Labour Day blues: what hope for the Nigerian worker?

May 1 every year is International Labour Day. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) uses the day to promote the ideals she represents as a trade union, especially in the struggles for the common good of all workers. This year it was no different. Parades were held and solidarity messages were sent to workers.

Some State Governors stayed away from the parades for fear of receiving jeers from angry workers. Yet, the celebration was dark, gloomy, and filled with despair.

Reason: The Nigerian worker is hungry, angry, and weary of unfulfilled promises! The Nigerian worker is either poorly paid as a civil servant or exploited and enslaved as an employee in the private sector, especially by foreign firms and employers.

He has little rights in the workplace. Many are casual workers who are underpaid and maltreated. They are ferried in inhuman trucks to and from work sites by construction firms enjoying mega contracts from the government. Today many workers are not sure about receiving their gratuity and pension at retirement.

They fear joining the existing queue of suffering pensioners. The poor living condition of the Nigerian worker is exacerbated by high inflation, poor infrastructure, and official corruption.

Many firms are either suffering from poor performance or are on the edge of going under. Many government-owned firms were killed by corruption.

The first and only victims have been the workers who become jobless! The history of the labour movement in Nigeria has been a chequered one; both as a body, and in its leadership.

It has been a story of conflicts with colonial, military and democratic governments. It has also been a story of betraying and of unholy romance with the powers that be.

This depends on the dispositions of the leaders of the labour movement an epoch has produced. The NLC started in December 1978. It emerged from the merger of four trade union organisations, the Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Labour Unity Front (LUF), United Labour Congress (ULC) and Nigeria Workers’ Council (NWC). From the Nigerian Trade Union Act (Section 1 of the Trade Union Act of 1973, as amended in 2005), the major aim and purpose of a union is the representation of workers in the regulation of workers’ wages and working conditions. The first industrial action of workers in Nigeria was recorded in 1897.

The labour movement in Nigeria has contributed immensely to the general welfare and well-being of workers. Its leadership, especially the doyen of the Movement in Nigeria, Michael Athokhamien Omnibus Imoudu, were at the fore in the fight for independence from Britain.

Labour leaders like Frank Kokori fought for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. Comrade Hassan Adebayo Sunmonu is a renowned leader of labour in Nigeria. Many believe that the working condition of workers would have been better if the leadership of the labour movement in Nigeria were ideological clear-headed and morally upright. They have betrayed the average Nigerian worker and masses.

They stand by and watch politicians and directors loot the country’s wealth into one of penury.

Labour is most unconcerned when these once viable firms are put down by corruption. The list of killed firms is endless in Nigeria. They include those in the textile, aviation, manufacturing, energy, oil and gas, journalism, hotel, hospitality and entertainment, etc. sectors.

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The health and education sectors are sick and dying. Where is the voice of labour? It is high time the NLC realised that freedom comes by struggle! The May Day celebration today is borne out of struggle. Lately, the leadership of labour has been only associated with fuel increase as if that is the only problem in the country.

They are less concerned about the non-existence of refineries in a country that once boasted of four refineries. NLC must wake up and be at the forefront in the fight against corruption; she must champion the fight for human rights and the right of unionisation of workers. Many in the private sector are glorified slaves working under inhuman conditions.

NLC must not be contented with a situation where children of the average worker – except those who have accessed corrupt funds – are left to attend poorly funded schools, colleges and universities by the government while those of politicians, directors and permanent secretaries are abroad. The NLC must fight for the rights of all Nigerian workers by reinventing itself in contemporary Nigeria.

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