zeal to work earned him the compassion of his employer. He was offered the job; however, terms of remunerations and working condition were not discussed. Happy that he has finally been accepted, he didn’t bother to ask how much he will be paid. He thus, started work in earnest.

Days went by and he kept working. In order to encourage him to keep coming, his employer promised to “give him something”. Days turned into months, months turned into several months and this chap was still not paid. Worried that their friend was been exploited, his friends called him and tried to talk ‘sense’ into him; he rebuffed them and told them at least I’m working, are you?

The story of this boy reflects the plight of most workers’ in Nigeria. In virtually all sectors, poor working conditions abound. People are exposed to harsh working conditions; workers are barely respected and are rarely catered for. The Nigerian worker is without dignity; yet, they are encouraged to keep expending energy all in the name of there is dignity in labour.

Worse, is the fact that the take home pay workers get at the end of the month hardly takes them home. For all the labour and energy invested, workers are given pittance as salary at the end of the month. What workers get as salary is a far cry when compared with what politicians get. Politicians are paid heavily for doing nothing, while the worker gets peanuts for doing all the work. As if this is not enough, they are owed for several months. The same politicians, who cannot stomach any delay in their salaries and entitlements, end up owing workers for several months. This is totally unfair!

A peep into some states in the country, reveal that workers are being owed for close to a year! The question that begs the answer is, are the governors and the retinue of aides also being owed? If by chance the answer is in the negative, why then is it different with the poor government worker? These workers’ have family and have bills to pay. As they are not getting any salary, has anybody ever wondered how they are coping and surviving? Little wonder most of them have been forced to an early grave because of one illness or the other (both natural and artificial). Some have been forced into some illegal deals and transaction because man must chop. Others have tried to lead decent lives despite the huge temptations that hover around. Yet, they are not being encouraged.

The exploitation of workers’ is not restricted to the government or public sector alone. In fact, the private sector is worse than the public sector. The experience of workers in the private sector is saddening and horrendous. Business proprietors are only concerned with the continuity and progress of their businesses, rather than for the welfare of their workers who toil endlessly to keep it going concern. Their salary at the end of the month is hardly commensurate with the level of the work done and energy invested. Workers’ barely have security of tenure; security of tenure for workers’ is usually at the pleasure of he who hires. Another unfortunate thing is that they are hardly remembered after they have duly served and have retired. Sorry tales about the condition of retirees and pensioners abound.

This must change. Workers represent the heart beat of a country, state or organisation. Workers play a significant role and must therefore, be given their deserved respect! They are like the Ostrich that lay the golden egg. They should therefore occupy an enviable position in the minds of their employer. The continuous disregard for workers must stop. Labour Unions have a big role to play in ensuring that workers occupy a big position in the scheme of things. Sadly, the Labour Congress is currently experiencing an internal tussle for power, caused by elections conducted to elect their leaders. One wonders how a divided labour union can solidly and effectively push and ensure the interested of workers are guaranteed and protected.

Where the labour unions have failed, workers must not fail themselves. They must continue to be gently obstinate to ensure that their silent murmurings are heard. One individual can set the stage for better pay, work condition, and greater respect for workers; thus, changing the traumatizing and shameful condition of workers.

1st May, was originally set aside as the International workers Day in order to commemorate the 4th May, 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where the police fired into a protesting crowd of workers, during a strike for the eight-hour workday, killing four workers. Sadly, the yearly celebrations have turned into a mere yearly jamboree where nothing changes about the condition of worker. Nothing is done, and nothing is said. Most workers have resigned to fate, they believe only destiny will change their deplorable working conditions. Some of them choose to work harder, so that they can climb the ladder. As an observer, do not draw a worker’s attention to his condition, except if you have an answer to this question, at least I’m a worker, are you?

Frank Ijege
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Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Frank O. Ijege and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Frank O. Ijege