Comrade Ayuba Wabba mni
President NLC

Opening Address by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni at the 2019 NLC National Leadership Retreat

On behalf of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), it is my pleasure to welcome distinguished leaders of the Congress – Presidents and General Secretaries of our affiliate industrial unions, Chairpersons of our state councils and state secretaries, our social partners, our highly esteemed resource persons, and our friends from the fourth estate of the realm, ladies and gentlemen to the 2019 NLC National Leadership Retreat taking place from today to Thursday in the historic city of Enugu under the theme “Strategic Leadership and New Challenges in the Future of Work”. 
This year’s National Leadership Retreat would be the fourth in the series. The first was in Calabar, Cross River State in 2011. The second was also at the Tinapa Resort, Calabar in August 2015. We later had a more expansive National Leadership Retreat for our leaders at different levels in November 2016 in Sokoto, Sokoto State. Comrades, our Leadership Retreats have evolved over time as not only one of the finest traditions of Congress but also as a strategic pillar of our movement. 

The over-arching goal of this year’s retreat is to get the leadership of Congress at all levels to examine, discuss, brainstorm and proffer pragmatic ideas to the challenges of today and fears for tomorrow confronting Nigerian workers. As leaders, we owe a duty to our followers to go beyond providing solutions to the problems of today but also to prepare answers to the questions of tomorrow. This is why we are here in this secluded suburb of Enugu and have engaged experts to prepare and discuss relevant papers to help us identify the way forward. I challenge all of us to make this opportunity count.

Currently, Nigerian workers and their trade unions face daunting challenges which have been exacerbated by the rapidly evolving dynamism in the world of work. While we are confronted by the reality of expanding globalization as manifest in the burgeoning information revolution, demographic shifts, climate change and technological innovation, we are still beset by the debris of the industrial era.
Advancements in internet connectivity, software applications and their carrier cum operating devices are getting more sophisticated. While we are yet to fully grasp opportunities offered by 4G wireless technology, the rest of the world has made a quantum leap to 5G cellular technology. As we speak right now, the 5G cellular wireless which apart from carrying live voice, text, image communication and 3D technology can also enable what is popularly known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

While the 5G technology is being unfurled around the world, 6G terahertz-based technology is knocking on the door. Researchers say that the world may not need to wait for another 10 years to realize the 6G technology. The 6G technology which is expected to take robotics and automation technology to the next level and drastically alter the way we process, produce and industrially relate is a potent death sentence for millions of jobs globally. Comrades, this is the future of work. Are we ready for this? Now is the time to engage tomorrow.

While we seek answers to the questions that the future of work brings, we should be anxious to dispose all or most of the concerns that exist in the contemporary world of work. In this era, our workers still face the indignity of indecent work. In this age and time, Nigerian workers are forced to beg for their salaries which are now owed in arrears. While other countries have fully accommodated and automated the process of minimum wage adjustments and are now focused on living wages, we are faced with a situation where we are forced to bargain too hard and wait for too long for meagre increases in minimum wage and adjustments in salary. We are confronted daily with increasing recalcitrance by employers to allow unionization in work places thus exposing millions of workers to indecent conditions of casual work status, slave wages, long hours of work without due compensation, and denial of social security cover.

Comrades, the challenges in our work places demand STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP. If we must deal with the rapidly metamorphosizing challenge of poor working conditions, slave wages, deliberate efforts to prevent or kill trade unionism in our workplaces, we must think outside the box taking into consideration the global realities – changing forms of capital, climate change, drift to extremes in regional and national politics. We must renew our commitment to Strategic Organizing. We must also demonstrate conscientious and exemplary leadership. 
Part of strategic leadership is critical thinking on how best to engage our social partners – government and private sector employers. It is no longer discussed in hushed tones that the government is struggling with liquidity. As we know, this crisis is rooted in bad governance. Two things define bad governance in this respect – institutionalization of corruption in public expenditure and weaknesses cum sabotage in internal revenues accruable to government. On corruption in public expenditure, the issue of humungous salaries and allowances paid to elected public officials and contract inflation top the list of our concerns. On the other hand, the loss of government revenue due to internal sabotage by unpatriotic public officials is very alarming and worrisome.

A few days ago, Comrade Femi Falana urged the Federal Government to reject additional loans from the World Bank and instead pursue the payment of funds accruable to Nigeria from periodic adjustments in remittances by International Oil Companies (IOCs) subject to increases in the price of crude oil above $US20 per barrel. Nigerian government officials failed to activate this clause more than twenty years thus allowing IOCs to stash away more than $US100 billion in unpaid royalties to Nigeria. It is incredible to imagine that we have this much stolen from us and we are going cap in hand to the World Bank for loans. How can we be washing our hands with saliva by the river banks?

