Opinion

Unionism in Nigeria: How Has Workers’ Rights Fared In A Lockdown by Kamorudeen Adegbokiki

For some months now, COVID-19 virus has spread to all continents, infecting people in many countries around the world. As the virus spreads, the society, economy and business are being impacted.

How to minimise impact of the epidemic on business, its performance results and, most importantly, on employees – these are the main issues of concern for every company leader.

These days, company executives also point out that COVID-19 has an impact on performance efficiency of organizations. Infact, 46% of respondent of a survey carried out expect a reduction in performance targets in 2020.

How are the employees protected in a period like this especially in Nigeria?

According to the Unit Chairman Non-Academic Staff Union Of Educational And Associated Institutions, National Biotechnology Development Agency BIODEC, Owode Centre, Comrade Kamorudeen Adegbokiki, COVID-19 pandemic further expose the type of leadership and age long sufferings the organised labor force has endured over the years.

He made this statement during a weekly webinar tagged; Freelanews Leadership Session. While speaking on the topic “Unionism in Nigeria: How Has Workers’ Rights Fared In A Lockdown.”

In his opening remarks, the guest speaker noted that “We have several categories of unionism. Student unionism, Civil Society, Pressure Groups, Trade Unionism and so on” but limited his discussion about Trade Unionism.

In his words, a trade union as an association of workers forming a legal unit or legal personhood, usually called a “bargaining unit”, acts as bargaining agent and legal representative for a unit of employees in all matters of law or right arising from or in the administration of a collective agreement.

“Either in private or public sectors, workers are worst hit by this pandemic. Workers are the ones who suffered emotional uncertainties of getting back to work. We are all witness to what some banks attempted to do to their staffs while the pandemic started. But for the public outcry, some of them would have added to the pressure in the labour market.” he stated.

Comr. Adegbokiki shared the opinion that Nigerian workers have continued to pay exorbitantly owing to the rise in the cost of goods and services while their pay did not get any improvement.

“Suffice to say, the recently implemented new minimum wage (which many state government are yet to start its implementation) has not been able to significantly cushion the effect of the high cost of things.

“Nigerian workers are medically suffering from redundancy. Some have developed ailments as a result of the lockdown. Some have unfortunately get involved in one form of accident because of their non going to work.”

He opined that while Nigerian workers are faced with all these challenges, government and employers of labours have not deemed it necessary to provide palliatives for their workers.

“It is such unfortunate that workers of lower and intermediary cadres do not enjoy from any of government interventions.”

While listing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic through compulsory lockdown by governments, Adegbokiki added , “Essential workers providing health and other essential services were unable to get substantial renumeration for their special services they rendered.”

On why the National Labour Congress hasn’t been vocal now in fighting for the rights of workers as compared to the military regimes, the astute activist said:

“Well, NLC has not been confrontational over this in recognition of the fact that this is an emergency situation and as such all hands must be on deck to fight the pandemic.

“Nevertheless, NLC leadership has always been providing advisory roles to government on how best to tackle the effect of the pandemic which abinitio give rise to the lockdown.

He pointed out that the NLC chairman, Comrade Ayuba P. Wabba mni, recently spoke on the management of Social Intervention by provisions of palliatives and re-opening of schools.

“The union has been a very strong partner in this very national crisis. This is being done in anticipation that government will do everything needed to be done to fight this together.

“Let’s note that while treating this topic in context of Lockdown as occasioned by COVID-19, the labour organization is playing a role expected of good partner in nation building of fighting the common enemy. It is when the nation is standing healthy and wealthy we can all call ourselves Nigerian workers.

“That is why NLC is giving government the advisory support by way of advice on how to provide needed medical consumables, PPE for the frontline workers so the nation can be healed as fast as possible.

Asked on the ways workers can claim their rights legally should it be infringed upon, Adegbokiki stated that the Labour Act has adequately provided for the rights and privileges of workers.

“Take for instance, section 17 of labour Act provides that except where a collective agreement provides otherwise, every employer shall, unless a worker has broken his contract, provide work suitable to the worker’s capacity on every day (except rest days and public holidays) on which the worker presents himself and is fit for work; and, if the employer fails to provide work as aforesaid, he shall pay to the worker in respect of each day on which he has so failed wages at the same rate as would be payable if the worker had performed a day’s work.

In conclusion, he advised that employees should continue to give their best in accordance to the terms of contractual agreement and appealed to employers to be human in their dealings with their workers.

“Employers in private sectors should love their employees as much as they love their anticipated profits. For government, it should provide enabling environment for their employees to grow in terms of career and personal lives. Government should consider its workforce in its social intervention programmes such as Anchor Borowers, CBN consumer loan etc,” he said.

Adegbokiki was of the opinion that any negotiation with a employee should be on the basis of win-win for both parties. “Workers should be able to justify their demands as that will also have multiplier effect on the economy or the society.”

Freelanews Leadership Session and Freelanews.com.ng are properties of Freelart Limited.

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