Low wages, poor manpower development trouble workers

Nigeria has recorded great milestones in labour relations issues over the years mostly through agitations by the unions. However, issues of poor manpower development and wage decentralisation though remains unresolved. MESHACK IDEHEN writes.

Labour historians recall that the first trade union organisation was born in Nigeria in August 1912, and was initially called the Southern Civil Service Union, (SCSU) with about 500 members which spread from south to north of the country.

Later renamed the Nigerian Civil Service Union, (NSCU) after the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates, the movement was organised and headed by Mr. Henry Liebert, a Sierra Leonean immigrant then living in Nigeria.

According to hsotorians, lots of struggles and battles were waged and won between 1912 and 1935 by the NSCU against the white colonial masters; developments which further encouraged more Nigerian workers to enrol, and by late 1930s, two major unions have been formed, which are the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Nigeria Railway Workers (NRC).

However, since June 22 1945 when the late Pa Michael Imodu led the country’s railway workers to revolt against poor welfare and working condition as then practiced by the British colonial masters, labour unionism in Nigeria, analysts said, has not remained the same.

Citing unfair treatment of workers, victimisation and violation of rules and legislation; coupled with allegations of poor application of provision for collective bargaining and non observation of condition of work, the Imodu led railway workers embarked on protests and industrial action, a move which many labour historians and analysts insist till date paved the way for the activities of organised labour in Nigeria to flourish.

Labour Leader, and Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC), Mr. Issa Aremu, told National Mirror that the positive and remarkable precedence set by pre-independence labour leaders like Michael Imodu and Henry Liebert went a very long way towards supporting and achieving economic and political freedom for the country.

Aremu said as the country clocks 53, that the ideals, efforts and lasting groundwork put in place by pre- independence labour leaders must not be lost on the altar of policies being introduced to stifle organised labour movement.

Not surprisingly, other stakeholders within and outside the sector also continue to posit that the management labour issues, which represent the main fulcrum on which jobs and career development in the country revolves has continued to improve in strategy and results, despite the surmountable challenges that keeps springing up from time to time.

“It is on record and important to note”, said renowned Labour Activist and President of Progressive Leadership Organisation International (PLOI), Mr. Emmanuel Ezueme, “that organised labour has also struggled with past and present Nigerian governments, the private sector establishments, the country’s military and other parallel labour bodies in the quest to create and sustain a workable and acceptable wages and reward system for the Nigeria workers”.

According to Ezueme, “Organised labour unions have also been able to transform themselves into viable entities, creating employment and wealth at the same time, while also championing the cause of workers and their wholistic development”.

Nevertheless, the labour activist said slack in resource allocated for the regular training and development of workers, coupled with the recently introduced plans to decentralise their ( workers) wages by moving it from the exclusive list to the concurrent are issues that have inherent signs of being capable of slowing down good progress that the sector has made.

Explaining to our correspondent the need to leave wages issues on the exclusive list, the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Bobboi Kaigama, pointed out that Nigeria’s has over the past five decade witnessed remarkable improvement in developing adequate industrial dispute resolution mechanisms, and the production of skilled and effective manpower that can meet global standards and demands.

He noted that Nigeria when placed side by side with other developed nations like South Africa, Brazil and the United States of America (USA) in terms of labour and manpower development issues, will stand heads and shoulder apart, due to the largely humane background that is usually brought to bear by the unions, when resolving any industrial, welfare or wage disputes with the governments or private sector organisations.

The TUC president maintained that there is much to look forward to in the organised labour sector, considering in particular, that the present crops of labour leaders are gradually moving away from the era of aggressive to non-confrontational resolutions of disputes.

Be that as it may, and despite the upside that has been witnessed and still been envisaged in matters of labour and industrial harmony in the years ahead, other stakeholders said the issue of job loss which has led to spiralling unemployment and nationwide insecurity needs to be addressed, so that the success being recorded can be complete, in order for the sector to thrive sustainably.

Explaining that unemployment, mass loss of jobs and poor development of indigenous manpower are all linked together, the President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions, (ASSIBIFI), Mr Olusoji Salako, said the concept of outsourcing and casualisation which many private sector employers have adopted need to stop, or at the very least be reviewed.

Salako said outsourcing and casualisation of workers, including in the banking sector has contributed in no small measure towards the underdevelopment of Nigerian workers; made them pauperised and stretched the possibilities of involving in acts of disloyalty.

The ASSIBIFI president said any reforms in the polity that leads to job loss cannot be a good reform, adding organised labour in general, and ASSIBIFI in particular is interested in reform types that will not only create jobs, but will also guarantee job security as well.

According to Salako, “As the nation mark its 53 independence day celebrations, it is important to spare thoughts for adequate manpower development that can end the era of casualisation and outsourcing.

It is also important that wage remain on exclusion list of government, so that workers, especially those in the private sector be protected”. He blamed frauds and other non professional conducts in the banking industry and the economy on outsourcing, casualisation and multitasking of workers stressing that, those issues needs to be addressed permanently to sustain gains already made.

On his part, the National Industrial Relations Officer of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Senior Staff Association, (PENGASSAN), Mr. Hyginuis Onuegbu, said adequate and effective manpower development for the nation’s workers, will send non useful expatriates in the oil and gas sector back to their countries.

Onuegbu, who is also the Rivers State Chairman of the TUC, suggested that the government and other relevant stakeholders come together to fashion out ways of facilitating training and manpower development opportunities for Nigerians, adding the association will be greatly pleased by the effort, as such move will reduce the burden on the industry.

According to him, crude oil theft, vandalisation of the nation’s petroleum pipelines, militancy and other vices perpetuated by criminals using unemployed and unengaged youths will also become a thing of the past, if the youths are provided with training and manpower development opportunities that can assist them.

Affirming that lack of adequate manpower is crippling organised labour’s effort to grapple with the sector’s challenges, President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Mr. Igwe Achese, said manpower development has been one of the fundamental issues that have consistently attracted the interest and concern of succeeding government in Nigeria since independence.

According to the NUPENG president, if independence is to have meaningful impact on the general well being of its citizen, it must be complemented promptly and definitely by a rapid transformation of the economy to achieve self-reliance.

He said “it has long been established that the greatest assets of a nation are its human resources men and women, old and young. It has also become increasingly clear in government, industry and commerce that economic growth and economic advancement of the country required the services of trained workers and professionals who possess technological skills and or executive capacity to provide specialised services of all sorts.”

“That is what adequate and effective manpower is about, and that is what organised labour in Nigeria is urging the government and other relevant stakeholders to address comprehensively, even as the nation clocks 53 years”.

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