I am sure there are many more of such revenue leakages in many other sectors of our economy especially in relation to corporate taxation. We cannot be complaining of lack of funds to pay Nigerian workers decent wages and invest in public infrastructure cum social services when we have a lot of public funds in private pockets. We call on the Federal Government not to rest on its oars until it recovers every kobo owed us by the IOCs. Government officials behind this criminal neglect must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We also want to use this opportunity to re-echo our call for tax justice. We call for a tax system that capture many businesses and rich people in the tax net. Instead of taxing the poor to extinction, rich people must be compelled by government to pay more taxes in commensuration to their income.

Comrades, I must congratulate all of us for the recent upward adjustment in salaries consequent on the new national minimum wage. Our collective diligence and persistence will put smiles on the faces of millions of Nigerian workers and take many families out of poverty. 
But I must charge us that it is not Uhuru, yet. We call on all our State Councils to offer the needed leadership and work harmoniously with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) to ensure effective implementation of the new national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment which must be reached through a process of collective bargaining. 
While commending state governments that have already commenced implementation of the new national minimum wage, we urge that the implementation should be a product of collective bargaining process in line with ILO Convention 98 on Organizing and Collective Bargaining. We also implore all employers of labour to ensure that the necessary formalities for smooth implementation of the negotiated salaries based on the new national minimum wage are carried out diligently.
Concluding, the work before us in the next four days is essentially to strategize for the next four years. It is tough work but not an impossible duty. I call on us as leaders of this great movement to take this retreat very seriously. As I mentioned earlier, we are up in a race against the forces of today and tomorrow. In the face of huge decline in decent work conditions, social situations and general public governance, we must pull ourselves from the bootstraps and envision innovatively. We are expected to propose ideas that will not only return us to the founding ideals of the Congress as profoundly captured in the Apena Cemetery Declaration of 1974 but they must also leapfrog us to a future of work that is just, equitable, socially inclusive and gives workers a stronger voice and presence in political leadership and governance.

In specifics, we must devise sustainable strategies to strengthen our unions especially in the areas of finance and investments. We must ensure that indecent work in our workplaces are tackled. We must ensure that today’s and tomorrow’s work is properly fitted with the paraphernalia of decent contracts, universal labour guarantee, living wages, paid leave allowances and humane hours of work. We must find innovative ways to deal with employers stuck in the stone age!

Overall, as we head into the future of work, the gaps in the current skills acquired by our workers need to be bridged. This can only happen through exposing workers to training and re-training through life-long learning programmes. We must also take on board the provisions in the Just Transition in order to ensure justice for workers as the world makes the shift to green productive platforms and processes. For us in Nigeria, we cannot afford to allow the future to happen on us. For a change, we must now happen to the future through planning, sustained social dialogue, and robust engagement with every segment of our society.

The road to this future starts with the conversations we strike today. We must elevate the discourse above generation of jobs to the creation of decent and productive jobs. The ILO Commission on the future of work offers a credible roadmap to the future of work we all desire. The emphasis of its report pivots on the three pillars of Increasing Investment in Peoples Capabilities, Increasing Investment in the Institutions of Work, and Increasing Investment in Decent and Sustainable Work. All three pillars are grounded on achieving a human centered agenda for production, industrial relations and governance.

We commend the Minister of Labour for responding to our agitation for the constitution of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) with a promise that the council would be constituted before the end of this year. We use this occasion to call for a revamp of the labour inspectorate division of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.

I must salute the national secretariat of Congress for all the hard work that went into the planning and execution of this Retreat. I commend all our resource persons who went the extra mile to prepare very well-articulated papers which we circulated prior to the retreat to the discussants and which by now should be in your electronic mails.

Finally, I appreciate the Enugu State Government for their support towards the success of this retreat and for being such an excellent host. The level of infrastructural development and friendly worker disposition in Enugu State assures us that under the stewardship of His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Enugu State is truly in the hands of God.

I understand that the secretariat has made provisions for us to take some time off to see the beautiful city of Enugu. I commend the Enugu State Council and the congruous state councils for their diligence and sacrifice in making arrangements for visits to these historic locations especially the Iva Valley Site in Enugu where workers paid the supreme price during the struggle for our national independence. Kindly take full advantage of this tour for meaningful reflections and refreshing.

I wish all of us safe trip to our various destinations at the end of this retreat. Thank you and God bless you!

We create the wealth… Workers create the Wealth!

Aluta continua… Victoria ascerta!!

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni
President, Nigeria Labour Congress
22nd October, 2019

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