Jan. 2021: Labour make new demands

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The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has renewed its commitment to fully and truly discharging its responsibility to the Nigerian workers and people in the year ahead, while acknowledging the criticism that trailed its activities and performance in previous years.

In its New Year message, the congress said beyond survival, Nigerians workers and people deserve better in 2021.

In the message signed by the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the congress said it appreciated the historical burden placed on its shoulders and “we remain committed to fully and truly discharging this responsibility to the Nigerian workers and people. Our unalloyed devotion to this call of duty would be renewed in the year ahead of us,” Wabba added.

He said in 2020, the congress took some flak from a section of the public; adding, however, that some of the misgivings were due to misunderstanding and mis-expectations on the role of labour in the contemporary industrial relations milieu.

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The NLC President said: “While many perceive labour, especially the Nigeria Labour Congress, as the alternative army that can always unilaterally crush every adversarial policy and conduct of government and private sector employers, the truth is that the NLC is only a workers’ representative organization whose primary duty is to project and protect the interest of Nigerian workers through dialogue, consultation, negotiations, collective bargaining and in extreme situation through resort to industrial actions.

“Even when we are pushed to deploy this means of last resort, it remains only a means to bring the other social partners to the negotiation table for win-win outcomes. To insist on strike actions when the other party is ready to negotiate is not only a betrayal of genuine working-class struggle but also a capitulation to anarchism. Trade unionism is not exactly a subscription to anarcho-syndicalism. We are not anarchists.”

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He pointed out that the NLC has always been a foremost pan Nigerian, pro-poor working-class organization; hence, the need to renew its commitment to this responsibility in the year ahead.

Wabba said: “This is particularly crucial given the fact that an organized capital under the pressure of economic downturns, as always, would want to have an easy pick of a sacrificial lamb from the stables of the working class. It is important at this point to reiterate that Nigerian workers and indeed workers all over the globe are no longer available as commodities of sacrifice for woes orchestrated by a greedy and overreaching capital.

“We will not stay duck to be picked by bullets of unfair redundancy, wage cuts, slave work conditions, unhealthy work environments and unbearable living conditions especially hyper-inflation amidst inflexible remuneration.

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“Certainly, Nigerian workers and people deserve better in 2021 and the years beyond it. We deserve decent and living wages including the national minimum wage paid as and when due. We deserve an enabling work environment that satisfies the demands of 21st century occupational safety and health standards.

“Nigerian pensioners deserve prompt and adequate payment of their pension and sundry retirement benefits. Nigerian youths, the aged and the vulnerable among us deserve a sustainable social security scheme that provides meaningful support while unemployed, during sickness and at times of great need such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. In short, Nigerians deserve a full life.”

Speaking further on the congress demands for the year, the NLC President said: “Overall, we, the Nigerian workers and people, demand freedom from the shackles of economic strangulation, social turmoil, political tumults and the resultant widespread insecurity that has shaken our dear country to its very foundations. We demand an end to the insurgency of terrorism.

“We demand an end to the rural banditry spreading like Harmattan fire all over the country. We demand an end to the criminal commoditization of human beings by organized kidnapping networks. We demand safety in our schools, workplaces and worship centers.

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“We refuse to continue to live as refugees in our own country. We refuse to be cowed into silence. We just want to be normal human beings again. We believe we are not asking too much from our government at every level.”

Sets agenda for the year

Following critical analysis of the previous years and in pursuant to the demands made for the new year, the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said the congress would be pursuing some specific industrial and social actions in the year 2021. These, according to him, include:

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Campaign for decent work and protection of pensioners

In 2021, the NLC will intensify the campaign for decent work. Our drive will be steered by the four strategic objectives of decent work – opportunities for full employment, rights at work, social protection especially for pensioners and social dialogue. It is unfortunate that till now, some states have refused to pay the new national minimum wage.

