May 1 is not only declared as public holiday by the Federal Government of Nigeria to mark the workers day, it is a moment for deep reflection on the state of employees 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 fund, it was unfortunate that we still heard the report of some governors diverting the fund.
While the governors enjoyed unhindered access to security votes and other entitlements, workers were made to suffer with impunity. The current realities in the country is that an average worker can no afford three descent daily meal.
As the nation marks the workers day, three intertwined issues needs serious consideration by labour unions and the government at various levels. One, the perrenial question of what should be the minimum wage deserves more attention in labour discourse across the nation as we mark this year’s workers day.
To have a realistic minimum wage policy as essential for industrial harmony in the country, factors such as purchasing power of currency and inflationary trend need careful consideration in our policy decisions on national wages and salaries. Anything to the contrary will make the struggle for salary increase to remain a permanent feature of Nigeria’s national life.
The second issue of serious concern is contributory pension scheme. Since 2004 when the Pension Reform Act was enacted, the objectives of the Scheme are yet to be fully realised. Up till the present moment, the Contributory Pension Scheme is yet to be introduced by some states while few States that had introduced the Scheme are not doing it right.
Worse still, pension fund was sometimes ago been 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 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 not only a cause of nightmare for the workers but it has resulted into continous 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, it’s nothing but a ruse. Moreso, 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 lack of will by government to implement Employee’s Compensation Act 2010. The Act seeks special compensation for death of workers in the course of service delivery or for any forms 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 are 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 non challant attitude of government at various levels towards the implementation of Employee’s Compensation Act 2010 which intends to find succour 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.