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Address By NLC President At 61st NECA Annual General Meeting

Protocols

I am delighted to be among you today on the occasion of the 61st Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA). The relationship between organized Labour especially the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and NECA is both institutional and mutually symbiotic.

I am happy that for more than four decades, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association has remained social partners in progress. I congratulate the leadership of NECA and the secretariat for putting together this well-organized 61st Annual General Assembly of NECA.

An African proverb instructs, “you cannot clap with one hand”. The NLC recognizes the critical role that NECA plays in fostering and facilitating industrial harmony in Nigeria.

NECA as the representative body of employers in Nigeria’s private sector has always shown demonstrable understanding of the imperatives of respecting workers’ rights as a necessary condition for sustained productivity and wealth creation.

NECA has also over the years demonstrated strong empathy with the welfare of Nigerian workers especially with regards to meeting basic conditions for decent work.

As organized labour, we appreciate the role and contributions of NECA in the ongoing negotiations for a new national minimum wage.

Even while negotiations are still ongoing, NECA has identified with workers’ demand for a new national minimum wage which as far as we are concerned is already long overdue.

NECA has promised to pay the new national minimum wage as soon as it is agreed upon and passed into law. This proactive posture by NECA on a new national minimum wage speaks volumes of the pro-labour and patriotic disposition of employers in Nigeria to workers.

Clearly, two of the tripods of social partnership – labour and employers are already in agreement over the national minimum wage.

We urge the last remaining leg of the tripod which is the government to do the needful and give Nigerian workers a deserving new national minimum wage before the end of August 2018.

Yes, NECA has a strong bond with Nigerian workers but it is not all Uhuru! There are still a few employers who have refused to be on the same page with the rest of employers in taking the issue of workers’ rights and entitlements seriously.

Just last week, the Nigeria Labour Congress and its civil society allies took on MTN over several and severe anti-workers policies. It is unfortunate that organized labour was forced to adopt the strategy of picketing against MTN.

For more than five years now, the NLC has been trying to make MTN understand the need to allow its workers to unionize Our position is that MTN cannot reap so much profits from our country and still treat our constitution and labour laws with disdain.

MTN, unlike its operations elsewhere, has refused to allow its employees the freedom to join trade unions. Efforts by well-meaning Nigerians including the leadership of NECA to make MTN realize that it cannot continue to break our laws without consequences failed.

It is unfortunate that MTN has chosen to be the face of corporate rascality in Nigeria. The Nigeria Labour Congress wishes to advise MTN that it’s poorly thought out script of “industrial apartheid” has died on arrival.

Having fought from the frontline in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence and having resisted apartheid and neo-colonialism in South Africa and other parts of the Global South, organized labour in Nigeria will remain unwavering in its commitment to uproot every vestige of modern day industrial slavery as being championed by MTN.

It is very important that we sound a note of warning that last week’s picketing of MTN offices nationwide is only a first service of notice.

If MTN refuses to heed the voice of reason and chooses to trudge along a perfidious path, it can be rest assured that Nigerian workers will adopt every legitimate means within its reach to ensure that workers locked up in its concentration camps are freed sooner rather than later.

MTN is not alone in the practice of casualization of labour and anti-unionization.

We wish to remind all employers that our laws allow all workers to exercise their freedom of association to belong to unions of their choice in line with the provisions of ILO Convention 87 and Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Casual workers in our workforce operate under very precarious conditions with near total denial of the benefits associated with permanent and decent work. Nigerian workers can no longer offer their labour to slave drivers whose only interest is profit maximization and capital mobility.

According to a Report by the Campaign for Democratic Workers Rights, 45% of Nigeria’s workforce operates as casual workers.

Many employers in the downstream oil and gas and banking sub sectors still indulge in labour casualization. For such employers, we assure you that we will soon be at your doorsteps. We will dare you! We shall win!

Finally, as I conclude this address, I wish to reiterate the commitment of organized labour to keep open our warm hands of fellowship to NECA especially given the commitment of many of your members to harmonious industrial relations.

We assure you of the commitment of Nigerian workers to continue to give you their best efforts knowing full well that we are all partners in progress for the good of our country, profitable businesses and the betterment of the lives of millions of Nigerian workers who are the hands that turn the wheels of prosperity.

The Nigeria Labour Congress will continue to stand by NECA in ensuring that we foster a suitable environment for businesses to thrive. It is in this wise that the Nigeria Labour Congress has always taken up strong advocacy and campaigns for laws and policies that improve the ease of doing business.

We will continue to work with our affiliate unions to ensure that high-handed taxes and tariffs by government are re-negotiated to enable businesses to thrive, ensure workers retain their employment and for government to enjoy sustained revenue.

Currently, the Nigeria Labour Congress is taking up the issue of the recent 500% hike in the excise duty on alcohol, spirit and tobacco.

We are working with our affiliate union in the food, beverages and tobacco sector, the National Union of Food Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), to engage the Federal Ministry of Finance and the National Assembly on this issue.

We have already submitted a memorandum and made appearances together with NUFBTE at a Public Hearing by the Nigerian Senate on the issue of the hike.

The Nigeria Labour Congress has adopted a traditional posture against neo-liberal tendencies of successive governments in Nigeria which we believe is extremely hurtful and deleterious to our local enterprises and employers of labour.

The NLC has also been proactive and vocal on the need for government to improve on critical national infrastructure. It would be foolhardy to continue to depend on generators to run our economy and expect robust competitiveness and sustained growth.

The truth is that we cannot continue to operate a 19th century infrastructure and expect to experience a 21st century economy.

The NLC has led many campaigns for a pro-Nigerian people reform of our energy sector particularly the downstream petroleum sector where we import more than 90% of our energy needs.

It is our hope that government should not just rely on the efforts by a single entrepreneur to ensure that Nigeria refines the crude oil that it has in abundance. Our public refineries must work in order to avoid private monopolistic tendencies and promote competitiveness in the petroleum industry.

In the same vein, the NLC urges the government to thread carefully on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA). Government should ensure robust consultations with labour and employers before ratifying the ACFTA.

The government should ensure that smuggling and false declarations on countries of origin do not stifle local competitiveness of Nigerian businesses if ACFTA is eventually ratified.

Furthermore, the NLC calls on government to overhaul our security architecture to deal with emerging security threats that are threatening to stifle the current economic recovery and growth especially after the last recession.

Many businesses have been shut down in many of the flash point communities as many innocent Nigerians are forced to flee from their homes and take up residence in Internally Displaced Persons Camps scattered all over the country.

The recent resurgence of Boko Haram insurgency also needs to be tackled. While we commend the Nigerian Armed Forces for the sacrifice and commitment to restore normalcy and peace in different troubled spots in our country, we warn of the dire consequences of allowing the current gloomy security situation in Nigeria to relapse into a political recession.

I wish NECA, its friends and partners a very successful 61st AGM. While we continue to count on your support for a decent and harmonious work environment, we look forward to stronger partnerships on social issues that confront us today as social partners, as a people and as a country.

Aluta Continua … Victoria Ascerta!

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni

President, Nigeria Labour Congress

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