Another Workers' Day, but… – National Mirror
Today marks yet another Workers' Day, the day Nigerian workers and their leaders file out and join their counterparts from other parts of the world to celebrate the dignity of labour, reflect on the successes or failures of their bargaining powers vis-Ã vis working conditions, reel out demands from the authorities and chart the way forward for workers and their struggles. The Federal Government had earlier declared public holiday today; and through a statement by the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, congratulated all Nigerian workers for their resilience and commitment in the face of the challenges of daily living. But as they leave their houses for the venues of the event today, many workers will be gnashing their teeth in pain, while others will look hopeless and forlorn, as there appears to be no end in sight to their work-place travails.
Just two days ago, the Comrade Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) warned state governors owing workers to pay up on or before May 29 or face total industrial crisis in their respective states. The union said it had already directed its members in the affected states to commence mass protests from May 1, when the Workers' Day would be observed worldwide, till May 29, when the outgoing governors would hand-over to a new administration. Benue, Plateau, Osun, and Ekiti states were listed among the states owing their workers between six and eight months' salary arrears.
In the aviation industry, some labour unions in the sector - National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), early in the week, threatened and proceeded to entangle the management of an aviation ground handling company, Skyway Aviation Handling Company Ltd (SAHCOL), with a showdown over alleged sack of four of its members by the company. The unions alleged in a joint statement that while the leadership of the unions was negotiating with the management of SAHCOL over a brewing industrial crisis, SAHCOL's management purportedly sacked and disclaimed some of the union leaders, namely: Chukwu Jude - Chairman, and Kingsley Ejiogu - Secretary of NUATE; as well as Aminu Kolawole - Chairman, and Immoto Lawson - Secretary of ATSSSAN.
The country is replete with reports of work-place violations and dehumanisation, including physical abuses and wage exploitation through massive casualisation of staff, especially by Asian and Lebanese firms operating in a country that has failed immeasurably to strictly apply the law on expatriate quotas; as well as some other indigenous companies. Casual workers are in no way better than the black slaves of old that rendered forced service to European and American plantations. Despite the harsh conditions under which they work, such employees are not entitled to annual leave; and if, for any reason, they are absent from work, a significant chunk of the handout they are paid is deducted as punishment for absenteeism. Worse still, they cannot protest their plight, since as temporary staff, they are not admissible as union members. Workers in the nation's educational, health and other sectors likewise lament government's failure to honour agreements it reached with their unions on improved conditions of service and other challenges scourging the sectors. This is better explained by incessant strikes by medical doctors and teachers in the nation's universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, the judiciary and so forth.
The N18,000 minimum wage introduced by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration has not been implemented by many states which rejected the uniform minimum wage set out by the FG on the grounds that they (defaulting states) had no resources to sustain the payment of the wage. Indeed, the argument has been that workers who earn N18, 000 as minimum wage, now that the exchange rate is N225 to the dollar, will become four times poorer, since the said wage amounts to roughly $50 per month, as against $200 per month when the rate was between N80 and N90 to one dollar. Pensioners are not faring any better, too. It is, therefore, the least surprising that workers are frequently having running industrial battles with the government or their employers, all centring on poor working conditions and related hostile labour policies. But such crisis is often rooted in the undisguised demonstration of contempt and intolerance of the plight of labour by the government; or labour's uncompromising position on contentious issues. As workers celebrate today, therefore, let the government and other employers of labour go beyond mere congratulatory messages and sermons. Workers' plights need to be addressed for industrial peace to reign; while they (workers) should know when to apply the breaks for the purpose of achieving the same goal.