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Why Labour Opposes Removal Of Subsidy-Kaigama

Posted: Jul 12, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Bobboi Bala-Kaigama is the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), one of the apex labour centres in Nigeria. In this interview with Sylvester Enoghase and Innocent Oweh at the just concluded 104th International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland , he insists that owing to sharp decline in the price of crude oil at the international market, petrol ought not to sell above N40per litre, if adequate measures are put in place to make the downstream sector work as effective as it should. Excerpt.



The government led by the All Progressive Congress (APC), that everybody is looking up to provide purposeful leadership is showing signs of derailing, which means there is going to be a lot of focus on the labour sector. How prepared is TUC to rise to the challenges ahead?

First and foremost, we are still experiencing what we call nascent democracy in Nigeria; the fact that in this republic we are having just 16 years of PDP and APC is just coming on board, we are expected to have some hiccups at the beginning of the regime, so what is going on is telling us that there is democracy in action. For us the organised labour, ours is to maintain a position of being the nation’s watchdog.

When they go contrary to the rules or the constitution of Nigeria, we will tell them they are derailing; if they are doing anything good, we part them on the back. What we have experienced in the last few days, particularly in the Senate and House of Representatives, is a game of numbers; its politics of engagement. So you expect that the politicians should play by the rules of the game. If they do and its acceptable to all of them, good and fine but they should remember that Nigeria’s interest is above group or individual interest.

We as labour leaders in this country, we have synergy to make sure that they are always put on their toes, what has happened has reminded us that we should be able to always put them on their toes. Otherwise Nigerian politicians will not change.

How would your participation in this ILO conference impact on Nigerians back home?

It has been a rewarding experience, we have participated actively in some committee meetings, and we have learnt a lot, first regarding the transition from the informal economy to the formal economy which a template is being prepared to be presented to the assembly to rectify.

Secondly, we have this issue of promoting small and medium enterprises. The issue of job protection and preparing for the centenary of ILO and we in Nigeria want to mark that with an opening of a permanent office just for Nigeria for ILO because we are the first African country to host ILO.

What do you say concerning the fuel situation in Nigeria, could you proffer some solution in terms of whether subsidy should remain or be exited?

First and foremost, Nigerians deserve fuel subsidy. We from the organised labour strongly believe that we don’t need to pay as much as other international nations are paying for fuel. All we ought to do is to address the scam; who are those behind the scam in the oil industry so that the greater majority of Nigerians will not suffer because of the cabals in the system.

By the time we address the cabal, if there is subsidy or not, punish those behind the scam, put our refineries in place, the we can come back and say yes the enabling environment has been put in place, so let’s discuss as critical stakeholders in the project Nigeria, how do we address the issue of subsidy in the oil industry. It is only by doing that that the organised labour will accept the withdrawal of subsidy. For now let’s get to the crux of the matter.

Do you believe there is a subsidy regime as the Federal Government claims?

That is why I am saying, some people are creating unnecessary crisis so that they benefit. If you are aware the immediate past government said they paid over N150billion as subsidy; to whom? What crude or refined product did they lift or imported into Nigeria? Who verified this? We want verifiable import of petroleum products into Nigeria If at the end of the day, Nigerians will appreciate subsidy but without doing that, the issue of subsidy will remain a scam.

Nigerians are paying over and above what they are supposed to be paying, if you look at the issue of deregulation, the fall in the oil prices, Nigerians are not supposed to pay more than N40 per litre; in real economic sense but if you bring in other factors like the criminals are bringing in for us to rationalise, that is where you see people paying N150 or even up to N200 per litre.

But in the true economic sense Nigerians are not supposed to pay more than N40 per litre considering the fall in the global crude oil prices.

What do you make of this government on APC platform?

Well the government is less than three months in office, let’s not expect a miracle to happen immediately. Let’s give it some time, assess the government after 100 days,six months and even one year. So for now it is in the incubation period. Let’s keep pushing them to do the right things at the end of 100 days we should be able to come out and assess whether this government is performing to the expectations of Nigerians or below their expectations.

The world of work took centre stage at this year’s ILO conference, how do you think the Nigerian government can key into this and boost job creation?

Issues of job creation can be taken from the perspective of the downturn in our economy but governance and that is why you have a lot of cases of child abuse, cases of women molestation, abductions, insurgency and a whole lot of criminal activities going on in the country.

If government wants to really address these problems, we have to look at our educational system, provide full education at least from primary to secondary school level so that you have a decent society, an enlightened society, any youth having basic education will not jump into criminality without first evaluating the merit or demerit of his action.

Nigerian is an agrarian state, how far have we gone to develop our agricultural sector? We have a lot of minerals, lots of tourism potential, how far have we gone in developing these areas?

We are looking forward to a situation where government will encourage the development of our agriculture, solid minerals, and tourism and energy sectors so as to create jobs.

