In an interview with The Secretary-General, Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr. Peter Ozo-Esan describes 2017 as a bad year for workers and admonishes the government to make the economy work in the New Year
How would you assess the plight of workers in 2017 in view of the huge job loss in the country?
Workers’ experience in 2017 is a very sad one. Apart from the loss of jobs which the National Bureau of Statistics has recorded, the agonies of workers have been increased in places like Kaduna State where the government is reducing the workforce under all manners of pretenses. Clearly, in terms of the labour situation in 2017, it has been a very sad year for workers, whether for those in employment or those that were sacked. Most workers in the states have not been able to enjoy the full benefits of their entitlements as little as they are. There are states that owe salaries, and there are states where some percentages of the salaries were paid. There is a clear indication that Nigerian workers were subjected to enormous hardship during the year which affected them and their dependants. For workers who are getting full salaries, the real value of their salaries have been so eroded by the unacceptable level of inflation that occurred during the year. The workers who produced the wealth are struggling to make ends meet. These are observations one can clearly make and then hope that things would change for the better in the New Year.
What should the FG do in the New Year to address the situation?
The government needs to revive the economy. I don’t think we can continue to accept excuses or play the blame game as the way to explain the situation. The government has proven that it is not capable of effectively managing the economy and it needs to wake up to do so. We are ready to engage with them on what policies they need to put in place or what they need to do in various sectors if they are determined to get the economy to work.
What agenda would you like to set for the government on how to make the economy work and protect workers’ rights?
When the economy is doing well, workers generally would do well, so we need to use economic policies that will promote economic activities in areas that are labour-intensive especially in the manufacturing sector. If the sector is booming, it would employ more workers and those workers would have reasonable conditions of service but if the manufacturing sector is not doing well and they can not even sell the little that they produce, then we would continue with the current situation. The cost of credit to the manufacturing sector should be addressed. We have always canvassed serious planning so that we can identify the growth area of the economy that can create jobs.
What is the plan of the organised labour to protect workers against unfair policies and labour practices by the government and the private sector in the New Year?
We have a committee on anti-casualisation which is saddled with the responsibilities of addressing unfair labour practices and this committee has been working. From time to time, we picket some organisations that are found wanting in this area and from such picketing sometimes, we are able to bring about a change in attitude. For instance, we have an ongoing battle with MTN Nigeria where very poor labour practices exist and we have even taken it globally so that if they are not ready to give the conditions of work they provide in other countries like South Africa, we are willing to continue to fight them both locally and through our international organisations. That struggle is currently ongoing. The struggles would be broadened, but we think the government has a responsibility, particularly, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, being the regulatory agency. Its factory inspection unit that ought to enforce conditions of work seems to be dormant. There are various dimensions to this and we will continue to discuss with them.
Is the NLC satisfied with the progress on the demand for the review of the minimum wage?
We were terribly scandalised by the delay in constituting the tripartite committee on minimum wage by the Federal Government. Now that it has been constituted, we are ready to work with the committee to ensure that we have a new minimum wage, hopefully one that would take effect in 2018. We had reviewed the time frame and we all agreed that it should happen faster. So in the New Year, various sub-committees would be working. Necessary data have to be collected, research work would be done and we would bring everything to the table.
What is the minimum wage that would be acceptable to the organised labour?
I cannot categorically tell you right now that a particular amount would be acceptable as minimum wage. It would be determined collectively on the discussion table using facts, and relevant data.