Sunday, 27 September 2015

TUC President asserts that only reckless governors won't pay minimum wage

One Nigerian that is expected to have something tangible to say on the na­tion is the National President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Bobboi Bala Kaigama.
The TUC boss poured out his mind on labour matters in this interview with Sunday Sun. He also fielded questions on some nation­al issues. Excerpts:

Can you give us a general overview of the recent activities of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) under your leadership?
The Trade Union Congress Nigeria, under my leadership, is implementing the promises I made during my election. One is to ensure that we provide houses to our members at affordable prices, maintain and strengthen our transport company, show a very strong presence in Abuja and strengthen the secretariat. We also promised to train and retrain our members and protect their interests. Within these periods, we have been able to save countless of our members from the clutch­es of employers of labour that are not friendly to workers.

What exactly is it the cause of the crisis that have always marred the administra­tions of labour unions in Nigeria?
Well, I will like to say we don’t have any rift or tussle of power in the Trade Union Congress. We are one indivisible union. Even if you are re­ferring to the NLC, if you have been monitoring events, you will know that they have closed ranks and they have thought of addressing the press. His Excellency, the comrade governor of Edo State has intervened and as far as I am concerned, there is no rift
Why is the system characterised by too many protests, especially against the government?
Yes, maybe you are talking about respective work places.

Yes, and also the union versus govern­ment.
Obviously, that will always come up because there are constant infractions of employers who you see go into negotiated settlements and derail at the end of the day. You also see government sign MoU and derail at the end of the day. Our work­ers believe that when you sign an MoU, it should be implemented to the last letter. If you don’t, then you are calling for the wrath of the workers.

 We strongly believe that if the process of collective bargaining is followed before an agreement is reached, it should be binding on all the parties. It is a tripartite thing and we always try our best to meet up with our part of the bargain. Most employers don’t tend to fulfill their own part of the bargain and this will always lead to incessant protests from the workers.

What is the way to deal with the ‘ill?
First and foremost is for employers of labour to ensure that they respect their workers and when an MoU is signed, every party implements the content of the MoU. The other way is for the employers of labour to always know that workers interest should be paramount because you cannot get the best from any worker that is not comfort­able.

 When workers are comfortable, they put in the highest level of productivity. Like I said, when there is a collective bargain in place, it should be implemented to the letter and both parties should respect the content of the agreement reached.

Since you came in as Chairman of the TUC, what are the challenges that you have been facing in terms of welfare of union members?
In the area of housing, we have gone into part­nership and have signed an MOU with the Federal Mortgage Bank and this has delivered houses to our members in Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Abuja, Enugu, Niger, Taraba and this is expected to move round the states of the federation. We also have the NLC/TUC partnership and we are developing housing estates in Abuja.

 The development is in progress. TUC is also developing a housing estate through a development company called Rock of Ages. The company has also gone after long terms of the project. We intend providing about 10, 000 units of accommodation on the project. Before now, we had our headquarters in Lagos, and now we have been able to put a secretariat in Abuja where we also have the liaison office.

You came in as the president of the TUC under the administration of former President Jonathan. Now that you are in President Buhari government, how would you compare these two phases of admin­istrations, in terms of their influence on TUC?
We as organized labour are like the scenario of soldiers and barracks. Soldiers come and go but the barracks remain. Workers will remain irrespective of who is at the helms of affairs of government. Ours is to know the rules of our engagement with the government and protect our rights and welfare. If the government of the day doesn’t tamper with our rights, it gets our full support but in a situation where government tends to see its employees as slaves, that is what we won’t tolerate. We strongly believe that we are partners in progress and we are all stakeholders in the project called Nigeria. Ev­ery government that comes is our government, so long as that government is interested in the welfare of Nigerian workers and Nigerians in general. We will always work with such government.

Don’t you think you are pushing for too much asking for new wage at this very moment?
The time has come for that. The country is not broke. It is the administrators that are broke in terms of ideas. That is the truth because it is not only in this country that we have such. It is every­where especially due to the fall in the global oil market. We are not broke because God has given us abundant solid minerals, agricultural resources, and abundant tourism potential and why can’t we tap into this? We always look up for what we are getting from the federation account where oil mon­ey is coming from and no one is deeply looking at the direction of IGR. To cut the long story short, I will say both the states and federal levels are very lazy, except for some state governors, particularly Lagos and some others that have woken up from their slumber. No state has been able to comfort­ably pay workers’ salary from its IGR and that is a shame.