Implementation of the National Minimum Wage is still contentious going by sudden decline in oil prices, how can stakeholders bridge the gap?

The issue of minimum wage is a statutory issue and the laws say after every five years minimum wage should be reviewed and we are in the fifth year. So we will set the ball rolling at our tripartite bodies and whether it is feasible or not feasible considering the down turn in our economy.

It is the first time now, because if you look at how the naira has been devalued by the Central Bank of Nigeria, it tells you that the purchasing power of the Nigerian worker has been drastically reduced so whatever we used to have, if you go to the market with N1000, it will only purchase something equivalent to N1000

That stresses the emphasis that we need to re-negotiate the national minimum wage upward so that we match the naira devaluation.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has adopted a new international labour standard that is expected to help hundreds of millions of workers and economic units move out of informality and into the formal economy. How do you see it turning around the economic fortunes of the world?

The recent ILO report revealed that more than half of the world’s workforce is estimated to be trapped in the informal economy, which is marked by the denial of rights at work, the absence of sufficient opportunities for quality employment, inadequate social protection, a lack of social dialogue and low productivity, all of which constitute a significant obstacle to the development of sustainable enterprises.

The made the objectives of the new international standard to provide guidance for member states to facilitate the transition of workers and economic units from the informal to the formal economy, while respecting workers’ fundamental rights and ensuring opportunities for income security, livelihoods and entrepreneurship.

Secondly, the objective is to promote the creation, preservation and sustainability of enterprises and decent jobs in the formal economy and the coherence of macroeconomic, employment, social protection and other social policies, and prevent the informalisation of formal economy jobs.

The vote by the International Labour Conference is seen as a crucial step in assisting countries to set up the necessary measures to promote decent job creation and sustainable enterprises in the formal economy.

This is because over the years, we have seen a growing consensus among governments, workers and employers that the right thing to do is to move people from an informal to a formal employment situation.

We know it is not easy, but we know that these are processes are complicated and take time, but the great value of the recommendations that were made have an international framework of guidance to help member States bring this about.

I think it is achievable as the new recommendation acknowledged that most people enter the informal economy not by choice but due to a lack of opportunities in the formal economy and an absence of any other means of livelihood.

This is the first ever international labour standard specifically with recommendation that is aimed at tackling the informal economy, and was passed by 484 votes in favour and garnered outstanding support from the ILO’s tripartite constituents.

It is not just the adoption of this recommendation that matters to the labour movement but also the implementation of the policy that would actually put it into practice that will matter.

It is good that the new labour standard provides strategies and practical guidance on policies and measures that can facilitate the transition from the informal to the formal economy.

It also gives guidance for action in the form of 12 guiding principles, which to us from Nigeria will form the best practices that would shaped the Recommendation, which accommodates diverse national situations and provides multiple approaches but remains universally relevant.

Tell us the extent of transforming from informality to formality the recommendations entails?

The adoption of the recommendation actually constitutes a historic landmark event for the world of work, as it points to the desired direction of many countries, especially Nigeria, in making the transition to formality as it provides concrete guidance about the multiple pathways to achieve decent work and to respect, promote and realize the fundamental principles and rights at work for those in the informal economy.

The new recommendation is a major step forward in bringing the grey economy out of the shadows. It will help transform the informal economy, which has been particularly pervasive in developing economies like Nigeria. The recommendations, when implemented in Nigeria it will facilitate the transition of the many million workers in the informal economy; promote job creation in the formal economy and prevent further informalisation

The facts remain that all economic activities by workers and economic units that are in law or in practice and not covered or insufficiently covered by formal arrangements. And so, activities are not included in the law, which means that they are operating outside the formal reach of the law; or they are not covered in practice, which means that although they are operating within the formal reach of the law, the law is not applied or not enforced; or the law discourages compliance because it is inappropriate, burdensome, or imposes excessive costs.

How do you think the problems of manpower needs in the country can be addressed to make the nation’s economy have a competitive edge over other economies?

The best option is investing in massive skill acquisition programmes that will address the lingering manpower and skill deficiency that has plagued the manufacturing sector in the country because the government investing in people-centered innovation is essential to Nigeria’s developmental needs.

It is imperative for capacity building organisations in the country to be supported by the government in the bid to shore up the quality of the human capital for the real sector in Nigeria to prepare the nation’s economy to outshine other economies in the world.

We have made it clear to the government, not only to be in the vanguard of the rush to develop Nigeria economically and technologically, but also must be aware that its future can be determined by the ability to support the capacity building organisations in reducing unemployment and developing the critical manpower that is much needed to move the nation forward.

We also made it clear that the government needs to concentrate on the development of vocational and technological capacities of its trainees, so that companies would be more encouraged and willing to absorb them on completion of their trainings.

This is because there is urgent need for Federal Government to initiate policies that would develop the human resources capacity needs for backward and forward integration of the Nigeria economy.