Workers as patriots
By Ayodele Fagbohun
“Though the government’s team argued that it cannot afford to meet our earlier demand of N30,000 minimum wage across board because of economic situation in the country, we made them understand that some people cannot be more Nigerian than others. If we are tightening our belts, government should also do.”
…A statement by Trade Union Congress (TUC) President, Comrade Quadri Olaleye and Secretary-General Musa-Lawal Ozigi while sealing the mutual pact between federal government and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) for the full implementation of N30,000 minimum wage to workers.
From the foregoing, having candidly considered national interest and the precarious economic situation in the country, the entire labour force deserves kudos for arriving at a painful and patriotic decision to whittle down workers’ financial demands, made some concessions in a spirit of uncommon patriotism, sacrifice and self-abnegation that will not deplete national coffers, and consequently cause industrial disharmony across the country.
This volte-face by the NLC to douse tension that would have emanated from industrial action and to surrender, liberalise longstanding legitimate demand of worker for better living wage and by extension to guarantee minimum standard of living should be seen as the height of patriotism.
Other sectors of the economy notably our legislature, the lawmakers arguably the highest paid in the society should cultivate and imbibe fiscal discipline, reduce their fantastic salaries and allowances to enable the economy grow by leaps and bounds.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late elder-statesman Federal Commissioner for Finance in the war-time 1967-1971, and a messiah of full employment had vigorously canvassed for the introduction of national minimum wage compatible with a national minimum standard of living.
Awolowo, an erudite author and shrewd economist had brilliantly proferred some basic economic principles and objectives towards attaining national minimum standard of living as follows:
(a) “elimination of discrimination between categories of employees; all persons employed in the public and private sectors whatever their categories, should be on a full-time and permanent basis, and should be entitled to pension on the same basis under a comprehensive and compulsory social insurance scheme.
(b) The raising of pensionable age to between 65 and 75 years, in strict regard to the types of employment.
© rationalization of the salaries and remuneration paid to, or received by different classes of employed or self employed persons with a view to closing the existing gap between the higher and lower income groups.
(d) integration and assimilation of the salaries and conditions of service of all employed persons, other than self-employed persons, with a view to ensuring equal pay for identical qualifications of merits in all the sectors of the country’s productive activities. This will entail the abolition of “fringe benefits” for all categories of employed persons in all sectors of the country’s productive activities.”
Regardless of the munificent receipts from oil proceeds and the concomitant nation’s incredible resources, the workers have taken humble pie for accepting what is lower and at the rock bottom of what Awolowo and the United Nations strenuously advocated and put on records in uplifting the living standard of Nigerian workers; and provision of unemployment relief.
Under UN universal declaration of human rights, every government in Nigeria should provide employment for all their citizens who are able and willing to work. And payment of unemployment relief allowances to such persons during the period of their involuntary unemployment or enforced idleness.
Unfortunately, Nigerian workers is ruthlessly exploited and shortchanged. Exploitation of labour embraces inadequate remuneration. Lack of motivation, excessive hours on duty and poor condition of service lead to decline in productivity.
Exploitation of labour is a common phenomenon in Nigerian economy especially in the private sector. Workers in the smaller establishments especially those owned by Nigerians are heavily exploited. They have no condition of service. Fines are imposed on them contrary to labour code.
They have no vacation or holidays; and their appointments can be terminated abruptly at short notice by their employers without adequate or any compensation at all.
The fundamental and remote factors leading to this degenerate and pathetic lots of the work force stemmed from our British colonial heritage which foisted capitalist system of economy with all intents and purposes on clamping down on the nation’s fledgling economy.
At independence, neo-colonialism surreptitiously seized the economy by the jugular. And the naked self interest, greed, planlessness and rapacity concomitant with brazen capitalism which exacted its negative and harmful effects on the wages and life more abundant for the traumatized workers.
For instance, under the capitalist system on which we glibly run our economy, incentives to workers are not only half hearted but always hopelessly inadequate and unjustly calculated; rents and price controls are frustrated and ineffective in the face of huge short supplies of houses and goods.
It is vigorously asserted by a certain articulate and public spirited section of the country that concrete steps should be taken to spell out in labour code how to prevent exploitation and the penalty for those die-hard capitalists who will stop at nothing to exploit fellow Nigerian workers.
The public service should be insulated from politics. The ongoing struggle and partisan activities of local government employees tagged NULGE calling for autonomy of the local government administration is sheer diversionary tactics, intellectual indolence and aberration, flagrant disobedience and perfidy to extant rules and regulation of the civil service.
The institution of old age care and unemployment benefits should be of utmost priority especially in a country where the wealth of the nation is under lock and key of a handful of so called ‘political elite’ and nouveaux riches. The salary structure in the public service is too low and meager to leave the working class with any margin of savings for their old age or period of unemployment.
For the avoidance of doubt or iota of contradiction the oil money is still growing daily at a geometric rate. This is an auspicious and opportune time for government to embark on social security schemes for the old age and unemployment periods.
As pathfinder for the quick economic recovery and freedom, government should vacillate this time around, but take up the gauntlet and sedulously match the intrinsic patriotism evinced by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to galvanise the welfare and wellbeing of the workers without shutting down the economy of the country in its entirety.
Towards this end, government is urged to sever immediate connection from the present pernicious capitalist orientation that poses a drag, bottleneck and threat to our economic survival as a people.
There must be a deliberate and conscious planning of the economy through stern discipline, diligence and sheer industry of our leaders at various commanding heights of the economy as to guarantee the greatest happiness for the greatest number of our ever growing population.