Workers’ welfare and burden of economic paradigms
THE workplace arena is where buyers and sellers continually negotiate terms and mode of payment for services and goods rendered.
Located within this labyrinth, is government that also constantly assumes the dual role of regulator (through ministries and agencies) as well as employer.
While workers’ through their representatives (trade unions) agitate for better working condition (mostly financials), government is expected to provide the enabling economic policies that must, at all times, at least to unions, make life better for workers.
In these multiple tasks government is expected to assume, the enhancement of the living condition within the lowest cost of living possible is the expectation of the working class.
In Nigeria, economic policies such as devaluation of the national currency (Naira) and the removal of fuel subsidy have been the most consistent areas of disagreement between successive governments and labour unions as represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart.
Expectedly, the recent call for the removal of fuel subsidy and devaluation of the Naira by the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, drew an instant ire from the two labour centres.
Indeed, the free fall of crude oil prices at the international market has left Nigeria economy badly bruised as not only the quantum of money available to government to spend on the provision of infrastructure dwindle, most of the state governments are unable to pay workers salaries. In the same vein, since the cash that is needed to defend the Naira against major currency at foreign exchange market is no longer available, the call for the devaluation by some Economists finds a suitable anchor.
Labour said government needed to interrogate the economic situation of Nigeria and proffer solutions that are long lasting.
They argued that those who postulate removal of subsidy and devaluation of the Naira as the only way out of the economic quagmire are only engaging in academic laziness. The labour centres called on President Buhari to jettison such call or they would be left with no choice other than mobilize Nigerian workers to resist the move through mass action and civil disobedience.
The President of the NLC, Wabba Ayuba, argued that the issues are an age-long debate and that government has deliberately ignored the many findings and recommendations of the labour movement on how to revamp the economy.
He posited that Nigeria as an import-driven country, the effect of devaluing the national currency would be more on the quality of life of ordinary Nigerians who bear the brunt of high cost of goods and services given the fact that the exchange rate of the Naira to the dollar has gone record high from N154 to a dollar to over N225 to one dollar.
He maintained that indeed the purchasing abilities of both industries and individuals have incredibly dwindled, which may affect jobs in the long run.
His words: “The statement clearly speaks only for international finance capital who are the direct beneficiaries of the pains of the poor in countries that have been unleashed with policies rammed down the throats of visionless and unpatriotic leaders blinded by the overbearing strengths and blackmails of the Breton Woods institutions. These institutions have added no value to our national economy as they have used previous Nigerian governments to decimate the lives of our people as they gaggled our national economy to doldrums.”
Cautioning against introducing unpopular policies, Wabba pointed out that in several countries, including Europe, citizens have reacted against the pains of such policies through mass protests while in some other countries perceived anti-people policies ignited changes in government.
We strongly advise the Federal Government to ignore in its entirety, the reckless anti people outbursts of Emir Sanusi who we must also advise should concentrate all his energy on policies and programmes that can reduce or eliminate poverty in his emirate by generating efforts to re-industrialize Kano,” NLC boss added.
Should Buhari hearken to the voice of Sanusi and his likes, Wabba declared: “We are however ready to mobilize Nigerian people against any attempt to remove the subsidy should the government decide to yield to the pressure of people like Emir Sanusi who prefer to serve the interests of foreign institutions against the Nigerian people.”
NLC also noted that subsidy removal has been subject of public discourse for more than two decades and that the position of Congress has not changed, adding, “we are not only opposed to it, we have provided written details of how the petroleum industry can be managed to the benefit of our collective interests.”
He stated that the success of labour movement strikes and mass protests against previous attempts to remove subsidy on petroleum products indicate mass rejection of the policy and it believes the Buhari government will not yield to pressure from those who insist on privatizing the collective wealth of Nigerians by removing subsidy on petroleum products.
NLC observed that Sanusi might well be expressing his private opinion to which he is entitled or that of his fiefdom (Kano Emirate) where most industries have folded up leaving thousands of people stranded and jobless.
