By Bimbola Oyesola
ONE of the selling points of Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign promises was employment generation for the unemployed, mostly the youths, who form over 50 percent of the nation’s population. According to the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 national youth survey report; youths of working age, in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years are nearly 70 million persons in a population of 166 million Nigerians; of these youths 54 per cent were unemployed then. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), reports in 2014 showed that the figure had risen to 80 per cent. The nation’s population is also reported to be over 170 million.
However, one year into the present administration, it is not enough that significant jobs have not been created, rather millions of jobs have been lost and still counting, thereby swelling the statistics.
It would be an understatement to say that Nigerians, most especially the working class, are facing serious hardship amidst the current economic challenges.
In the last one year, with millions of job loss and still counting as a result of skeletal production or outright closure of companies due to the Federal Government policy on restriction of foreign exchange for 41 raw materials, high cost of living, poor wages, further deteriorating electricity with high tariffs, persistent fuel crisis with the new pump price of petroleum of N145 per litre, workers indeed are the endangered species.
Although in reaction to this, and before the present nationwide strike in protest of the hike in the petroleum price by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Organised Labour had decided to hold a one-day nationwide protest along with a warning strike to draw the attention of the Federal Government to the innumerable hardship conditions workers and Nigerians in general are facing.
It could be recalled that the CBN had in a circular dated June 23, 2015, stated that the policy, restricting allocation to some raw materials would help to conserve foreign reserves and facilitate the resuscitation of domestic industries as well as generate employment.
But the present scenario in the country is clearly the reverse as earlier prediction in the year by stakeholders across different sectors of imminent job loss, low productivity, under capacity utilisation among others have now become a reality.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), at the inception of the policy had warned that most manufacturers might be forced to shut down and move their operations to neighbouring countries due to their inability to access foreign exchange for raw materials and other critical inputs.
The Chamber specifically had said then that one of the downside of the policy was that it could lead to massive job losses, as an estimated 40, 000 Nigerians in the manufacturing sector may be laid off.
But this may have been underestimated, as operators in the food sector, which is most hit by the policy, revealed that over two million jobs may have already gone in the sector.
The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) early in the year predicted that towards the end of the first quarter many of its members would close shops, if the present situation prevailed.
The MAN President, Frank Jacobs, then equally warned that unless government devised a way of making the scarce foreign exchange available to the manufacturers that need them for their raw materials, Nigeria’s econmoy might be heading to a shambles in relation to the real sector.
He had said that some of the MAN members might have closed their factories and laid off a lot of workers and some of them have as many as 500 workers. The implication, he warned, might be disastrous in a country that has no social security.
His prediction then that prices of commodity would soar for companies whose raw materials were not under restriction, but all the same could not get forex, and has to resort to parallel market has already come to pass, as prices of commodities have gone up with the dollar exchanging for as much as N360 in the black market.
The Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) also confirmed that there has been mass retrenchment going on all across the sectors.
“The human beings will have to be sent home, and that is exactly what is happening all across our sectors, on the account of the fact that we are still import dependent, and if these businesses cannot access foreign exchange to bring in raw materials or machine components or even import machines to expand their operations, they have to do the needful in terms of cutting down on their expenses and those expenses, include salary that are paid to workers”, the NECA Director General, Segun Oshinowo had said.
Sectors mass retrenchment
Manufacturing sector using crude palm oil as raw material in their daily production of goods like biscuits, noodles and cosmetics are already cutting down on production, while the food sector generally have commenced massive downsising.
Organised Labour confirmed that employers had commenced redundancy discussion with the union to forestall industrial crisis.
So far, the National Union of Food Beverage annd Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), said Floor Mill in January this year sacked 800 workers, Seven-Up Bottling Company axed 150 workers, Cadbury, 40 workers, Lacasera, 150, while WAMCO sent 40 home under a ploy, calling for voluntary retirement for workers with 16 years in service or above 50 years.
Other companies presently negotiating with the union include Nigeria Bottling Company (NBC), makers of Coca Cola, B Cola, Goldenlad, while Vital Products and other makers of tomato paste, about 10 of them have already shut down due to lack of raw material.
The national president of the union, Lateef Oyelekan, lamenting the ordeal said the sector could provide employment for over 10 million Nigerians if operating in full capacity.
The story is not different in the chemical sector, whose leadership said it had gotten about 10 letters from the companies signifying interest to downsise.
The President of the National Union of Chemical Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), Boniface Isok, said another downsise in the sector would amount to total closure.
“Before now, there have been series of downsising and some of these companies presently have about 200 staff and this time around they’ve signified that they want to do 80 per cent, that is like closing down,” he said.
He stated, “We’ve lost over 20,000 members due to policies that we have no control over, most of our companies now are operating between 20-30 per cent capacity. 10 companies shut down totally and about 25 on partial operation.”
For the Shop and Distributive Sector, the impact, the president of the union, Kelly Ogbaloi, said, was fatal, as over 231 workers lost their job in January alone.
According to the President of the National Union of Shops and Distributive Employees (NUSDE), Dana sacked 42, CFAO, 36, Chellarams, 16, Kellarams, 48, Daylong, 10, Goldig, 53, Dizengof, 6.
“The problem really is that of the economy, it is not the fault of the employers, neither is that of the employees. The only thing we can do here is to negotiate as we don’t have any power to restrict employers from downsising,” he said.
The President of the Food and Beverage Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), Quadri Olaleye, in a similar save-our-soul campaign lamented that over 500 of the union members lost their jobs between December and January this year.
The electricity sector also lost over 5,000 workers in the month of March this year while the banking sector is not left out in the crisis.
The mass retrenchment would have been extended to the public sector, if the organised labour had not reacted with a mass action on the sack of over 3,000 workers in a day by the Imo State government.
Unpaid salaries, minimum wage
Since 2015, the issue of unpaid salaries of workers by several state governments and unresolved arrears even by the Federal Government has been a contentious one.
The situation was so bad that some states were owing workers salaries and allowances of almost a year.
To save the situation, the new government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, in July, approved financial intervention or bailout for the states to enable them meet their obligations to their workers and pensioners.
Despite the bailout, which some states executives diverted to other things, over 27 states are still owing workers till date.
The joint body of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), before the May Day celebration has submitted a proposal for the discussion of a new Minimum Wage of N56,000 to the Federal Government.
Workers, since the new government came on board had looked forward to a new national minimum wage because the current N18,000, ought to have expired after five years by virtue of the agreement that brought it into being.
But as the issue of unpaid salaries was raging, state governors on the platform of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, headed by Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, after a meeting on November 19, said they were no longer going to pay the N18,000 minimum wage, citing the poor state of the economy.
However, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said the response to the prevailing economic situation by all tiers of government in the country had been a source of worry for many Nigerians, especially Nigerian workers.
Wabba said though the president’s battle against corruption is commendable and had the backing of the entire workers, he said labour, however, felt government should start paying attention to other details aside corruption and security, more so the issue of electricity and petroleum, which are important to the survival of the country.
“Since we have voted for change, we believe that we should have the change,” he said.
Deputy President of the NLC, Peters Adeyemi, said the last few months had seen the workers take home being highly depleted with the inflation and state of the dollar exchange.
“When the present Minimum Wage was negotiated, a dollar exchange then was between N135 – N145, but now with the exchange at about N340, the worker’s salary has been grossly devalued by more than 100 per cent. An average worker in Nigeria doesn’t earn $100 dollars in a month, this is unacceptable anywhere in the world,” he said. The Sun