COVID -19, Nigeria’s Workers’ Day Political Economy
By Dr. Prince Charles Dickson
Elean Thomas (1947-2004), a founder of Jamaica’s Workers Party, in her book Before They Can Speak of Flowers: Word Rhythms (1988) thought about how often she had been asked not to interfere in politics, or – as she put it in the clever Jamaican variation – in politricks. Neither hunger nor ill-health have to do with anything other than politics, since it is through political decisions that resources are stolen from people who then suffer the indignities of poverty.
How I fe no deal with politics?
when Politricks a deal with me.
Take for instance…
the good book says
‘By the sweat of your brow
you shall eat bread’
But don’t you know
whole heap of people
a sweat rivers
and still can’t find no bread
is what decide that.
No bank worker, whether permanent or temporary, will be sacked due to the economic slump occasioned by the current coronavirus pandemic, it was learnt yesterday.
The assurance came from the Central Bank of Nigeria |(CBN) and the Bankers ‘ Committee after their meeting. This came amid earlier warning by the Federal Government to employers against sacking workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Committee’s decision followed a “Special Meeting,” held on Saturday, which was taken to “help minimize and mitigate the negative impact of the COVID19 pandemic on families and livelihoods.”
By Monday Ibru, as we fondly call, Haji Ibrahim and already been sacked by on the banks, and I know a handful that had got that their letter. I cannot begin to explain the trauma, the psychological devastation. In sane climes, like the UK, I gathered that the British for example is laying off some 12000 thereabout, but trust me, there is nearly always a way to go about these things.
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing some major adjustments to many aspects of our daily lives that will likely remain long after the crisis recedes: virtual learning, telework, and fewer hugs and handshakes, just to name a few. But in addition, let’s hope the crisis also drives a permanent overhaul of the nation’s woefully inadequate worker safety net system. As the above scenario shows, in a nation where already millions are without a job, or out of earning, many more millions will be out of job.
In many states, for example Nasarawa, my beloved Plateau, or Ekiti the pandemic-induced recession has shredded non-existent programs for workers’ economic security and career advancement. Systems that were not there, and those that have been long overdue for modernization, having failed to provide security even before the pandemic, in an economy defined by technological disruptions, fast-evolving skill demands, and changing work regimens have been tested and is falling woefully. Which way forward!
The social lockdown has already deeply affected workers living paycheck to paycheck, relatively few of whom had a durable salary or can work from home. The safety net we’ve been living with for decades was never designed to support today’s workplace and employment patterns and needs, such as the gig economy and contract work, the tech world, we lived on the ‘oyel’ economy and safety net for some five decades, and now we can barely feed our nation for a week.
The nation’s antiquated safety net model was built following the discovery of black gold, shortly after the civil war, during a relatively brief period of Nigerian economic dominance facilitated by the oil boom, towards the point when the Naira bought the Dollar with arrogance, and postage stamps of the nation was currency in UK bars, and then came the Structural Adjustment Program SAP.
So, the reality of a soon scourging unemployment claims show that our labor market that was already weak, is almost ready and certain to crumble in these COVID19 pandemic at huge human and economic costs. The pandemic has exposed a weak point in the country’s economy: the precarity of low-wage workers. Many have adapted to unimaginable circumstances, risking their own wellbeing, implementing public health protocols, and keeping the essential bits of the economy, like access to food, and health running, but for how long?
A lack of labor market protections exacerbates these workers’ insecurity and leaves the whole system fragile. Up to a 100 million Nigerians, a double-digit percent of the labor force, earn low wages. In the best of times, these workers cycle more frequently from one job to the next without wage advancement. This lack of job stability causes financial volatility for households even when the economy is growing.
Workers’ tenuous connection to the labor market is reflected not only in the low wages they earn, but in the safety net available to them. We find that workers who earn low wages and do not have employer-sponsored health care account for some crazy percent or half of the country’s workforce. In a crisis, these workers are the least attached to their employer and thus the most likely to be laid off or have their hours reduced. And nearly 33 percent of them, work in the hospitality and retail sectors, the two sectors most immediately impacted by COVID-19-related layoffs.
Now, look I am not an economist, but as the pandemic exposes the shortcomings of our workers’ safety net, we must use the crisis to accelerate necessary changes to federal and state workforce policies. The whole 30k minimum wage is now not just a sham, but a shame and scam. We need to address Nigeria’s economic security and career advancement programs to adapt to occupational changes and new workplace realities. Help navigating changes in a labor market defined by constantly shifting skill demands, increasing AI and automation, and the disappearance of whole occupations in a flash, while others emerge just as quickly.
If we end up making these long-overdue changes to our economic security and career advancement programs, our economy will be more stable and our workforce more agile and secure—and we will have succeeded in turning a crisis into an opportunity.
A robust economic recovery hinges on at least two policy agendas: expanding unemployment insurance to protect workers through this and future shocks, and efficiently facilitating their reemployment. If in doing so companies and policymakers also raise the skill equilibrium and make work less precarious, the country will emerge more resilient.
But when will our policy makers, leaders, realize the reality of the last three paragraphs, will they ever—Only time will tell.
Prince Charles Dickson PhD
Development & Media Practitioner|
Researcher|Policy Analyst|Public Intellect|Teacher
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