·       Offers own views on lockdown, palliatives

THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has outlined a worker-centred Program of Action just as it is set to activate Labour-Civil Society Situation Room “in a matter of days. Comrade Ayuba Wabba, President of the NLC stated this in a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in his capacity as the Chairperson of the National Response Task Force on Covid-19.

In the letter dated 14th April, 2020 but made available to National Record on Wednesday, Comrade Wabba intimated the SGF on three core focal areas of Labour-Civil Society Program of Action on Covid-19.

Top on the Program of Action is setting up of Labour-Civil Society Situation Room with the objective of interacting with social partners. “We shall set up a Labour- Civil Society Situation Room to interact with social partners including the Federal Ministry of Labour, and employers’ organization.

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“This is in the spirit of tripartism and in line with the global cliché: “without us, it cannot be about us”. Our Situation Room will interface with the inter-ministerial committee on policy interventions and recommendations on post Covid-19 economic response,” Comrade Wabba stated.

The second focal area, Comrade Wabba stated, is labour-civil society perspectives on palliatives. According to Comrade Wabba, labour and civil society organisations believe that there is the need to expand the scope of the palliatives and other social support initiatives to capture every Nigerian especially the working poor.

“We shall engage with the Federal Government and relevant stakeholders on the expansion and distribution of palliatives and other social support initiatives in a manner that captures every Nigerian especially the working poor, daily income workers and other workers in the informal sector, leveraging on technology and interface with the committee. This is crucial given that informal sector workers constitute more than 70% of the entire workforce in our country,” the letter noted.

The third focal area is setting up the mechanism to smoothly operate the Labour-Civil Society Situation Room in a way that appreciates the social dynamics of the Nigerian society. He stated: “We will reach out to and engage the social partners, civil society groups and Nigerians in general to support and participate actively to facilitate the smooth operation of the Labour-Civil Society Situation Room on Covid-19 leveraging on real time meeting technologies such as Zoom, Whatsapp, telephone, etc.”

Revealing that the NLC is working round the clock activate the Situation Room within the week, Comrade Wabba stated that the NLC is also working with  the National Union of Textile, Garments, and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGWN), one of its affiliates to mass produce affordable face masks for Nigerians. This initiative, he said “will take place in a matter of days.”

Members of the Labour-Civil Society Situation Room, which Comrade Wabba said will be replicated in the 36 states and the FCT, include the following: President and General Secretary of NLC, President and General Secretary of TUC, a representative of Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), a representative of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), a representative of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), a representative of Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), a representative of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and a representative of Nigeria Union of Air Transport Employees.

Others include a representative of National Union of Road Transport Workers, a representative of Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers Associations (AUFCDA), a representative of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and a secretariat staff of the NLC.

Labour’s views on palliatives for poorest of the poor

While calling for the expansion of the national social register to capture vulnerable working class families, Comrade Wabba also argued that resources provided for national school feeding program should be re-channelled to feed the poor, aged and destitute. He said: “[W]e call for an expansion of the national social register to capture individual Nigerian workers who do not live with their families. Resources provided for the national school feeding program should be re-channeled to feeding our poor, aged and destitute.

Comrade Wabba, while commending the federal government for “being proactive,” he however criticised the absence of consultation in the process, arguing that the NLC would have better appreciated governments stimulus measures if it had chosen the path of consultation with relevant stakeholders.

He stated: “While we commend government for being proactive, we opine that the stimulus package would be best served through consultation with social partners. Labour and private sector employers have a good understanding of industries where jobs and production are in most danger.

“We also believe that palliatives distribution by Government can be improved through increased stakeholder participation. Mass-based organizations such as labour has the grassroots presence, especially at wards and units, and can ensure that palliatives get to those who really need them – the poorest of the poor who cannot afford a meal per day. We posit that using the old platform will not deliver the desired result.

“The most critical need of the poorest of the poor among us is to beat hunger. Government palliatives should be tailored in a way that guarantees poor Nigerians especially daily income earners at least two daily meals.

Describing plans by the federal government to create additional 774,000 jobs nationwide on a ratio of 1,000 per local government as a response to the unemployment situation in the country as highly commendable, Comrade Wabba however called for a very transparent and inclusive process of recruitment so as to give every Nigerian equal opportunity.

Alternative ideas on Lockdown

Reflecting on the lockdowns which have been imposed on a number of cities in the country, Comrade Wabba noted that notwithstanding the health logic for the stiff measure and the need for extending it, it was important for the government to do a reassessment on the economic dimension of lockdowns which in the end might even be more dangerous and fatal.

Noting that the situation demands thinking out of the box in the context of the crash in the price of crude oil in the international market, he offered the adoption of alternative measures some of which are already being practiced in other countries such as fumigation, mass testing and accelerated contact tracing process, intense public education and strict enforcement of workplace health standards and regulation, among others.

Wabba stated: “While we understand the public health imperatives for extending the lockdown in some parts of the country, it is also very important to underscore the fact that the states currently under total lockdown are the economic and administrative nerve centres of Nigeria.

“This is very dicey. As much as it is important to keep many Nigerians from dying in the hands of corona virus, loss of income and the accompanying destitution can also be a pathfinder for numerous other sicknesses and deaths. This is the time to play the balancing game. The truth is that our economy might relapse into prolonged coma if the current lockdown in the nation’s nerve centres goes beyond the current extension.

“Prolonged lockdowns are best effective in the short term. In the medium to long term, the human instinct to survive would kick in and restraint might lead to the collapse of law and order.

“Within the first two weeks of the lockdown in some parts of the country, there were widespread acts of civil disobedience, inducement of law enforcement agents to gain passes and even various forms of violent crimes. No one is sure how long this dam would hold. We fear that the situation will get out hand if the lockdown exceeds one month.

“This situation demands that we all think outside the box especially now that the price of crude oil has dropped to as low as $US12 amid global supply glut and inflation hovers around 13 percent.

“It is possible to deploy a mix of smart measures to keep the economy going while at the same combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries of the world are already adopting such creative solutions.

“Some of the innovative practices include intense public fumigation cum environmental sanitation, mass testing cum contact tracing, robust public education, enforcement of workplace health standards and regulation, continuous social partners conversation and collaboration to stem Covid-19.”

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