Covid-19: Whither Organised Labour, Civil Society?

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Recommendation 205 is for a moment like this!

Although there has been a number of statements and press releases from key trade union and civil society organisations before and since the outbreak of the coronavirus, none had raised the exclusion of organised labour and its civil society partners from being part of the national response mechanism against the pandemic.

On March 9th, 2020, President Buhari constituted a 12-member Presidential Task Force for the Control of Coronavirus in the country. The task force has no representation from either the trade unions or civil society organisations. The umbrella organisations of Nigerian doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health-associated professional organisations were also excluded from the task force, although it was asked in one of its terms of reference to strengthen collaboration with all tiers of government, private sector, faith-based organisations, civil societies, donors and partners.

There has been no public protestation from any trade union organisation, particularly the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). While the ActionAid Nigeria had recently raised the need for inclusiveness for the purposes of accountability, there has also not been any complaint on the exclusion from any civil society organisations.

Similarly, neither the employers’ umbrella organisation under the aegis of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), nor the organised private sector, is represented.

The exclusion of organised labour and organised private sector or employers from membership of the Presidential Task Force for the Control of Coronavirus is a violation of one of the core principles of International Labour Organisation (ILO’s) Recommendation 205. Nigeria is a member of the ILO.

Recommendation 205 (or R.205) provides guidance to ILO members on the measures to be taken to generate employment and decent work for the purposes of prevention, recovery, peace and resilience with respect to crisis situations arising from conflicts and disasters.

The ILO, in the recommendation, enjoins members coordinate manage conflicts or disasters based on the principles of social dialogue and tripartism. R.205 encourages members to take collective measures in order to build resilience, in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations and other stakeholders, to prevent, mitigate and prepare for crises in ways that support economic and social development and decent work.

Members of the Presidential Task Force for the Control of Coronavirus headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) include Dr Sani Aliyu (National Coordinator); Dr Osagie Ehanire (Minister of Health); Rauf Aregbesola (Minister of Interior); Hadi Sirika (Minister of Aviation); Sadiya Umar Farouk (Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Services); Adamu Adamu (Minister of Education), and Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Minister of Information and Culture).

Others are Mohammed Mahmoud (Minister of Environment), Yusuf Bichi (Director General, DSS); Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu (Director General, NCDC), and WHO’s representatives.

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President

We’ve a worker-based strategy – NLC

National Record made efforts to reach both the NLC and TUC to speak on the prevailing issues relating to the pandemic and find out about their exclusion from the Presidential Task Force. While the mobile number of the NLC President was not reachable, efforts made to speak to the TUC President through the centre’s Deputy General Secretary in charge of its Abuja liaison office, Comrade Nuhu Toro, proved abortive.

When NLC’s General Secretary, Comrade Emma Ugboaja was contacted via WhatsApp message to respond to some questions texted to him, he declined to comment.

However, since Coronavirus entered into the country, and climbs steadily, the NLC had issued two statements and addressed a press conference. In its last statement, it called on the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to put off its intended increment in electricity tariff billed to commence on April 1, 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

In his address during a world press conference on March 19, 2020, Comrade Wabba, in his address, titled: “Corona Virus (Covid-19): The Way Forward – NLC Proffers Strategies to Fight the Virus;” gave a brief outline of Nigeria’s national strategy for combating the virus since the first detected case in Nigeria on February 27, 2020.

He said: “Our national strategy includes active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing, prevention of onward spread and sharing of full data with the WHO and other relevant authorities. At the moment, there are four diagnostic centres in the country. Also, there are a number of help lines. We have been made to understand that there are a few quarantine centres.”

He said the objective of the press conference was to brief Nigerian workers on the strategy of the NLC, which he said is a “worker-based strategy” that compliments the national strategy. “A worker-based strategy is necessary given that workers are at frontline risk given their exposure at points of entry or departure, or hospitals or any other place of interest. In the face of Covid-19, workers are also exposed to secondary risks such as threats of loss of jobs or actual job losses;” the NLC President said, adding that a “worker-based response is also essential given that in times of national or international emergencies, sectoral or organizational responses are usually helpful in minimising impact and finding sustainable solutions.”

Comrade Wabba, who is also the President of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) noted that Nigeria is likely to be affected negatively in the short to medium term as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on the global economy, especially with the fall in the price of crude oil.

While urging government to put in place policies to mitigate business and social impacts, he also called on business concerns not to panic and take adversarial measures against workers. “The actions of government would be critical in containing Covid-19. We urge government at all levels to strengthen emergency response mechanism. States should set up disease surveillance activities. Persons arriving Nigeria from countries with up to 1000 Covid-19 cases should be quarantined in suitable healthcare facilities,” Wabba said.

He argued that the advice to self-quarantine will be “counter-productive given the socio-economic realities in Nigeria” and therefore urged government to step up efforts in contact tracing of positive cases just as it should ensure that health givers be resourced with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), face masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. Read full statement here.

