Ayo Olorunfemi is the General Secretary, Senior Staff Association of Statutory Corporations and Government Owned Companies (SSASCGOC). In this interview with REGINA OTOKPA, he speaks about the new minimum wage and disunity in labour movements.
Workers just celebrated May Day, what is your take on their plight?
The condition is very sad. We claim to be celebrating but to me this is not celebration. I have come to do the rituals. Every year we gather as workers. For me, as far as i am concerned, this year is supposed to be a time for us to think of where we are coming from, where we are now and where we want to be.
It’s a time for high reflections because Nigerian workers are not smiling at all. When you see a worker, whose face looks like he is smiling, he is actually crying because what is biting him inside his clothe is such that will make him cry like a baby but we still try to pretend as though we are smiling. It’s not as if we are smiling but Nigerian workers are not smiling at all.
What makes you say Nigerian workers are not smiling?
When you look at the situation, it’s like most Nigerians are losing hope in the system not only workers. But again, to some extent, Nigerians will also have to blame themselves because if we cannot get what we desire, it therefore means we get what we deserve because if we want to get what we desire, it means what we really want and what we are seeing, we get will depend on what we deserve and what we deserve will depend on our dispositions, our attitude, our way of life, our world view, how we view the world and environment.
If you keep yourself and consider yourself important, you will not give in to cheap activities; they will not give you a cheap information and you swallow it. You will have the ability to find out what is the truth.
Once the government finds out that they cannot push anything to us, they will be more careful as to the kind of information they dish out to the people but because we are either being carried away by religious bigotry and ethnicity, so they look at us and throw something along that line in our midst and they continue to enjoy while we fighting ourselves. Secondly, are we saying there is unity within the labour movement, the answer is no.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment is also enjoying that disunity and by extension, the managements of various organisations; both private and public sector are also feasting in the disunity that is existing among the labour movement.
No recourse to the rule of law in most of the things we do. We know the truth, we know what the law says but we don’t want to do it. We say some things simply because of your association with somebody who will be affected by your truth and I say if we continue like this Nigeria will never move instead of moving forward we will be moving backward and that is what we are experiencing.
Do you foresee the minimum wage being pegged at N66,500?
I can tell you from here it is going to be reduced. The Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress that formed the negotiating team have requested for N66,500 as the new minimum wage, that is equal to N18,00 in 2011, are we increasing or decreasing.
Do you think federal government will also wake up and say we are giving you N66,500, they will negotiate it and at the end of the day maybe they will submit to whatever figure but whatever figure they arrive at is a minus to what we were getting in 2011.
When we get that now some people will say hurray we have done something good, and we are there as labour leaders thinking we have done something for the workers. We need to really know where we are coming from so that we know where we are and determine where we are going to.
But the government has assured workers of its commitment to ensure the wage is increased. So why are you in doubt?
Calculate what N18,000 will buy in 2011, put it side by side with what N66,500 will buy today. As at 2011 a bag of rice was sold between N6,000 and N7,000 but today it is being sold at N15,000, divide that bag of rice by a family of four.
Look at the price of food stuffs generally, transportation and the amount spent in fueling our cars for those who own a car. When you put all these expenses in a month together, you will realise that it is more than N66,500 so what commitment are we talking about, commitment to make us stagnant?
What figure will you be suggesting then to replace the N66,500?
The N66,500 is too inconsequential, it is too small. Apart from the minimum wage, what else does the government have on ground to take care of staff ? Where is the rail even from Lokoja to Abuja? Where is the rail from Ibadan to Lagos? You want all of these things but you refuse to let go.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation Law is still there that is what we are practicing. The Ooduwa Investment in 2007, they were ready to build a rail from Lagos to Ibadan, they could not build it because the law does not permit them to do so.
The Lagos government had built rail from Badagry to Igunmu but they cannot operate it because the law will not allow them to operate it. What kind of government are we in? I am like a lone voice in the wilderness.
You can imagine a situation whereby TUC at a meeting, bought houses – one bedroom flat at a remote place in Ikorodu and they asked workers to come and buy at the rate of N6.5million and N13 million for a twobedroom flat. How much are they selling land in Ikorodu, if you are given a land with N600,000 to build a one bedroom flat, you will build it to your taste.
What is the cost of that land upon, which we are going to build a room and parlor and a union could bring that kind of market to come and sell to us, and when somebody like me cautioned that this should not be coming from union, the President of TUC virtually said they are not forcing people to buy, have we not commercialised the Nigeria labour movement? Now you have neglected the Federal Housing Authority that has the capacity to give you social housing so you ask the government why you have done so and the union that is responsible for that sector still want to come and destroy it simply because that union will not give in to cheap blackmail.
That is why i said we are suffering and smiling, majority of the workers are not aware of the things that goes on around them and this is very unusual. They should see labour leaders and have confidence in them and at least if nothing happens they can say this man is there we are covered, but the situation is now this man is there, shine your eyes because we don’t know what they are doing.
It is a time for us to call ourselves to order and that is why you see the division in the NLC and if care is not taken, there will be division in TUC because we cannot continue like this. We have to come together in unity and that unity must be a unity of purpose based on equity justice and fair play.
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