COVID-19: NLC writes FG, makes case for daily income earners, the poorest, health workers

By Appolos Christian

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has advised the President Mohammadu Buhari-led government to ensure that Nigeria’s daily income earners and the poorest are seriously provided with palliatives, saying that beating hunger is as important as beating the novel coronavirus.

NLC in a letter, tagged “PROGRAM OF ACTION BY THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS, ORGANIZED LABOUR AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN RESPONSE TO THE NOVEL CORONA VIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC” directed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Barr. Boss G. Mustapha, who is also the Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, eulogized the Federal government for its efforts on the fight against COVID-19 but however, stressed the need to devise means to keep the country’s economy running.

Noting the necessity to ensuring that the frontline combatants against Coronavirus are provided with adequate protective equipments , NLC also stressed the need for testing capacity to be increased and more treatment centres across the country put in place as a contingency, should the number of infected persons in the country implode in the coming days.

Signed by NLC President Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the letter importantly stressed the sacrosanct of government collaboration with the Organised labour and their civil society organizations who are already grassroot in nature, towards ensuring that Nigeria does the required best to win the war against the ravaging virus.

“Our concern as a responsible labour centre is primarily the health and safety of workers especially those in the frontline of Covid-19 defense. We are also interested in the recovery of jobs, restoration of income, and sustainability of livelihood especially at the end of the current lockdown. Furthermore, we must press that many daily income workers in the informal sector are not benefitting from government palliatives thus putting additional pressure on the savings of formal sector workers. It is important that we engage government on these issues in order not to compound job losses, income shortfall and wage poverty.

“We laud the stimulus package of about N3.5 trillion naira for SMEs and other business concerns by the Central Bank of Nigeria. This should target priority areas such as large-scale businesses, manufacturing and small and medium scale enterprises. Other sectors that the stimulus fund should target include the transport, aviation, hospitality and the financial sector. The stimulus package should also target the informal sector employees and artisans who earn their living on daily basis.

“While we commend government for being proactive, we opine that the stimulus package would be best served through consultation with social partners. Labour and private sector employers have a goodunderstanding of industries where jobs and production are in most danger. We also believe that palliatives distribution by Government can be improved through increased stakeholder participation. Mass-based organizations such as labour has the grassroots presence, especially at wards and units, and can ensure that palliatives get to those who really need them – the poorest of the poor who cannot afford a meal per day. We posit that using the old platform will not deliver the desired result.

“The most critical need of the poorest of the poor among us is to beat hunger. Government palliatives should be tailored in a way that guarantees poor Nigerians especially daily income earners at least two daily meals. Thus, we call for an expansion of the national social register to capture individual Nigerian workers who do not live with their families. Resources provided for the national school feeding program should be re-channeled to feeding our poor, aged and destitute.

The plans by the Federal Government to create additional 774,000 jobs nationwide (one thousand jobs in each of our 774 local governments) as a response to the unemployment situation in our country is highly commendable. We call for a very transparent and inclusive process of recruitment so as to give every Nigerian equal opportunity.

“While we understand the public health imperatives for extending the lockdown in some parts of the country, it is also very important to underscore the fact that the states currently under total lockdown are the economic and administrative nerve centres of Nigeria. This is very dicey. As much as it is important to keep many Nigerians from dying in the hands of corona virus, loss of income and the accompanying destitution can also be a pathfinder for numerous other sicknesses and deaths. This is the time to play the balancing game. The truth is that our economy might relapse into prolonged coma if the current lockdown in the nation’s nerve centres goes beyond the current extension.

“Prolonged lockdowns are best effective in the short term. In the medium to long term, the human instinct to survive would kick in and restraint might lead to the collapse of law and order. Within the first two weeks of the lockdown in some parts of the country, there were widespread acts of civil disobedience, inducement of law enforcement agents to gain passes and even various forms of violent crimes. No one is sure how long this dam would hold. We fear that the situation will get out hand if the lockdown exceeds one month.” The letter in part stated.

Seeking to further collaborate with Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, letter also stipulated NLC’s interest areas to include; “To sensitize workers and citizens on the reality, prevalence, prevention and containment measures against Covid-19, To embark on advocacy and social dialogue with government and private sector employers to promote public health and employment/income protection for workers;

“To maintain surveillance on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the workforce and therefrom adopt appropriate positions; To support workers who are in the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic with information and occupational safety kits; To maintain a feedback relationship between workers, workers’ organizations, government and employers in the private sector; To protect jobs, wages and means of livelihood of Nigerians;

“To engage the government on how best to gradually and systematically open up the economy for business and production; To support effective control and protective measures against further spread and fatalities of the novel corona virus disease; and, To Serve as think tank to liaise and advice government on the strategy going forward.

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