We doubted the efficacy of the self-quarantine – Comrade Ayuba Wabba

In a statement a week after the press conference, on March 25, 2020, Wabba, while not being plainly critical of government’s approach to the pandemic, called for a robust and coherent response that will focus on prevention, containment and management.

In the statement titled: “Covid-19: We Can Overcome This Pandemic – NLC,” Comrade Wabba drew attention to gaps in the self-quarantine process as he pointed out experiences of workers at airports.

He said: “From the onset, we expressed our doubt about the efficacy of the self-quarantine strategy. Now, our fears have been proven right by the multiplicity of cases including some of our members who returned from trips abroad without appropriate information and actions at the port of entry, apart from instructions to self-quarantine. We have been informed that there are inadequate facilities for on-the-spot check in our ports of entry. Even tracking processes are not conforming to global standards to confront the situation. To compound the situation, elitist syndrome or the Nigerian ‘bigmanism’ has severely impaired our response as some senior government officials refuse to subject themselves to routine test, self-quarantine and tracking. These negative attitudes contribute to rising number of Covid-19 infection in Nigeria.”

The NLC stated that the pandemic will be a tragedy if the rate of infections of the novel virus is allowed to increase in view of the many shortcomings in the country’s health sector. “Nigeria is not in a position to No doubt, we are not prepared for the avoidable tragedy that looms over us. We do not have requisite infrastructure for diagnosis and treatment on a large scale. If advanced economies are finding it difficult to manage treatment situations with all their infrastructures. The situation can be better imagined with our weak systems and in some cases non-existing infrastructure and response capabilities. Outside of Lagos State, no other State including the FCT can boast of standard quarantine centres and facilities for the treatment of Covid-19 cases,” Wabba said.

He commended the then partial lockdown in Lagos but recommended that stiffer measures needed to be taken to stop escalation of infection. He also commended workers and management of Lafarge PLC, a cement plant, for what he called their exemplary collaboration in responding to the index case.

He said: “We must commend the partial lockdown of Lagos and other cities but we foresee an expansion of this extreme yet necessary initiative if we must contain the Covid-19 pandemic. We must commend our members in Lafarge PLC and the management of the company for their exemplary collaboration in responding to the index case. As we go further, we would require more of such collaboration between the unions and employers to tame this pandemic. We also salute the enormous sacrifices of health workers and medical practitioners who have worked day and night in the fight against this pandemic.”

Speaking on measures for protection of workers, Comrade Wabba said the NLC demands of employers the security of jobs and wages for all categories of workers. “To make this possible, factories and businesses will require fiscal stimulus, financial aids and other macro-economic support incentives at this critical time. For millions of workers in the informal sectors including our members in the transport, in the markets and all categories of artisans who are involved in involuntary lockdown, we demand cash grant through their associations to enable them cope during this difficult time.”  Read full statement here.

Outbreak plunged us into perilous times – TUCComrade Quadri Olaleye, TUC President

The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) says the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic has plunged Nigeria into “a very difficult, perilous time” just as it notes that the global economy “is in total mess [and] family lives eroded as the virus has confined so many people into solitary [confinement].”

In a statement signed by Comrade Quadri Olaleye, President, and Comrade Musa-Lawal Ozigi, Secretary General, TUC, the umbrella union of senior staff associations in the public service, said it “has taken time to assess the situation and the efforts of the Government in battling with this pandemic and has come out boldly to say that the outbreak has taken its dangerous toll on the economic, social, religious and the standard of living of people.”

The question now, said the TUC, “is how do we come out of the present predicament? This is calling for a sober reflection on the part of the Government and the citizens at large.”

According to the TUC, the Buhari government has outlined a number of preventive and palliative measures geared towards taming the infection.

The statement reads in part: “The present-day government had come out with preventive and palliative measures in order to curtail the spread of the outbreak. The most prominent is the ban on mass gatherings, closure of Shops, Schools and religious activities. Also, the practice personal hygiene such as washing hands and social distancing are also directed. Despite these measures, new cases are being discovered daily, hence, the level of anxiety among the teeming Nigerians are growing daily as the total lockdown is looming.

“However, the establishment of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in strategic locations in the country and other emergency centres, to complement the efforts of the existing one is a good development to further prevent the spread of the disease.

“The recent actions of some advanced countries like Italy, United Kingdom and United States of America, have shown that no one is surely prepared for the pandemic nor immune, hence, what is required is an aggressive measure to protect the lives of Nigerians and also sustain the citizens so as not to add hunger and starvation to the already degenerated situation, while adhering strictly to the lockdown orders of the Government.

“However, we must appreciate the efforts of the Government so far, but there is need to draw government attention to some deficiencies inherent in the whole arrangements, which may incapacitate an average Nigerian from adapting to all the measures.

“Firstly, our health facilities have not been properly equipped to address our medical needs before the emergence of the pandemic. The World Health Organisation had fore-warned of the catastrophic situation in Africa in respect of the neglect of the health sector by the continent, Nigeria inclusive. It has become the reality now!

