· Says without sound economic policies, wage increase would amount to pyrrhic victory
As Nigerian workers Tuesday joined their counterparts worldwide to celebrate this year’s Labour Day, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has called on Organized Labour to demand the reform of the current Federal structure saying without sound economic policies, the implementation of the current wage increase would amount to pyrrhic victory.
The Governor who spoke at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos, venue of this year’s Labour Day Rally, told the gathering of Lagos Workers, “We must be bold and audacious to demand a reform of our current Federal structure with even greater vigour than was used to secure the wage increase”, adding, “Without sound economic policies and aggressive response to lack of vital economic variables such as power and long term funding, I am afraid that the salary increase may soon amount to a victory at battle and loss at war for organized labour”.
Governor Fashola also called on the Federal Government to urgently amend the current Revenue Allocation Formula in line with the recommendations of a Committee of the Governors’ Forum which recommended 35 percent to the Federal Government while the states and local governments get 42 and 23 percent respectively.
Noting that some state governments may not be able to pay the new minimum wage unless assisted by the Federal Government, the Governor called for the adoption of the recommendations of the Governors’ Forum Committee “in order for the newly minimum wage policy to be effective and sustainable and in order for the States and Local Governments to still function and provide basic social services”.
The Governor said since the public facilities whose management hitherto justified the current Federal Government’s huge revenue allocation have been privatized, the claim to such large chunk of the Federation Account was no longer tenable.
According to the Governor, such public facilities include, Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria (NICON), National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria (NAFCON) and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Limited (NAHCO) among others.
On the need for aggressive response to lack of vital economic variables, Governor Fashola called on the Federal Government to accelerate the completion of the privatization of the Power sector to be complemented by the payment of all monies owed to the States and Local Governments by agencies of the Federal Government such as NNPC, the Nigerian Customs Service, the Federal Internal Revenue Service and others.
Governor Fashola maintained that Power remains the quickest way to galvanize the nation’s economy adding that while he identifies with the underlying philosophy of the Federal Government’s Power Reform Plan which, according to him, was supposed to have been completed last year, “I think we must pursue its implementation more aggressively”.
“The development of the Power sector to reduce cost of production and provision of long-term funding for agriculture to reduce cost of feeding and similar policies will help stabilize the erosion of the purchasing power of the worker’s salary”, the Governor said adding that aside agriculture, availability of long-term funding would also catalyze other economic activities, such as housing, which have the capacity to employ a large number of people on sustainable basis.
The Governor said for the State Governments to participate in power generation and distribution, the National Assembly must amend the Constitution to allow such participation by the states and their private partners in areas covered by the National Grid since, according to him, “Power supply to those areas has been ineffective”.
“Also, the Federal Government must license the Greenfield operations to private companies in those areas to be opened up by the amendment in order for new distribution companies to compete with the eleven companies listed for privatization by the Federal Government”, the Governor recommended.
Governor Fashola also urged Organized Labour to demand a more development-focused budget that allows the investment of at least 50 percent of the Federal and States budgets in capital projects “for the development of critical infrastructure like roads, schools, hospitals and water supply”.
“This is a short term strategy for immediate job creation and poverty alleviation which massive construction will create as we have done in Lagos over the last four years” the Governor said adding that the problem of the economy requires that all members of the society, including Organized Labour, should commit themselves to being part of the solutions and resist the temptation to be part of the problem.
Acknowledging the organizational and intellectual capacity Organized Labour deploys when mobilizing to organize strikes, Governor Fashola enjoined the body to employ the same organizational and intellectual capacity to discussions and proffering solutions to lead the nation out of its current challenges.
“I wish to see labour more involved in the making and discussions of our national budgets and in the discussions about revenue allocation”, the Governor urged adding, “As I said before, you must never assume that those of us in Government have all the solutions”.
Citing the example of Brazil where a labour man deployed is knowledge to mobilize the country’s economy and brought the population out of poverty under 15 years, the Governor declared, “I believe that the Nigeria Labour Congress has such men and women. I am ready to work with such men and women who choose to be part of the solution rather than the problem if they stand up now to be counted”.
In his remarks at the occasion, the Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the NLC, Comrade Idowu Adelakun, commended the State Government for its giant development strides especially in infrastructural renewal, agriculture and the issue of welfare of workers.
The Chairman also called on the striking doctors in the State to consider the interest of the larger population and return to work.
In his own remarks, the Chairman of Trade Union Congress, Lagos State Chapter, Comrade Akeem Kazeem urged the Federal Government to address the issue of the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the deteriorating security situation as well as the issue of corruption in the country.
Earlier, in his goodwill message, the Head of Service, Prince Adesegun Ogunlewe thanked the State’s workforce, especially the labour leaders for always exploring the option of negotiations and consultations in pursuing their demands.
Also speaking at the celebrations, the Controller of Labour in the Lagos Office of the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Mrs Nofisat Arogundade who represented the Labour Minister, Mr Emeka Wogu reiterated the need for workers to embrace constructive dialogue as opposed to confrontation in the resolution of industrial conflicts in the interest of Nigeria.
She added that industrial disputes such as strikes/lock-outs do not only hinder growth but are diversionary with many snowball effects as stakeholders should always exhaust the windows for the resolution of industrial disputes before they assume unmanageable or destructive dimensions.
She also appealed to the Lagos State Medical Guild to prevail on its members to go back to work in the interest of the State and the nation in general.
The march past included several unions like the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Radio Television and Theatre Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU), the Nigerian Union of Journalists(NUJ) , the National Union of Banks and Financial Institution Employees (NUBIFIE), the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and Association of Senior Civil Servants(ASCN) among many others.
Prominent among the dignitaries who were present during the May Day celebrations were the Deputy Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, some members of the State Executive Council, including the Commissioner for Establishment, Training and Pensions, Mrs Florence Oguntuashe, Special Duties, Dr Wale Ahmed, the Head of Service, Mr Adesegun Ogunlewe and labour leaders and activitists like Mr Issa Aremu and Mr. Femi Falana.