THE call for pay rise and improved working conditions resonated across the 36 states yesterday as workers marked the 2017 May Day.
From Lagos to Maiduguri, Kebbi to Akwa Ibom, Ibadan to Minna and Osun to Sokoto, it was the same call– better welfare package.
The umbrella bodies – Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) – asked employers for a review of minimum monthly salary from N18, 000 to N65, 000.
Besides, they asked for N25, 000 minimum monthly pension for retirees and special pay package for workers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
In Abuja, the workers protested the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Eagle Square.
The protest marred the celebration, preventing the presentation of the President’s goodwill message.
In the message, the President promised that the report of the Main Government/Labour Committee on Mimimum wage and palliatives will be fully implemented.
Trouble started when the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Labour & Employment, Mrs. Biola Bawa, was invited to read the address of the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige.
The invitation was rejected by the workers with a thunderous ‘No’. They said Ngige must read his own address.
The drama continued for a while with the workers refusing appeal from NLC and TUC presidents Ayuba Wabba and Bobboi Kaigama that the workers allow Mrs. Bawa to address the rally.
Attempts by former Edo State governor and former NLC President Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to calm down the workers who took over the podium, also failed.
The minister read his address.
Some of the workers noted that if the President could not attend the rally, he should have sent the Vice President and not the minister.
The shout of ‘go back to your seat’ by the NLC and TUC leadership with a loud chorus of ‘no’ by the workers was deafening.
Many of the workers sat in their stands to watch the development which lasted for over one hour. A few of them went round the square, chanting “no marching, no marching”.
The workers who had become tired of what was going on began to leave the Square. Guests left the arena through the security exit and the rally ended in confusion.
As many of the workers made to leave the arena, the protesting workers took over the podium chanting “we don win, we don win”. An attempt by security operatives to force them out of the podium almost resulted in violence.
Some of the workers also blocked the police patrol vehicles deployed in the area, prompting security reinforcements to prevent a possible breakdown of law and order.
Dignitaries at the rally, including Senate President Bukola Saraki, House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara and representative of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), among others, left the venue through the back door .
Ngige attributed the protest to infiltration of the venue by non-workers and the factionalisation of the labour union.
The minister, however, assured that promotion and transfer allowances of workers would be paid in the third quarter of the year. He restated the governments commitment to the welfare of the citizenry, including the workers.
A few unions that were left after majority of the workers had left, observed the traditional march past before leaving the square.
The President assured workers that his administration would implement the recommendations of the main government/labour committee as it relates to the new minimum wage and palliatives to cushion the effect of the harsh economy.
Admitting the hardship being faced by Nigerians, Buhari promised that the government will do all within its power to better their lot by providing a commensurate welfare package.
He said the recently launched Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) was designed to restore economic growth as a result of the challenges of the past two years.
He said: “I am aware of that the economic recession the country found itself at the beginning of the year has huge implication for the seamless conduct of industrial relations.
“This arises from the fact that economic recession by its nature is usually characterised by a substantial risk of the vicious circle of low productivity, mass retrenchment of workers and closure of work places due to high cost of doing business, unregulated subcontracting and outsourcing with its attendant consequences on welfare of workers, among others.
“I strongly believe that the effective deployment of labour relation, which is an amalgam of approaches, could be used in creating a conducive work environment that would attract direct foreign investment for wealth and job creation.
“Therefore anchored on our shared understanding of our predicament, government, workers and employers can work together to pull out our economy from this recession. I call on organised labour to partner with this administration by resorting to social dialogue as an indispensable tool for conflict resolution.
“Today’s (yesterday’s) event reminds all of us of the great sacrifice and contributions the working class has made and continues to make towards wealth creation in the overall interest of our national growth.
“As a responsible and labour-friendly government, my administration will continue to accord high priority to the welfare of workers irrespective of whether they are in the formal or informal sector of our national economy.”
Buhari praised organised labour for its solidarity towards the fight against corruption which, he said has been the bane of sustainable development .
Buhari said: “My administration’s commitment to the fight against corruption is irreversible. We must fight corruption before it destroys us. I therefore call on organised labour to join hands with us in ensuring that workers imbibe the new doctrine of honesty, transparency, accountability and probity in doing government business.
“By our collective resolve and determination, we shall eradicate corruption from our society and the worker should be in the forefront of activities in the realisation of the whistle-blowing policy of this administration.
“The economic recovery and growth plan of this administration is specifically developed for the purpose of restoring economic growth following the challenges experienced in almost two years of our administration that resulted in negative growth.
“I am confident that with your support and cooperation and the strong determination of my government to ensure its full implementation, the three broad strategic objectives which include restoring growth, investing in people and building globally competitive economy will be fully realised.
“The government will give expeditious consideration to the proposal contained in the technical committee report on the new minimum wage and palliatives and government will take necessary steps to implement the final recommendations of the main government labour committee as it relates to the setting up of the new minimum wage committee and the needed palliatives in order to reduce the discomfort currently being experienced by the Nigerian working class.