•NLC worries about impact of prolonged lockdown
By Omololu Ogunmade
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday assured Nigerian workers that the federal government would resist their retrenchment without due process as a result of the economic crisis caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.
The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had expressed grave concern about imminent job cuts in the public and private sectors of the economy at the 2020 International Workers’ Day (May Day) celebration yesterday in Abuja.
But the President, who pledged to ensure that workers are protected, in his May Day speech, said he was aware of the anxiety that has captured workers’ minds as a result of the pandemic, assuring that government would not allow any sack unless it had gone through what he described as “due process of social dialogue.”
The president also told Nigerian workers that he had constituted the Presidential Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) with a mandate to come up with plans to reposition the economy both now and after the pandemic.
He said the committee had also been saddled with the responsibility of evolving ideas to grow the non-oil sector of the economy with a view to mitigating the effects of COVID-19, protect and create jobs.
“I understand the anxiety which has plagued the minds of workers over the possibility of job losses due to economic downturn caused by the pandemic and lock-down especially in the private sector. In this regard, the Government will ensure that no employer would retrench or lay off workers without going through due process of social dialogue which includes consultations with workers and with the Competent Authority – Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“Furthermore, I had earlier put in place a Presidential Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) with the objective of developing a credible sustainability plan for repositioning the Nigerian economy now and post Covid-19 crisis period.
“The ESC is required to specifically explore ways and means of growing our non-oil sector – all in a bid to minimise the adverse effects of the current crisis and to also protect existing jobs and even create new jobs to help absorb the teeming army of the unemployed even before the crises,” he said.
The President thanked health workers whom he said had been rendering great service to humanity, highlighting incentives the government had provided for them in expressions of appreciation to the workers.
Promising that the provision of personal protective equipment for their protection is non-negotiable, Buhari hailed the resolute spirits of the health workers, noting that with a sense of collective responsibility in the fight, victory would be achieved in the end.
He also tasked the Nigerian workers to observe safety measures as spelt out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) during this pandemic.
“I conclude by expressing my appreciation to medical doctors and healthcare workers as well as their respective organisations, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU). These health workers are doing a great service for humanity. I thank you all.
“I have directed that requisite incentives and hazard allowances enhancement and insurance for lives should be taken at these perilous times in favor of our Health Sector workers as a way of showing our appreciation.
“Also, personal protective equipment for their safety is also guaranteed. Great Nigerian workers, your resilience in times of adversity is not questionable. I appreciate you all and I know that with collective will and sense of responsibility, as a team, we shall triumph as a nation,” Buhari said.
He lamented the celebration of 2020 workers’ day indoors, with the Eagle Square and various stadia across the country empty, following the threat posed by the virulent Coronavirus disease.
He recalled different reasons for setting aside May 1 of every year for workers’ celebration, noting that the common enemy of mankind this year aborted the pomp and pageantry that usually characterise such celebrations.
He then proceeded to give account of various measures the federal government had undertaken to contain the scourge.
“Today is a day set aside for workers to celebrate the success of their historical struggles to have a ‘voice’ in the world of work. It is equally a day to celebrate their partnership with relevant stakeholders to achieve sustainable development and contribute to the progress of nations in contemporary times. It is a day to mark and acclaim workers’ productivity in nation – building.
“But today, May 1, 2020, the usual pomp and ceremony characterized by sounds of drumming and march past by various Trade Unions and their Federations are missing in all the stadia throughout the Federation including our Abuja Eagle Square. This is so because we are fighting an invisible enemy to humanity termed Covid-19 pandemic.
“In a bid to win this war, we set up a Presidential Task Force (PTF) made up of the relevant sector Ministers and highly skilled health technical experts
“The government had to in a well-designed expert advice, lock down some states of the federation where this pandemic is most prevalent – the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Ogun and Lagos States. Lagos State was and still is the EPICENTRE of the disease and of late Kano had to follow because of the new eruptions of Covid-19 in the State,”
The president advised every citizen to be his brother’s keeper “by ensuring that ‘I protect myself and protect others from me.”
NLC Worries about Retrenchments
The NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, in his address at the 2020 International Workers’ Day celebration in Abuja, expressed worries about the looming mass sack in the country because of COVID-19.
However, the minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige alluded to job protection by the federal government, in a solidarity message sent to workers to mark the day.
Ngige said that the federal government was considering a four – pillar plan of policy responses to COVID-19 crisis laid out by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The NLC said there was genuine premise to worry about possible threats to job retention both in the public and private sectors of the economy following disruptions caused by several weeks of lockdown on economic activities in the country.
For instance, it said the closure of the airspace had seen gross interruption and the near absence of passenger traffic and the associated services in the aviation sector.
It added that the social lockdown and physical distancing had reduced patronage of places of popular gathering, noting that workers in the hotel, recreation and tourism segments would be severely impacted as their workplaces have been largely shut. NLC said there is cause for worry about the fate of workers in these critical sectors of the economy.
Similarly, the NLC said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that Nigeria’s economy would shrink by 3.4 per cent and that the consequent recession could last until 2021.
“For a middle-income country like Nigeria, the hard-hit sectors which are the informal sector and semi-informal sectors of the economy represent a high proportion of workers with non-fixed contracts of employment and with limited access to health services and social protection,” it said.
NLC further talked about the proposed tax rebate, hailing the House of Representatives for passing the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill, 2020.
The bill seeks to provide 50 per cent tax rebate for employers and business owners who agree to retain existing staff in 2020, thus seeking to prevent job losses in the formal sector.
However, NLC expressed hope that the exclusion of informal workers from benefitting from the bill should be quickly addressed especially given that over 70% of Nigeria’s workforce and businesses actually operate in the informal sector.