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Business News of Friday, 11 June 2021

Source: thenationonlineng.net

Economic crisis has rendered N30,000 minimum wage useless - TUC

Trade Union Congress Trade Union Congress

President, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) and former National President, Food, Beverages and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), Comrade Quadri Olaleye, in this interview with TOBA AGBOOLA, speaks on various national issues affecting workers and how these can be tackled. More than a year now, the effect of the pandemic is still on. To what extent has it affected the economy, workers and how can we tackle it?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has caused a lot of havoc to the economy, workforce and everyone is struggling to come out of it. The truth is that workers are mostly affected. Millions have lost their jobs, expenses continue to increase and burden keeps expanding.

To start with, only about 40 per cent of people that used to work are now required. Before COVID-19, we had issues of automation of production processes, we had the issue of robots taking over people’s jobs and we had other issues of technology that were reducing the number of workers required in a workplace. While we were still looking for possible ways to ensure that we don’t throw a lot of people into the labour market, the issue of COVID-19 came and further established the fears of labour centres and the Federal Government.

Many have been sent home as a result of redundancy, termination of appointments because employers, including the government sees that it may not need the number of workers they had been using before, coupled with the fact that people don’t really have to converge on the office before they can work; people are working remotely. It benefits the employers because workers use more man-hours when they work from home. You hardly can know the time you are supposed to terminate your job for the day, so you work for the whole day.  A lot of our members have lost their jobs as a result of this, while there are lot of pressure on those people that are left behind, they work twice their normal working hours. So, the effect is much.

Despite these challenges, most especially with inflation rising, worker’s salary still remains the same. What is the way out?

Minimum wage is what we normally negotiate for and it is totally different from what we call a living wage. So, inflation and minimum wage will go in different ways because they are serving different purposes. A day we decide on living wage is the day I can say we are beginning to get it right because living wage should be automatic increase as inflation increases. But the situation in this country is different. Even before we agreed on the minimum wage, inflation has risen. It means that the N30,000 minimum wage has become useless. It is not enough to do anything. That is why we put pressure on the government to consider workers in the palliatives. You will agree with me that if they share palliatives through the workers, it would have been the best formula because workers carry more burdens. One of our requests was that we asked the government for tax holiday. The government should have considered three to six months’ tax holiday for workers. It would have had multiplier effects. Workers will be able to catch up with the effect of the pandemic on their salary. Another thing we requested for was for the government to provide electricity tariff tax holiday. This would have also cushioned the effect. We also talked to the government to expand the agric business using the workers. This is the second job workers can go into apart from their normal job. Unfortunately, the country is full of propaganda. The Central Bank of Nigeria ( CBN) keeps saying it has given out intervention funds, to who? Let them point out those it has given it to.

Insecurity is a major challenge. How did we find ourselves in this situation and how do we tackle it?

We found ourselves in this situation because government or our leaders, irrespective of the party, have not, and are not, doing the right thing. For instance, good schools are not available for the poor. The ones that are available, they don’t have facilities.  No good chairs and tables in our schools. The conditions are terrible. The same thing with our tertiary institutions, no good hostels.  Now, to make it worse, when such students graduate, don’t forget no job for them. When such student finds himself in the society, he will not have feelings for anybody. Look at the numbers of students that graduate every year without jobs. They said an idle hand is a devil’s workshop. Such a student will automatically become minister of information for bandits, kidnappers, Boko Haram and ritualists, among others. They have good dreams, but when such good dreams are not forthcoming, the technical abilities that they have, they have to use them in a negative way.

Also, I keep asking, governors that are not paying salary, how do they sleep? Workers work for you and you are not paying them and you are relaxed. And you see them coming to office everyday, you see them putting on good clothes, they have families and you are not afraid. In some organisations, it is a taboo that five days after monthend you have not paid your workers.  In fact, they can jail such managing director because they believe that if you don’t pay salary, you are creating petty thieves, which will later turn into armed robbery, banditry and the rest. The government needs to meet up with their responsibilities.

The government keeps increasing fuel pump price and electricity tariff. People believe that labour is not doing enough in this area to curb the government, unlike before. What is your take on this?

It is not true. The thing is that we are trying to do it in a different way.  We believe that what is the point of doing it in the same way without any results. For instance, on electricity tariff, we have a sub-committee from the labour and they are working with the government on it. We have agreed and sent a proposal to government on how to bring down the price. The same thing with fuel pump price. We have two standing committees working on the parameters. One is working on the revival of the refineries. We are waiting for their reports. However, our position is that enough of spending more money to revive all these out-dated refineries. We discover that some people, including politicians, gain from this. We are proposing that the government should build modular refinery.

As you mentioned earlier, what about the sorry state of the refineries?

We told them to use subsidy to fix the refineries. If this is done, it is going to be a great advantage to us. At present, we are having capital flight because we take crude oil abroad and we suffer to get the product back to this country by forcing ourselves to buy dollar. But when we fix our refineries, it means that we can refine the quantity that we need to use in this country. And we can supply to West African countries. Even if we are not making any external attraction, we are building our internal system. The oil sector can even employ more than what we have at the moment if the refineries are fixed and it will also stabilise the price of PMS. We should not be talking of importation of PMS and other products, but because we did not put our refineries in order. In one of our discussions, I asked the minister the stage the modular refineries they promised when they came on board were. He gave some responses that there were a lot of modular refineries that had been approved, they promised to arrange for us to visit the refineries to be very sure that they have those refineries but we are still waiting. We need to witness that truly they have licensed a lot of modular refineries. With the modular refineries, we would be able to create more jobs and maintaining the percentage of workers that we have.

But the government is talking of renovating the refineries and thereafter selling them to private investors. What is the position of TUC?

I am sure they will not try that. One of the reasons they got our votes was because they promised they would not sell the refineries. So, it will be a betrayal of trust if they are selling refineries after they got our votes. It is practically wrong and TUC will revolt. We will not allow that to happen. It is our national property, by selling the refineries to a private person; it means they are throwing a lot of people to the labour market.

How is the TUC synergy with the labour centres in the country, most especially NLC?

The relationship is very cordial; we work together most of the time. Comrade Wabba and I do discuss the steps to take on many national issues but you will agree with me that even twins that were born the same day cannot agree all the time 100 per cent. So, we have our areas of disagreement, which is normal and that is why we have different labour centres in the country. So, we cannot be 100 per cent in agreement but I can tell you that most of the times we are in agreement, we work together and the synergy has been very good.

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