“Understandably, the International Human Rights laws guarantee all humans access to the best possible health care and places an obligation on governments to put measures in place to ensure that this is achieved.” Read full statement here

Ms Ene Obi, Country Director, ActionAid NigeriaCOVID-19 response requires a wider and multi-dimensional approach – ActionAid Nigeria

In a statement signed by its country Director, Ms Ene Obi, The ActionAid Nigeria, decried the exclusion of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from the Covid-19 response operation as it also called for accountability and prioritization of vulnerable women, children, aged and persons with disabilities.

According to Ms Obi, ActionAid believes that “the COVID-19 response requires a wider and multi-dimensional perspective compared to the approach currently adopted by the FGN. She therefore asked the government to set a clear accountability mechanism structure in partnership with Civil Society Organizations to track and monitor the utilization of resources committed to the pandemic’s response.

While acknowledging ActionAid’s keen interest in the federal government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Obi however applauded some of the steps taken by the Presidential Task Force and other stakeholders including the media and first responders working “tirelessly to ensure that the novel virus is exterminated from our shores.”

She observed that though a huge amount of funding has been committed to the COVID-19 response by both the government and private sector, there was yet no proper accountability in place, a situation she said will breed corruption and defeat the effectiveness of government efforts.

While commending the idea to sustain the school feeding programme, Ms Obi however observed that since children are not in school at the moment, there exists no clear workable strategy for its implementation, in addition to the absence of clear information on how child education will be sustained nationally within this period.

The organization, among other observations, expressed concern on the lack of access to testing and quality of service received by Covid-19 infected persons and reports of persons paying for testing while others have complained of neglect and favoritism of infected influential persons.

She said: “The attention on public health have shifted to the COVID-19 outbreak, women and citizens with other ailments are finding it more difficult to access much needed healthcare services; as some state governments are converting health facilities to isolation centres.

“The conditional cash transfer was initially designed to capture a particular set of beneficiaries under a ‘normal’ social and economic environment, however COVID-19 has altered that environment, hence, the beneficiaries list has expanded to include other set of persons affected by the pandemic.

“Women constitute a higher number of Nigeria’s informal economic sector and the lockdown will significantly affect them due to the increased burden of unpaid care work, loss of work and markets for their goods. Yet, government’s palliative measures are not prioritizing women. The exclusion of the Ministry of Women Affairs from the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 further hinders the voices and needs of women being captured in governments’ response strategy.

“There is high probability that increased cases of Gender Based Violence especially towards women will be recorded at this time, but the Federal government’s response strategy did not capture a well-defined service provision for survivors.

“Information gaps, misconception and myths are still high amongst Nigerians, particularly at the grassroots. The concept of social distancing remains a mirage to many, campaign messages seems to omit children and persons with disabilities such as the deaf and blind.

“The lockdown of the states with infected cases is noble, but it will be ineffective if adjourning states do not follow suit.

“Civil Society Organizations who are the independent observers with workable solutions to coordination challenges are not carried along in the implementation of the strategy.” Read full statement here.

 

YZ Ya'u, Executive Director, CITADNCDC not responding to people wanting to provide information – CITAD

The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 raised concerns with reported lack of response by the NCDC to questions from the public. CITAD, while commending development partners in the fight against the novel coronavirus, called on the relevant authorities to put in place measures capable of preventing further spread and containing the pandemic.

The statement signed by Kamilu Isah Ahmad, CITAD’s Social Media/Campaigns Officer, observed that: “the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) after deploying 15 monitors to assess the response mechanism of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for two days is highly concerned by the manner in which the centre [NCDC] manages information request from Nigerians on the pandemic or Nigerians wanting to give information to the centre on the pandemic particularly using the Twitter handle of the centre and it’s phone lines for SMS and WhatsApp.

“The three mediums are not serving Nigerians since their concerns/questions are either completely not responded to or in rare cases responses are received hours or days after one sends request. Of the multiple requests our monitors sent to the centre using the three mediums, the centre only responded to one after seven hours, all other over forty-five (45) requests/questions/concerns raised by our monitors were ignored. It appeared that NCDC uses it’s Twitter handle only for giving statistics but not serious and prompt engagement with Nigerians on the pandemic, this is bad and will be a setback for the crusade against the COVID-19. 

“A similar disturbing experience is the manner in which the Kano State Committee on Infectious Disease handled a report from Kano State Hisbah Board, some people brought a dead body of a traveler who died on his way back from Abuja. Hisbah proactively refused to take the body and decided to contact the committee before taking any action on the corpse, but the committee has not responded despite being reminded for the period of more than five hours. After waiting for many hours and the committee could not show up for them to examine the corpse, the deceased was buried.”

CITAD called on the NCDC to be responsive to questions, concerns and tip-offs from Nigerians particularly at this time of national emergency.

While urging the NCDC to avoid either ignoring or delaying questions and concerns of Nigerians on the COVID-19 pandemic, CITAD also admonished NCDC to also set up the mechanism to engage with the huge population of Nigerians on the various social media platforms in order to strengthen efforts at preventing the virus from further spread. Read full statement here.

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