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2017 Workers' Day And Begging Questions By Rahaman Onike

May 1, 2017

While the governors enjoy unhindered access to security votes and other entitlements, workers throughout Nigeria continue to suffer.

May Day is not only declared as a public holiday by the Federal Government of Nigeria to mark Workers' Day, it is a moment for deep reflection on the state of workers in both private and public sectors of the nation's economy. With the economic recession currently inflicting the fabrics of the nation, workers appear to be worst hit, as most state governments are owing their employees a backlog of salary arrears. Even when states had the opportunity to access Paris Loan funds to pay government workers the wages owed to them, many governors pocketed the funds.

While the governors enjoy unhindered access to security votes and other entitlements, workers throughout Nigeria continue to suffer. Indeed, with the current state of the Nigerian economy, most workers cannot afford to eat three decent meals a day.

As the nation marks Workers' Day, three intertwined issues need serious consideration by labor unions and the government at various levels.

One, the perennial question of what should be the minimum wage deserves more attention in labor discourse across the nation as we mark this year's Workers' Day.

To have a realistic minimum wage policy is essential for industrial harmony in the country. Factors such as purchasing power of currency and inflationary trends need careful consideration in our policy decisions on national wages and salaries. Anything to the contrary will make the struggle for better salaries remain a permanent feature of Nigeria's national life.

The second issue of serious concern is the contributory pension scheme. Since 2004, when the Pension Reform Act was enacted, the objectives of the scheme are yet to be fully realized. Up till the present moment, several states have yet to even implement the scheme.

Worse still, the pension fund was sometime ago reported to have been embezzled by the administrators.

Similarly, an average state employee doesn't understand the letter and spirit of the Pension Reform Act 2004. Poor knowledge and understanding of how a contributory pension scheme works in a way contributes to the negative attitude of workers to the ideals, principles and strategic objectives of the scheme.

Again, the introduction of either zero subvention or disproportionate subvention for employees by state governments is not only a cause of nightmare for the workers but has resulted in continuous groaning among the state workforce in some states of the federation. Obviously, zero subvention policy introduced for tertiary institutions' workers by some states as a strategic measure to assist them achieve self sustainability, in my view, is nothing but a ruse, especially when the affected institutions lack the relevant investments, capacity and facilities to drive the self sustainability policy. As it is, the policy of self sustainability without seed fund for facility expansion and investment is nothing but  a sort of subterfuge.

With zero subvention or disproportionate subvention to tertiary institutions by some state governments, employees' productivity and efficiency will continue to diminish.

Indeed, government by not paying salaries as and when due loses the moral right to complain of ineptitude of deprived workers.

Of equal importance is the government's failure to implement Employee's Compensation Act 2010. The Act seeks special compensation for the death of workers in the course of service delivery or for any form of injury sustained. Despite the clauses in the Employee's Compensation Act 2010 which entitles employees to compensation for even occupational disease and mental stress in the discharge of official duties, the compensation is often waived contrary to the extant law.

Based on the forgoing, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) need to address the nonchalant attitude of government at various levels towards the implementation of Employee's Compensation Act 2010 which intends to find succor for any workers that suffer injury or disability in the course of service delivery.

Wishing the Nigeria's workers all the best as the nation celebrates them today.

Rahaman Onike writes from Oyo State. He is public administrator, policy analyst and author.