COVID-19: Labour Must Lead Workers and the Poor to Resist Attacks on Jobs, Pays and Living Condition
Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed capitalism for having placed a greater premium on the private accumulation of capital and profit as against adequate investment in social services such as healthcare delivery services, education, food production, potable water, electricity etc. As a consequence of this failure, Nigeria economy, just like the global economy is vulnerable and entered a recession with its attendant job losses, scarcity and inflation. As at 25th January 2021, 121,566 confirmed COVID-19 cases while 1,504 deaths have been recorded so far in Nigeria. The global confirmed cases stand at 99, 718.934 million while global deaths stood at 2,137,731 million.
By Rufus Olusesan
National Chair, Campaign for Democratic and Workers’’ Rights (CDWR)
The second wave of Covid-19 in late 2020 amid economic recession and ENDSARS protest has further worsened the living condition of the working masses while the government failed to cater for the immediate needs of the people as peasant farmers, petty traders, factory workers, artisans, bus drivers and casual workers are left groaning and wallowing in abject poverty and hunger. Despite the economic crisis, the 2021 budget is not planned to take the masses out of the economic doldrums. For instance, government has again devalued Naira, though not to the extent the IMF had wanted. The budget put at N13.08trillion, an increase of 21% over 2020 budget, means a further increase in the debt burden. Already, the debt service for the year 2021 is N3.34 trillion of the budget and at the same the fiscal deficit of the budget which is put at N5.20 trillion will be financed with more borrowing and cuts. Budget allocation for education, infrastructure and health which affect the working people and the poor is relative low while the privileges of the ruling elite remained intact.
There is no doubt that the Covid -19 pandemic has had a grave consequence on the economy as it has given rise to inflation, rise in cost of production, rise in unemployment, mass retrenchment and low wage. But as if this was not enough, the government added insult upon injury by slamming on the working masses the increase in both petrol price from N143 to N165 per litre and hike in electricity tariff by over 100%. No doubt, these increments have continued to worsen the already rising cost of living and deepen poverty. The rising cost of living has wiped out the N30,000 minimum wage. Worse still, some states are yet to implement the minimum wage, which has been signed into law since since April 18, 2019, for workers while guaranteeing the jumbo salaries, allowances, unaccounted fabulous security votes and privileges of the political office holders which constitute a huge drain on the public funds.
Public and private sector workers have been forced to bear the consequence of COVID-19 pandemic amid economic crises. The leadership of NLC and TUC must mobilize the Nigerian workers not only to defend N30,000 minimum wage, but be ready to confront the government and private sector employers against retrenchment or loss of jobs. In fact, trade unions should be prepared to lead a struggle against widespread sacks and fractional salary payment.
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic crisis, Dr Timothy Olawale, Director General, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), said in the Nation Newspaper of April 24, 2020 that to minimize the potential of job loss, NECA suggest as the practice in other climes, that government should augment payment of salaries of workers’ of companies that are worst hit by the impact of the pandemic by at least 50 to 70 percent for the next four months. This statement amounts to calling for a bailout of private companies. Under capitalism, the private sector, which is supposed to lead the economy, only exists for profit-making alone. As soon as there is an economic crisis, private companies begin to opportunistically beg for bailout from the government and sack workers or cut workers’ salary. Where now are profits made over the years and why can’t the profits be channelled towards paying salaries and guaranteeing the welfare of workers?
As COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant second wave ravages the nation with a fall in oil income and a deeper economic crisis, it poses a dangerous trend to job security more than what was experienced between 2008 and 2010 during the global economic recession which led to factory closures and job losses. For instance, workers of Western Metal Products Company (WEMPCO) owners of Nigeria Enamelware Company (NEWCO), General Metalware Company (GEMCO), Standard Industrial Development Company (SID), Universal Nigeria Industries Company (UNICO), Oriental Hotel etc., were sent home since March 2020 without notice but were placed on N14,000 monthly which management tagged housing allowance; The management of ServAir, in the wake of the Covid -19 pandemic outbreak retrenched 62 of its workforce including all the Union leaders; Eldorado, a construction company, owed its workers eight months and backlog of unpaid pension and other entitlements, the attacks are endless. The medical workers in the frontline against COVID-19 are not adequately encouraged, motivated and protected to do the job. The entire healthcare delivery service is in shambles. Recently, The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Abuja Branch cried out that within a week, the Association lost twenty (20) Doctors while attending to the Covid -19 patients.
The NLC & TUC must braze up to defend workers for the challenges ahead of COVID-19 backlash and for a compulsory Special Life Insurance policy Scheme for health workers especially those in frontline while compulsory Group Life Insurance to other categories of workers as enshrined in Section 4 (5) of Pension Reform Act, 2014 (as amended), immediate payment of all outstanding salaries and allowances of workers both in the public and private sectors of the economy, reduction in salaries and allowances of public office holders to the earnings of skilled civil servants, thus free more money that create more resources to pay 30,000 minimum wage and fund budget for the betterment of all. Labour must also mobilise workers to demand: no to job losses or pay cuts on account of the COVID-19, end casualization while government must guarantee all employment and nationalise any company that retrench or fail to pay its workers, government and private employers must put all necessary measures including facilities that can guarantee social distancing and protection of workers and community people.
Moreover, organized labour need to reactivate its link with pro-masses’ organisations and socialist organisations through the revival of Labour – Civil Society Coalition (LASCO). This in order to lead the working masses, youth and the poor to struggle to defeat all anti-poor capitalist policies and overthrow capitalism. However, this can only be achieved, if the working class people form and build an alternative pan-Nigeria mass working people political party to struggle for the socialist transformation of the country while the major sectors of the economy are nationalized, planned and placed under democratic control and management of the workers and consumers for the betterment and needs of all. This is the only way adequate investment in healthcare, education, jobs, transportation, housing, food and other basic amenities can be achieved.