ADDRESS BY COMRADE AYUBA WABBA, mni, PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC) ON BEHALF OF THE WORKING PEOPLE OF NIGERIA DURING A COURTESY VISIT TO THE LEADERSHIP OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ON 3RD JUNE, 2020.
On behalf of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and by extension the entire working people of Nigeria, I wish to appreciate the leadership of the House of Representatives for this opportunity to interact with our distinguished federal legislators in the House of the Nigerian People. Also, we congratulate you on your astute leadership of the Green Chambers of the National Assembly for more than one year now. It is heartwarming that under your leadership, we have witnessed the ascendancy of pro-people legislations, engagements and pronouncements.
We commend the leadership of the House and National Assembly for your efforts at improving the lot of the weak and downtrodden especially workers. We recall the role you played in expediting the passing of the new National Minimum Wage of N30000 into law.
The critical role of the legislature as the voice of the ordinary citizen was also proved by the resilience of the National Assembly in leading the legislative intervention and advocacy that yielded the last landmark amendments to the 1999 Nigerian constitution especially Section 121 (3) which has furthered and consolidated the autonomy granted to the judiciary and legislative arms of government at the state level.
We also commend the synergy between the National Assembly and the executive arm of government in the current fight against Covid-19. This exemplifies the spirit of inter-governmental cooperation for the promotion of the common good. We pray that God will give your leadership abundant wisdom, good health and protection as you pilot the affairs of the legislative arm of government at the federal level for the remainder of your tenure in office.
Given the nature and dynamics of industrial relations, government and labour are primarily partners in progress. This relationship becomes more seamless and exciting when we are dealing with the legislative arm of government which is a direct representation of the people.
Workers are the engine room and the catalyst for socio-economic development; labour creates wealth. As has been proven during this current Covid-19 crisis, the absence of labour from the productive process translated into an unmitigable lockdown of the other factors of production. There is therefore no gainsaying the fact that labour is the soul of production and that every worker deserves just wages, predictable flow of income and dignity that goes with honest work.
Distinguished leaders of the National Assembly, it is pursuant to the preservation, promotion and advancement of the sanctity of work, dignity of labour and the representative role of trade union organizations that we came to discuss some of our pertinent issues with the leadership of the House of Representatives. This is in furtherance of the fine tradition of consultation between organized labour and the National Assembly. It is our expectation that this meeting will add further mileage to the struggles of the Nigerian workers and even more shining laurels to the cabinet of the leadership of the 9th Assembly.
- 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:
a. 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 the International 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;
b. 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;
c. 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
d. 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.
Distinguished leaders, these proposed amendments as discussed and agreed upon during the Social Partners’ Retreat on the Review of Nigerian Labour laws would still be validated in a final meeting with all the social partners. It is expected that it is the product of this validation meeting that would be presented as executive bill to this honourable house for consideration and necessary legislative action.
- Response to NLC Events
Distinguished leaders, we want to reiterate the point that the NLC has enjoyed a very robust relationship with successive leadership of the National Assembly. As a matter of fact, the precinct of this National Assembly is like a second home to us. We appeal that this camadarie, solidarity and partnership between Organized Labour in Nigeria and our elected representatives at the federal legislative chamber should not only continue but also greatly flourish under the current leadership of the National Assembly.
- Legislative-Labour Retreat
Pursuant to our concern in the immediate foregoing, we request for a national legislative labour retreat. This is in order to foster mutual understanding between Organized Labour and the National Assembly. This is important as both institutions symbolize the most representative cluster of our people. The last time we had this kind of engagement was about during the 7th National Assembly when the Legislative – Labour Retreat took place at Le’Meridien Hotel in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
- Climate Change
- Also, we wish to appreciate the leadership of the House of Representatives for the interest and attention paid by the House to our advocacy on Climate Change. A few weeks ago, we and our partners had a meeting with the Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Comrade Peter Akpatason, and we were able to secure mutual grounds of understanding. We take advantage of this broader space to request that this engagement be consummated in necessary legislative actions to protect Nigerians workers and people from the vicissitudes of Climate Change especially in line with the globally accepted “Just Transition” template adopted by the international solidarity of workers and the International Labour Organization.
- Rethinking Our Current Economic Model
a. 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.
b. 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.
c. 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.
d. 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.
e. 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
2. Organized Labour Supports the Re-Election of the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB)
We lend the voice and support of Organized Labour in Nigeria to the President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adeshina. We call on world powers with interests in the AfDB to allow the will and choice of African countries who are satisfied with the stewardship of Dr. Adeshina so far. We also express our support for his re-election.
Finally, we appreciate you for receiving and accommodating us in the House of the Nigerian people. Our expectation is that this meeting would yield enduring fruits that would deepen our democracy, promote good governance, succor millions of our workers and people and take our beloved country to greater heights in the comity of nations.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni