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May Day And The Plight Of Nigerian Workers

Nigerian workers today join millions of their counterparts in different parts of the world to mark the 129th anniversary of the International Labour Day, popularly called May Day or Workers Day. May Day has its origin in the 1886 industrial revolution in Chicago, United States where workers laid down their lives to defend the rights of the working class.

In Nigeria, the first Workers Day was celebrated in Kano State in 1980 during the regime of Alhaji Abubakar Rimi who declared the day a public holiday. The Federal Government under Alhaji Shehu Shagari followed suit in 1981 and since then May Day has been celebrated nationwide. So, today workers will converge at the 36 state capitals and Abuja for rallies organised by their trade unions, workers associations and their umbrella organisation – Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). The gatherings will be characterised by speeches from the leadership of the workers’ union and government officials. Corporate organisations will invade the various events venue with their brand identity for promotional purposes. At the end of the day the essence of the day is lost in all these hollow rituals.

It must be remembered that the achievement of workers movement is anchored on years of arduous struggles. So today should be a day of sober reflection particularly on the deteriorating condition of the working class. The late Michael Imoudu, Nigeria’s first labour leader never relented in fighting the cause of the working class. His life of struggle against anti labour laws and practices during the colonial days and after the attainment of independence leaves many valuable lessons for today’s generation of labour leaders. The late Imoudu will no doubt turn in his grave at what has become of labour movement in Nigeria.

It is a common view that leaders of Nigerian trade unions have not lived up to expectation. Cases abound of union leaders who betray workers struggle or fail to defend their rights and interests. For instance full employment is rapidly being replaced by casualisation and contract staffing, the national minimum wage is yet to be implemented in many states and workers welfare is not given top priority in many workplaces. Also workers in the private sector suffer acts of brutality and various forms of abuse by their employers, including foreigners. Unfortunately, today’s labour leaders pay only casual interest in these and many other anti-labour practices perpetrated by employers of labour.

In other climes the labour unions have become a vehicle for socio-economic transformation. Sadly this is not the case in Nigeria. Therefore, as workers file out to celebrate their day, the labour leaders must do a critical self-appraisal. To be on the right pedestal to champion workers’ interests, the labour movement must first put its house in order. The labour movement in Nigeria has never been as divided as it is today. As it stands, there are two factional Presidents of NLC – Ayuba Wabba of the Medical and Health Workers Union and Joe Ajaero of the National Union of Electricity Employees. Consequently the two factions recently organised parallel congresses in some states thus producing factional chairmen. This is shameful and a drawback on labour movement.

The leadership of NLC and its affiliate unions must put an end to rivalry and bitterness to be able to sustain the legacy and goal of the labour movement in Nigeria. The workers also must rededicate themselves to their duties and responsibilities to enhance the growth and development of the nation. They must eschew all forms of graft, corruption and poor attitude to work which have blighted their work ethics and productive capacity over the years.

The May Day celebration should also afford government the opportunity to reflect on the plight of workers and design programmes and policies to enhance their welfare. It is on record that the Goodluck Jonathan administration increased the minimum wage from ₦5,500 to ₦18,000, amended the 2004 Pension Act to include informal sector workers, and introduced Employees Compensation Scheme, among others. We urge the incoming President to consolidate on these positive labour policies to enhance the welfare of the working class.

As we celebrate May Day, government and the organised labour should also consider the plight of pensioners whose monthly stipends are delayed or denied without any cause. Many of them have died out of frustration and suffering due to corrupt and poor management of pensions. The unemployment rate has reached a crisis level. It therefore behoves on government to create the right environment for the private sector to grow and create employment opportunities because it is an anomaly for government to be the highest employer of labour in a sound economy. We sincerely hope May Day will afford the stakeholders the opportunity to reflect on the errors of the past with a view to correcting them for the benefit of the working and non-working class and the wellbeing of the nation in general. We wish Nigerian workers happy celebration.

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