Annually, the 1st of May is commemorated as Workers Day by the organised labour in Nigeria. This comes with rallies by different trade unions resounding chants of ‘Solidarity Forever’, which comes with the peaceful gleams on the faces of the participants, erroneously sending signals of oneness and satisfaction with existing work conditions. This is, as some would say, ‘suffering and smiling’.
Beside the fanfares, colourful uniforms and the lacklustre parades from these groups, who proudly flaunt their trades and colours, the day usually brings to fore the challenges faced by the ‘labourers’.
Many have argued that over the years, the vibrancy and firmness that have trailed the leadership of labour in Nigeria have gradually declined with some level of political affiliations and the increasing corruption in the country.
Despite the resounding unison in labour during such memorials, there are discordant and hush tunes from some quarters on poor conditions of service, unpaid wages, work place harassments and more.
These were even made worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which crippled global economy and depleted resources leaving workers at the receiving end of cut wages and outright wagelessness.
So many employees have also lamented outright ban by their employers from forming labour related associations at the workplaces.
John Emezie (real names withheld) is a 29-year-old forklift operator in a Lagos based construction company. He laments that they haven’t been paid in four months, leaving most of them begging to feed despite their harsh workplace demands.
“I joined this company in 2017 as a messenger, which I did for two years before I learnt to drive the forklift.
“In my department, we run shifts, which makes us do different duties as assigned by the supervisors on duty.
“The condition of service here is not encouraging as many of us are suffering and smiling. As I speak to you, we haven’t been paid in four months and nobody from the management tells us anything or talks to us.
“On one occasion, one of the management staff openly challenged a colleague, who was bold enough to say he would resign if his arrears are not paid. He told him to look at the gate and see people seated outside looking for jobs, and that if he goes, a replacement will take place in less than 30 minutes.”
This ordeal faced by John represents the views shared by many in the country. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the N30,000 minimum wage, several states have refused to comply with the directive. This had led to series of protests by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), especially as it was discovered that 11 states have refused to comply.
In February, the Secretary-General of TUC, Comrade Musa Lawal, had lamented the development as many have used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for non-payment of the new wage.
At the outbreak of the pandemic, so many brands sacked massively with the affected hitting the streets jobless and dejected. The streets, especially in Lagos, got saturated with skilled persons roaming without income and a large chunk of them embracing negative vices. The lockdown with its restrictions made matters worse as many were forced to stay indoors. The global economy literarily shut down and changed the timeline of economic survival.
It has gradually eased off with reopening of businesses, companies that went online have gradually come back alive. Sadly, several companies have either refused to pay salaries or owe arrears. This is just as the states that have refused to pay the stipulated minimum wages have left the workers to groan under the harsh economy of the country.
There have been renewed hopes on the Industrial Court by some protesting workers as hope for unpaid wages,with some mounting huge pressure on the learned gentlemen of the judiciary.Others seem to rely on fate as the confidence on justice for the common man fades by the day.
So many have actually from reports available paid for the services of lawyers much more than the owed money.
Infact,some have abhorred the courts saying the judiciary is not independent and do not seem to have hopes in sight.
Until there is a change of status quo and return to normalcy, so many workers are going wageless.