• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Angst, anxiety mount over news of fresh strike

Angst, anxiety mount over news of fresh strike

…Nigerians recount experience of recent NLC’s action

…Lament worsening cost of living crisis

Fear is presently erupting among many Nigerians over the likelihood of organised labour reactivating their earlier relaxed nationwide strike.

This comes as the Tripartite Committee constituted by the Federal Government to champion negotiations on National Minimum Wage failed to reach an agreement with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) after their marathon meeting Friday night.

While the committee recommended N62,000 as the monthly minimum wage for civil servants, organised labour on the other hand, has rejected the offer, insisting on N250,000.

Read also: Fuel scarcity hurts businesses, motorists as union calls off strike

Earlier, the state governors said they could not even pay the earlier proposed N60,000 minimum wage which was later increased by N2,000 to arrive at N62,000 that labour also rejected.

This development is not going down well with Nigerians after the ugly experience suffered by many when the organised labour grounded the economy for two days –Monday 3 and Tuesday 4th June.

Nigerians recount experience

During those two days, businesses were affected, government-owned hospitals were shut, seaports and airports were grounded and the national grid was shut leading to a total blackout across the country.

The strike started at midnight Sunday and early morning Monday, with the workers shutting down the national grid, throwing the nation into a total blackout for two days.

This put serious pressure on homes and businesses particularly small businesses that depend on power.

For instance, Yinka Abiola, a Lagos-based maker of healthy fruit juice including tiger nut and zobo drinks, said she recorded over N200,000 in lost due to the power supply cut during the two-day labour strike.

Abiola said she usually prepares drinks the night before and that over 100 bottles of the tiger nuts and zobo juice she prepared on Sunday night soured the next morning due to power failure even as she found it difficult to sell the good ones because they are drinks that are served while chilled .

“I lost a lot of money during the last Labour strike because I didn’t know that there would be a power cut from that night and went ahead to make drinks that Sunday evening. First, there was no fuel to power my generator that night, which is not out of place because we always have an uninterrupted power supply in my area – 22 to 24 hours daily.

“So, that night took me by surprise and before I could get petrol the next morning, it was around 1pm because many petrol stations shut down and the few that opened experienced long queues due to high demand,” said Abiola.

According to her, she was also forced to put the business on hold till power was restored on Wednesday after that horrible experience on the first day of the strike.

“I spent over N30,000 on fuel to power my generator to be able to work for three days due to power cut,” said Shola Adeyemi, a fashion designer.

The fashion expert, who specialised in unisex tailoring, said he had orders that were nearing their delivery dates and that he must work for those three days that were blackout in his area to be able to meet up.

“It wasn’t easy for one to run the sewing machines on a generator because petrol is very expensive to buy at the pump price of about N630 per litre. If I spend such an amount on fueling the generator alone, how would be my profit at the end of the day? This is why I don’t want a repeat of what happened last week and I urge the government to agree with labour to avoid such,” Adeyemi pleaded.

Read also: National grid restored after strike suspension, says NUEE

Also, many government-owned hospitals were shut down as the labour task force barred people from accessing healthcare.

BusinessDay Sunday understands that health workers and out-patients were prohibited from getting into hospitals in various parts of the country while the available ones were only providing skeletal and emergency services to patients.

This development threw many into agitation over the fear that the situation could deny people access to healthcare, thereby resulting in the unfortunate death of many.

“I am always agitated any time the organised labour threatens to go on a nationwide strike because I know such action would have serious consequences on people like us that receive healthcare from a government hospital,” said Obi Ezeagu, a pensioner.

Ezeagu said that going to a government hospital on a normal day is not a palatable thing not to talk of when workers are on strike.

“If you ever have the opportunity to be in one of the health facilities owned by the government, you would be saddened by the way these nurses and health workers treat their patients as if the services are rendered for free and people’s lives don’t matter to them.

“So, you can imagine their behaviour when workers down tools. Lives would be lost because many people who need healthcare may not have the resources to transfer their loved ones to a private clinic at that point,” Ezeagu said.

Utomi charts path for negotiation

Pat Utomi, a political economist, urged the organised labour to demand for a slash in the cost of governance and for the government to request for increased productivity on the part of workers
Utomi told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday that Labour must insist on a dramatic slash in the cost of governance and investment of the savings made in production programmes and infrastructure.

“This is to facilitate and sustain the value chain of the output based on our latent comparative advantage from strong factor endowments while the government should establish what it is paying for to determine if it is paying for welfare or productivity. Output targets need to be established and hard consequences for abuse of positions like corruption and begging on the job from customers,” he said.

He said that there was a need to establish a benchmark for civil society monitoring of both parties with clearly outlined consequences.

According to him, the government also needs to come up with bold initiatives that drive the transition to production in the way Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) attempted to do in the mid-1970s.

He said that future adjustments to minimum wage weighed heavily on productivity improvements.

“Once a proper framework is established, the template to plug in productivity gains should be activated,” Utomi said.

Anthony Anamelechi, a senior citizen, said that rather than demand for an increase in wages, labour should mandate the government to put the economy back on track.

Pointing out that increase in wages will not solve the rising cost of living crisis in Nigeria, he said that government needed to fix the refineries to reduce pressure on the naira and also cut down the cost of governance.

Read also: Major road projects to suffer as strike action looms in construction industry

Worsening hunger and cost-of-living crisis

In the past one year of President Bola Tinubu, Nigeria has been facing an economic crisis that has led to an escalating cost-of-living crisis due to galloping inflation and uncontrolled food prices that have left households in pain.

Tinubu’s administration introduced economic reforms that led to the removal of petrol subsidies and foreign exchange liberalisation that failed to help the economy.

As a result, Nigeria’s inflation accelerated to 33.69 percent in April while food inflation rose to 40.53 percent in April, compared to the 24.61 percent reported in the same month last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The soaring food prices have left households in hunger as families spend a chunk of their salaries on food alone and these led the organised labour to agitate for a minimum wage that reflects the current economic realities in Nigeria.

Nigeria joins Somalia as hunger hotspot

The United Nations in its recent report listed Nigeria among 18 nations that are experiencing acute food insecurity which is projected to worsen in magnitude and severity.

“Since the previous edition of the Hunger Hotspots report (October 2023), the Central African Republic, Lebanon, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Zambia have joined Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, Somalia and Zimbabwe in the list of hunger hotspots, where acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further during the outlook period,” the report revealed.

The report also emphasised the alarming compounding effect of simultaneous and overlapping shocks on acute food insecurity.