• Sunday, May 26, 2024
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Suffering and smiling workers (Part 2)



Last week, this column noted that Nigerian workers,unlike their Polish counterparts, have perfected the art of suffering and smiling. While Polish workers under the leadership of Lech Walesa confronted the oppressive Soviet-backed communist government and wrestled power from its grasp, Nigerian workers go about their duties lamely, zombie-like plastic smiles on their faces, while our depraved political leaders rob the nation blind. Leaders of the organised labour sector do not help matters either as they have the same ideological mindset as our political oppressors. For a majority of labour leaders, serving the cause of their members has become secondary to the acquisition of material and political clout. No more are they of the sort of mind set that propelled late Chief Michael Imoudu and Wahab Goodluck to confront the colonial masters to emancipate workers.

On the contrary, many labour leaders today are renowned for their ownership of fleets of top of the range exotic cars, palatial mansions in several continents, and properties that span the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. With vested interests in the establishment and imbued with a huge appetite for material gain by labour ‘contractocrats’, it is not surprising that workers are in the sort of parlous state they are in today. The slogan for many a leader of organised labour today appears to be “if you can’t beat politicians, join them”. Many labour leaders have turned the movement’s headquarters to press agencies and engage only in reactive press releases and unending sporadic strikes that achieve very little or nothing at all, rather than be the agents of change they are meant to be. Hence, our political leaders can afford to take us all for a ride and have been able to enslave workers since independence.
It about time organised labour re-appraises its strategies and repositions itself to play a vanguard role in the emancipation of workers that is long overdue. If labour fails, its leaders will eventually be swept away by imminent social revolution alongside the obscene political leadership that has enslaved workers to date. Until leaders of the organised labour sector wake up to their responsibilities, our nation’s coffers will perpetually be drained by greedy politicians, our streets and homes will be without electricity, our taps will remain dry, our roads will remain highways to graves, our hospitals will remain mortuaries, and workers of this nation will remain sheep without shepherd.

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Moreover, the government will continue to play games in response to whatever demands labour comes up with to ameliorate workers’ sufferings. Such is the chicanery displayed by the political class in response to the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress’ demand for N52000 minimum wage. Without doubt, the federal government’s proposal for a cut in the pay of political office holders was only a gimmick meant to assuage workers anger against their opulent lifestyle despite mass poverty amongst workers. While politicians, who are prepared to ascend to political offices on the backs of masters who administer bare-buttocks oaths of slavery, live in affluence, millions of workers in the unorganised private sector still earn as little as N2500 monthly, a far cry from the N52000 minimum wage labour leaders are requesting that our slave masters pay for decades of blood and sweat of workers.
With the pay cut for public and political office holders proposed by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in February set to take effect shortly, it is obvious that the government might refer to this double-faced strategy to deny workers a much deserved increase in wages. Reducing the wages of political office holders, who obviously have more leverage and are more privileged to explore loopholes in our nation’s financial books to their advantage, cannot be equated with denying workers’ legitimate request. Moreover, the reductions in political office holders’ pay across the country by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) are not far-reaching enough and in no way reflect dwindling oil revenues.
For instance, what do workers gain from the cancellation of the President and Vice-President’s 300 per cent severance pay when they are entitled to pensions for life alongside a host of other perquisites, anyway? Or what patriotism was the reduction in their hardship allowances from 50 per cent to 30 per cent meant to showcase when, for workers perpetual hardship without compensation has become a daily reality? Those responsible for causing workers large scale hardship should not benefit by getting paid 30 of basic pay as hardship allowance.

Moreover, the RMAFC only slightly reduced the
the number of vehicles at the disposal of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, with Senators’ constituency allowance reduced from 250 per cent of their annual basic salary to 125 per cent, and those of members of the House of Representatives from 150 per cent to 75 per cent of basic pay as disclosed by Mallam Hamman Tukur, the Chairman of the RMAFC, recently. What the RMAFC Chairman failed to tell workers is what dent the reductions have made on the thirty-two per cent of the total national annual wage bill of N1.3 trillion spent on officials of the 36 state governments, and the 15 per cent spent on officials of the Federal Government.
Yet President Yar’Adua thinks he has done Nigeria a favour via the reductions despite many political office holders smiling their ways to Swiss banks daily. Someone should tell President Yar’Adua he has done workers no favour. If anything, President Yar’Adua should plug those loopholes that enable political paupers become billionaires overnight. Secondly, the miserly minimum wage currently earned by workers should be increased to N52000 and enforced for both organised and unorganised private sectors.