His explanation: “We believe the Emir was expressing his private opinion and not speaking for the traditional institution or his emirate where industries have totally collapsed leaving the emirate with one of the highest population of victims of anti-people policies powered by neo liberal interests.
The eminence of his position as an emir should not be rubbished with constant proclamations or campaigns for policies that has proven over the years as not only damaging to our national economy but targeted against majority of our people who flounder in abject poverty. The traditional institution should speak for and protect the poor; and must not be turned to outposts of neo liberal institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and their cohorts who imposed policies such as the Structural Adjustment Programme under which the Naira was devastatingly devalued while production halted with the near total collapse of industries.”
He disclosed that President Buhari has publicly said his government will not remove subsidy on petroleum products and that Congress fully support his government on the clear commitment of the regime to serving the interests of majority of our people rather than submit to the pressure of unpatriotic few who have continuously diverted public funds to their private interests with so much latitude.
Going memory lane, Congress said the last national strike and mass actions against partial removal of petroleum subsidy in January 2012 did not only expose the rot in the petroleum industry, but also uncovered the high level of corruption in the industry where government officials and their cronies made the entire industry their private preserve.
It in the light of the revelations of that episode, Congress said it expects government to revisit the reports of all the panels and committees that probed the industry following the 2012 mass protests, especially the reports that indicted individuals and firms that diverted subsidy funds to private interests.
On his part, President of TUC, Bobboi Kaigama, said the submissions of Sanusi, the Chief Executive Officer, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismark Rewane, and a professor of Economics at the Ekiti State University, Abel Awe, failed to consider the worsening situation of critical growth and development areas which have exacerbated the poverty level in the country.
“The Congress feels particularly pained that while the impoverished masses of the country are still grappling with myriad of daunting challenges ranging from high cost of living, the current dollar/pound sterling rates, outrageous electricity bills, and high rate of unemployment caused by unfriendly policies of successive governments, a privileged few are supporting and proposing naira devaluation. Some even advocate fuel subsidy removal despite the fact that the government is yet to meet the necessary palliative pre-conditions,” he said.
Kaigama noted that value of the Naira has already been drastically rubbished, adding, “the current bizarre rate of about N197 to a dollar has essentially eroded wage income of millions of workers, increased the cost of domestic production, fuelled inflation and undermined the ability of local industries to survive. No one needs a crystal ball to know that further devaluation in a non-exporting, import-dependent economy like ours would take away more jobs and sound the death knell on the economy.”
The TUC chief said the labour movement has severally called for diversification of the economy and strict monitoring of the nation’s borders, which have continued to allow the influx of goods that have local substitutes as a panacea to the economic woe.
The TUC Chief disclosed that while the calls of labour movement to successive governments to prioritize diversify the economy fell on deaf ears, he was quick to note with discomfort that Nigeria lost the opportunity to diversify its economy between 2009 and 2014 when the exchange rate was relatively stable and oil prices as high as $110.
“It is a good thing that the present government seems set to address the issues squarely. If this were the case, agriculture and industrialization are two areas they must not pay lip service to.
We have lots of solid mineral resources, which if properly harnessed and developed, would place the country in the comity of industrialized and progressive nations. Deriving from this, the government must encourage Nigerians to patronize local products in order to stimulate local industry,” Kaigama said.
He added that leadership at all levels in this country must endeavour to think out of the box.
He said what Nigeria need is a new paradigm of laudable policies instead of embracing policies that will further impoverish the people.
He explained: “Among other needful measures, we must jettison the ill-advised proposed increase in electricity tariff, re-industrialize, stop the criminal wholesale smuggling and dumping of inferior goods, significantly lower the credit interest rate, ensure long term development financing, de-subsidize the political/ruling class, fix the refineries, put restrictions and outright ban on importation of textiles and other goods that we have comparative advantages on, provide functional rail transport, create more decent jobs and put an end to insurgency and other security challenges. The growth and development we seek can come without killing the naira and without preying on the poor masses.”
Imperatives of competent, dedicated workforce in a mega city