By Issa Aremu
“How do leaders serve their people? They may pay good wages and treat employees with respect.” John C. Maxwell
Tomorrow is May-Day (Workers’ Day). It is a day dedicated to the celebration of dignity of labor world-wide. May Day has its origins in United States of America (USA) within the context of the first Industrial Revolution. The transition from home-based personalized family production to new impersonal manufacturing processes between in 1760 and 1840s witnessed unprecedented exploitation of working men and women especially in the first generation Labour intensive textile industries, (the dominant industry of the Industrial Revolution in terms of employment).
The first generation workers devoted half of the 19th century to the struggle against wage exploitation and long hours of poorly paid work. The working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day as working conditions were appalling and severe. It was common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unprotected working conditions. Death and injury were regular features of employment. On the May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses participated in the first May Day celebration in history following earlier protests which led to persecution of Labour leaders including mass hanging in “a democratic America”. Certainly it has been a long long match to free and independent Labour movement. Tomorrow’s May Day marks the 132th anniversary of Labour Day world wide. In Nigeria, this year’s May Day is the 37th of such.
It was a democratic Second Republic Nigeria which declared MAY Day as a public Day in line with the best global labour practice. First the eternal credit goes to both Kano and Kaduna states led by the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) of late Mallam Aminu Kano. In 1980, PRP government of Balarabe/Rimi in the respective states audaciously declared May-Day a public holiday in response to the demand of the NLC led by its founding President, Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu. A year after, Alhaji Shehu Shagari NPN-led government declared workers’ day work-free at the national level. Now that subjective and partisan assessment of the Buhari administration fills the air, an objective critical assessment of this administration lies in a critical look at its record on some labour market issues notable payment of salaries.
Interestingly, tomorrow’s May-Day, is the third in this dispensation. President Buhari inherited an administration which at Federal and states level was scandalously unable to pay salaries of public servants on time. The point cannot be overstated that delayed payment of salaries of working men and women is wage theft. It is actually an economicide, (a systemic destruction of lives of workers on account of denied pay).
President Buhari more than once after inauguration wondered aloud why Nigeria could not pay its workforce amidst wholesale public funds theft and corruption. Beyond that, the President commendably worked his concerns outside the box of Federation. He worked out three bail outs to state governments totaling some trillions of Naira. Even at that some state governors still criminally diverted bail outs to dubious projects than what the presidential bail outs were meant for; payment of workers’ salaries. It is to the credit of President Buhari that he acted statesmanship (not partisanship!) in calling pointedly on the governors to pay their workers. In October last year, President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja openly voiced his frustrations on the growing complaints and agitations by workers in states over unpaid salaries and allowances, in spite of interventions by the Federal Government.
President Buhari’s quotable quote/question while addressing Governors’ Forum in Abuja led by the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Abdul’Aziz Abubakar Yari was; “How can anyone go to bed and sleep soundly when workers have not been paid their salaries for months”?. He went further; “I actually wonder how the workers feed their families, pay their rents and even pay school fees for their children,’’. Certainly when it comes to payment of salaries as at when due, President Buhari is labour friendly. We must keep on questioning the validity of economic orthodoxy which elevates such economic fundamentals as external reserves, GDP, inflation rates, above human welfare and wage compensation.
It is therefore remarkable that President Buhari had inaugurated the tripartite presidential committee on the need for a new minimum wage. Better late. But earlier concluded! The late Pope John Paul said and (I agree with him!) that; ‘A just wage for the worker is the ultimate test of whether any economic system is performing justly’.
Nigeria economy would have moved closer to recovery (not just exiting recession), if the Federal and states’ governments had put an end to current persistent crisis of compensation of the working class manifesting in criminal non-payment and delayed payments of salaries by many states governments despite serial Federal government bail outs in trillions of Naira. Nigeria can only recover from recession with enhanced purchasing power which is only possible through prompt and adequate payments of over 10million employed workforce. However as a Labour friendly President with respect to wages, why has President Buhari not attended any May Day in person? Will tomorrow’s May Day make a difference with the presence of the President in celebrating workers’ Day. The President’s presence will show that he truly accords Labour as factor of development and production deserved respect. Happy May Day.
Issa Aremu mni