May Day otherwise known as Workers’ Day worldwide is a day set aside to celebrate workers, consider their contributions and welfare to the growth and development of the society. This was much acknowledged by President Goodluck Jonathan in his speech read to Nigerian workers during the celebration of 2015 Workers’ Day at the Eagle Square, Abuja.
“It is … proper to celebrate workers because of the critical role they play in the society. May Day confers us the opportunity to reflect on the inherent reality we are being confronted with due to scarce resources. The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Congress, TUC, have a duty to play, charting a way forward for continued development and growth of Nigeria”, the president said.
On an emphatic note, the president further reminded Nigerian workers that, “workers, apart from their immense contributions, have in no small ways, made contributions towards the achievement of democracy through the enhancement of the processes and participation. Over these years, the workers have deepened their voice and government had attended to them. There is a new initiative being championed by the Ministry of Labour and Productivity aimed at broadening industrial and labour harmony and trade unionism. This development will no doubt engender the spirit of patriotism, national consciousness, occasioned by natural justice and reasoning.
“For us, the labour movement is central to national productivity and development, and as such have a critical role to play in chatting a way forward for continued development and productivity and in settling labour disputes”, he said.
As usual, workers’ welfare was in the heart of the celebration. For instance, the deputy national president of Radio and Television Workers Association, RATAWOA, Comrade Sunday Olujetro, bemoaned the poor salary and welfare package for media workers across the country. This ge said was an act of injustice.
“We feel very bad that we are so poorly paid today because we were told that before the Udoji’s report in 1975 that workers in CBN resigned their appointments and joined the media because the media paid higher than the CBN workers but today, the reverse is the case.
“You will see workers in CBN, NNPC, FIRS earning more than our people but we have put our case in place with those in charge of salaries and wages in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Information. Our salaries can’t take us home, and we can’t do anything with it. A lot of workers are on personal loans; as a result of this situation every pay day is a sad day for workers.
“ The incoming President can’t talk about cutting salaries. We believe he was talking about political office holders not about the workers because right now, what the workers are taking cannot take them home. So, he can’t do that, if he ventures do that, then we will be in separate lanes,” he said.
Mr. President however threw a challenge at the workers on the need for collective commitment to nation building: “I have set a mechanism in place to further deepen government and labour relations. Let us use this opportunity to make a commitment for national development and rebirth. Attainment of national vision will not be possible without the commitment, work and participation of Nigerian workers. It is a joint effort. I look forward to seeing a strong and vibrant federation under the new leadership of labour. I urge them to ensure workers welfare and also, working constructively for the transformation of Nigeria.”
For man observers, this crucial message capable of driving the new leadership the NLC into genuine national action in the interest of the nation.
However, there is a critical observation. First, the atmosphere for this year’s Workers Day celebration was quite different from the previous ones. One, it came at a crucial time when Nigeria had just come out of a peaceful general elections, a historic one for that matter in which President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to the opposition candidate in a keenly contested Presidential election. That action alone was adjudged as a singular magic wand that has saved the nation from the then looming implosion and bloodshed.
But the NLC’s recent elections were less than noble, typically characterizing Nigeria’s rigged, fraudulent elections, lacking credibility and fairness. Twice, the elections were held but not without allegations of malpractices. That is why the challenge by the president that the leadership of labour should emulate his sportsmanship in the last presidential election is timely.
There I also the recent controversy over the NLC land and housing contributory scheme. Workers have been staging peaceful protests challenging and accusing the NLC leadership of fraud an thievery.
The questions are: how can labour stand firm and fight for the masses if it’s integrity is serially being eroded? Can the Nigerian workers rely on the present leadership of the union to defend their rights if there is lack of confidence on the union’s leadership.
Critics of the union are quick to remind the public that the NLC leadership in recent years has no all-inclusive vision, vibrancy, commitment to workers’ welfare and patriotism to the Nigerian state. All this point to unnecessary politicisation of the union and alleged cases of compromises. Will the current leadership live up to the challenge of the times and the high expectations of workers?

READ ALSO  Nigeria: A Presidency and its contradictions