Labour Matters

Rethinking our economic model, NLC tells House of Reps

By Appolos Christian

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in a recent courtesy visit the leadership of the Federal House of Representatives, said that only a rethinking and change of model and practices by Nigeria government to the standards as practiced in developed world will save Nigeria from being a failed state and a shame to the world.

Led by its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC as part of its statutory responsibility towards ensuring that the concerns of Nigerian workers are made known to government and as well put government in the right direction, presented to the House of Reps leadership couple of issues as bothering Nigeria workers and Nigeria as a country, and possible solutions.

Among the issues are: Casualization of Labour: “Distinguished leaders, we wish to draw your attention to one of the most topical infractions in Nigeria’s industrial space today – Casualization of labour. This is a situation where workers are hired by third party recruiting agencies and seconded to workplaces as slave workers without recourse to decent labour, social protection and just wages commensurate with industry standards. We urge the National Assembly to deploy its legislative powers to strengthen extant labour laws by outlawing casualization of work in Nigeria. We cannot allow slave drivers who pose as employers continue to take advantage of the unemployment situation in Nigeria to commoditize labour and dehumanize our people. We will not allow the struggle for Nigeria’s independence to be mocked by a new generation of slave drivers.

Labour Law Review: :The Nigeria Labour Review started in 2005 through a tripartite process in conformity with the ILO standard. In continuation of this process, between February and March 2020, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the social partners – Organized Labour in Nigeria (the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress) and the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association held a retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to adjust Nigeria’s labour laws in tandem with global best labour standards practices. The retreat considered five bills:amendment to Trade Union Act, Collective Labour Relations Bill, Labour Standards Bill, Labour Institution Bill, and the Occupation Safety and Health Bill. These five bills had been earlier presented to the National Assembly in 2008. The bills went through legislative process including public hearing and was passed by the House of Representatives. Some of the issues close to our heart and which we fought for and secured the understanding, cooperation and buy-in of both government and the employers’ association include as follows:

“Deepening the Right of Workers to Associate and Unionize: In line with Section 40 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended, Section 12 of the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act 2005 and convention 87 of theInternational Labour Organization (ILO), workers enjoy the right to freely associate and unionize. Some unscrupulous employers and government officials especially those at the state level have tried in the past to emasculate this right. We urge the leadership of the National Assembly to empower Nigerian workers through passing into law proposed amendments that seek to enhance the freedom of workers to join trade unions of their choice and toughen penalties for obstructing or denying workers from joining trade unions of their choice;

“Promotion of Workers’ Fundamental Rights in the Work Place: We request the leadership of the 9th National Assembly to outlaw casualization of labour and toughen penalties for violation, expand social safety measures, advance occupational health, decriminalize lawful strike actions, and enhance the protection of workers from unfair labour practices and job discrimination;

“Strengthening the Independence of Trade Unions: Some of the issues of interest for us here include the clarification of the status and sanctity of trade union representation at the level of national labour centres, seamless and timely payment of check-off dues to trade unions and prompt transmission of the percentage due to the national labour centres; forestalling the fractionalization of national labour centres through frivolous splitting and merger of already existing trade unions and organized workplaces, and institutionalization of the Collective Bargaining Process; and

“Institutionalizing the National Social Dialogue Space and Industrial Arbitration: We seek the establishment and institutionalization of the National Labour Council by an act of parliament, strengthening of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria and promotion of Alternative Labour Dispute Resolution Centres.”

The leadership of NLC also enjoined the House of Representatives to do what it called; “Rethinking Our Current Economic Model”.

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, in his presentation told the House of Reps to start the rethinking by providing an effective model for Diversification of the National Economy and Promotion of Real Productivity.

“In 2019, a total of N22.78 trillion was said to have been spent on the importation of food items. As a country we should optimize primary production and aim to move our economy to secondary and tertiary production modes through value addition. At this point in our history, we should produce domestic products that can compete globally. Agriculture, solid minerals mining, oil and gas and the social sector present opportunities that are yet to be fully tapped and harnessed. We call for a home brewed economic model for Nigeria built on popular ownership and the positive energy and innovative drive of our citizens.”

Transparency in the Oil and Gas Sector: “Our upstream and downstream petroleum sub-sectors are still riddled with opacity and corruption. At $US31.60 production cost per barrel, Nigeria has one of the highest costs of exploration and production of a barrel of crude oil in the world. This is not only due to the depth of our carbon deposits but also weak extractive governance framework, poor negotiations with oil exploration companies, and corporate fraud.

“Another frontier of fraud in our oil industry that demands very quick and surgical intervention is the so called ‘fuel’ subsidy regime. Just last week, about N168 billion was paid out by government to oil marketers as ‘fuel’ subsidy. The permission by government to oil marketers to import refined petroleum products is being frustrated by bureaucratic bottlenecks and the inability of the marketers to access forex. Even when the marketers access forex, the landing and retail pump price of the refined petroleum products would be priced out of the reach of the average Nigerian. The only sustainable solution to this national embarrassment is local refining for domestic consumption and export.”

Power Sector Logjam and Continuous Exploitation of Consumers: “During the recent lockdown in some parts of the country, the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) attempted to increase electricity tariff. We kicked against it and it was withdrawn. We are tired of the worn argument that we don’t have power because Nigerians are not ready to pay for power. Is it power before tariff or tariff before power? Meanwhile, Nigerians are being forced to pay some of the highest electricity costs in the world through estimated billing and use of generators. We urge you to step in and save Nigerians further agony.”

Place of credible National Database in a Globalized System: “There is very little planning and development that can go on without a credible national database. We view the current deficits and gaps in our national database as deliberately done to promote fraud and official corruption. Very recently, government released Covid-19 palliatives to poor Nigerians but there was strong public outcry that the beneficiaries of the palliatives were largely unknown. We need to fix this.”

Transparent Application of the Covid-19 Stimulus Package to Prevent Abuse: “We call on the House of Representatives to increase and intensify its oversight efforts especially on the application and disbursement of palliative packages by different agencies of government. We must not allow a situation where these well-intentioned interventions by the government are diverted by unscrupulous persons to private pockets. We must prevent the ugly events surrounding previous government interventions in the aviation sector from repeating itself.

Investment in the Sustainable Development Goals: “We demand that our government must prioritize the achievement of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We call for increased budgetary allocation to the health and education sectors. Government should also increase the funding to social protection initiatives especially the ones that seek to empower women and correct gender inequalities in the Nigerian society. In this respect, we call on the National Assembly to facilitate an expeditious domestication of ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment of Workers.”

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