“It has also been reported that some states that had signed collective bargaining agreements with our state councils on the payment of consequential salary adjustment and pension benefits owing to the new national minimum wage have started reneging on their commitment. In the midst of the prevailing astronomical increase in the cost of living, it would only be tantamount to a death wish on workers for any State to refuse or renege to pay the new national minimum wage and the consequential salary adjustment.

“Accordingly, we call on all our state councils still struggling with their state governments on the payment of the national minimum wage and consequential salary increase and those whose state governments have unilaterally cut wages and are owing workers salary arrears to prepare for mass industrial action and protests this New Year. Furthermore, we insist that the government must make possible the enabling environment that would foster job creation and full employment in line with the constitutional responsibilities of the state to ensure the welfare and security of citizens, he said.”

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Prioritization of the security of lives and property

“In 2020, we witnessed some of the most audacious backlashes of the waves of insecurity in our country. Terrorists groups and cells of armed bandits overran large swathes of our lands, carving out domains of operations at great cost to citizens’ lives, limbs and livelihoods. Workers were not spared as many workers became victims of the outrageous bloody campaign by the agents of evil and misery.

“In 2021, we will fully unfurl our plans for a national advocacy campaign on insecurity. Part of the plans is to convene a multi-stakeholders conference on insecurity in Nigeria. Consistent with the provisions of Article 10 of ILO Convention 190 which permits workers to remove themselves from work situations that could harm their persons, we might be forced to ask workers to withdraw their services from workplaces that are not secured and safe”, the NLC President said.

Promotion of good governance

On good governance, he said: “a key preamble of the ILO Constitution which was further buttressed in the 1944 Philadelphia Declaration posits that there can never be sustained progress anywhere until there is social justice and injustice anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.

“As has been our historical prerogative, the NLC will continue to champion the cause of good governance, inclusive growth, sustainable development and social justice. We will pay serious attention to the attributes that define good governance such as accountability, transparency, inclusion, rule of law, effective and efficient allocation of resources and popular participation in public governance. We shall insist that these attributes are not only restored as cardinal bearings in our body polity but also respected especially through institutional reforms including the reform of the electoral space.”

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Economic recovery and resilience

“As a patriotic organization, the Nigeria Labour Congress will in 2021 continue to pursue programs that would engender economic recovery and resilience, especially after the backlashes of the COVID-19 outbreak. We will continue to promote backward integration policies that place premium attention on the use of local resources including domestic skills and expertise in optimizing our raw materials value chain.

“The COVID-19 crisis makes our appeal more pertinent now than ever. No country develops by being the dumping ground for other people’s creativity and enterprise. We must evolve sound policies and put in place the infrastructure that facilitate the production and distribution of “Made in Nigeria” goods. This way, we will even our trade balance, strengthen the Naira, create sustainable jobs, improve the living conditions of our people and accumulate wealth for genuine economic diversification. Our starting point must be the recovery of our national oil refineries as agreed with the government. This will save us the severe hemorrhage that our economy is subjected to”, Wabba said.

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Strengthening tripartite relations

On tripartite relations, he said: “for the sake of industrial harmony, progress and sustainable development, we invite all the social partners to clap with both hands to the music of dignity of labour, fair allocation of proceeds of production and. social justice.

“In 2021, we expect the strengthening of our national labour administration, especially through improvement in labour inspection and social tripartism including collective bargaining and a just dispute resolution mechanism that is fair to all social partners. It would be easier to achieve all these through progressive labour law reform and institutionalization of tripartite social dialogue processes.”

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Overcoming COVID-19

“Finally, we must all brace up to what could be the last frontier of the struggle against the novel coronavirus disease in 2021. The resurgence of COVID-19 in many countries of the world, especially with the discovery of new strains of the virus calls for measured but concerted response by governments globally. The occupational safety and health of workers, especially frontline workers, must continue to receive the deserved attention from public authorities. We renew our calls for the provision of adequate personal protective equipment, conducive work environment and enabling compensation cum health hazard allowances for workers who risk their lives to keep us safe and well”, he said.

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