As it stands now, many states are still owing even close to 10 months salaries and here is organized labour pushing for a bigger figure as the new minimum wage, already considered outrageous by some. How feasible is this?
It is not outrageous. It is not that these states cannot afford to pay, it is only that they are reck­less. They have used the resources of the states for the last campaign. They have taken political campaigns as a personal affair that persons in government must use every available resource of government to fund their party and that is why we are in this kind of mess.

 Secondly, there is no state that cannot generate enough IGR, only that they have decided not to think out of the box to see how more revenues can be generated. Probably, by the time they have to pay more, they would be wise enough. Don’t forget that there is an existing Act that says that every five years, the minimum wage should be reviewed. We are just following the trend it is not that we are making any outrageous demand. It is a demand that is based on prevailing economic circumstances.

That is exactly what we are saying. Based on the prevailing economic circumstance, how fea­sible is this demand for a new minimum wage?
Based on inflationary trends, that is what we are supposed to look at. Can the current salary of workers take them till the end of the month? The answer is capital no.

Even when most governors can hardly pay the current N18,000?
It is deliberate. It is not that they cannot pay. It is comfortably doable.

But how objective is it to say that the governors that cannot pay salaries now have done that deliberately?

Yes, because they have taken monies meant for salaries and they have played politics with it. That is the issue.

How does organized labour hope to push this?
The minimum wage is not just about the orga­nized labour demanding and it is being given. No! There will be a tripartite meeting process where we put everything on the discussion table and it would be subjected to so many rounds of meetings of stakeholders, and it is after that that an acceptable minimum wage can be put in place and enforced. If you have been following the process, you will see that various unions have been putting forward various figures and we at the centre will have to do something.

For instance, the TUC has about 27 affiliates and all of these have been having various submissions. We will harmonize our position and the NLC will do theirs too with the respective sub­missions from their affiliates. Then, the NLC will come up with its own submission and the TUC will come up with its own, and then we will har­monize these two positions and face the govern­ment with the harmonized decision.

How do you harmonize your demands?
It is still work in progress. We are still holding consultations from our different positions. The NLC is still harmonizing theirs, and we the TUC, are still harmonizing ours, before we can make a formal presentation. But that is not to say that in­dividual unions have not made formal presenta­tions. They have, but we would have had a unified position before the government will call us for a negotiation.

Most people are of the opinion that union leaders are partisan, probably when your demands do not hit their tar­gets. What is your reaction to that?
Like I told you, we are like barracks but that does not mean that as Nigerians, we cannot hold party cards. We can, if we want and the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue.

We have a right to belong to any political party. We have a right to be card carrying member of any political party. Where we have the limit is that if you have to go into partisan politics, you have to resign your posi­tion of the union and join politics proper. I want you to distinguish between a trade union member that is carrying a card of a political party from a one that is purely partisan. You can carry a membership card but not engage in politics.

What blueprint does the union have for the achievement of the desired change that Nigerians earnestly expect from the Buhari-led administration?
Ours is to support the government of the day. We will always cooperate. We are strongly behind the government of the day in its fight against cor­ruption. We are strongly behind the government in its quest to revamp the economy of this country and in his quest to reduce the cost of governance.

Aside the measures taken by the Presi­dent, what other measures can be taken to ensure that looters are brought to jus­tify corruption laid to rest in Nigerian?
Our reaction is that we want diligent investiga­tion and prosecution of the affected individuals. We want government and the prosecuting agen­cies to follow due processes in investigations and prosecutions.

The President has been criticised for sparing some ‘sacred cows’ in his corrup­tion campaign. What do you have to say about that?
I don’t think so because the opposition will al­ways complain. For the first time in 16 years, they are in the opposition. If you are assessing the activ­ities of government, invariably, you are investigat­ing the activities of the out-gone government.

 The current government is at liberty to look at previous books and ensure that things are put right, particu­larly where you have very controversial figures in the NNPC. It is not out of place. I feel it is all about politics. The opposition will always complain. We want such complaint because it will checkmate the excesses of government in power.