Today May 1st 2020, marks another anniversary of the International Workers’ Day institutionalised and dedicated to the celebration of the working class across the world, whose enterprise produces wealth. Traditionally, the day would have been marked in country after country with various ceremonies, parades and other activities aimed at accentuating the critical role, which workers play, in moving society forward. The case with Nigeria in normal times is no different as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) would organise workers across the country to march out in colourful parades to celebrate their enterprise, as well as draw the attention of government to some of the burning issues, within the gamut of government – labour relations.
The 2020 edition of the Labour Day, which is today is however coming with a significant difference – courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic whose ravaging effect across the globe has not only brought the world to an unprecedented standstill, but more than robbed the day of its essence, glamour and funfair. Put succinctly, the 2020 Labour Day has come in the midst of a global harvest of deaths, pain and a deepening sense of foreboding, as the end of the pandemic is still not within sight.
At the last count, the pandemic which manifested in the twilight of 2019, has spanned over 210 countries and territories, recorded over 3.1 million confirmed cases and killed over 230,000 people worldwide, with the statistics still mounting. Beyond the morbid dimension of its impact is the economic dislocation, which COVID-19 unleashed on the world, through crippling of the global business cycle, as the fear of it led to shut down of the global industrial machine, as the leading economies shrink into their shells for safety and watch their citizens die helplessly. The gloomy picture across the world remains same with Nigeria with the scope of carnage and other impacts on the society, no less outrageous.
In that context, the deleterious effect of the pandemic on the welfare of Nigerian workers cannot be quantified. Since the pandemic arrived this country, it has been one form of dislocation of the social order, or the other. For instance, the federal and state governments ordered total and partial lockdowns on several parts of the country at different times, with associated restrictions on movements and personal liberties of the citizenry. Offices, factories, workshops, farms and virtually all theatres of productive activity were suddenly shut down, with affected workers thrown into suspended animation, even in the face of biting privations.
Under the auspices of the 2020 International Workers Day, governments across the world need to be guided by the lessons of COVID-19 to reinvent their disposition towards the workers and their welfare considerations. An unmistakable lesson from COVID-19 is that it has changed the world permanently, with the interface between governments and labour manifesting fresh challenges. It can no longer be business as usual between these two power centres in any country. Hence governments need to think outside the box to evolve new ways and means with which to accommodate the fresh pressures, which labour will be compelled to engage them with.
A typical instance is the Nigerian scenario where the NLC has cautioned governments and private sector employers not to contemplate wage cuts, stoppages and layoffs of workers, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a message from NLC, its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba stated that workers’ salaries were core elements of employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements. The NLC further directed workers to resist any form of salary deductions and stoppages by any employer in the country, as the body considers such development as illegal.
In a country where government and the labour movement have a cocktail of unfinished business, the new position of the NLC commands attention, if the problems from COVID-19 will not be multiplied. In the circumstances, the onus still lies on the government to reconcile with the NLC, with both parties conceding grounds without losing face, as the alternative is further social dislocation, which will not augur well for the country, in this COVID- 19 ravaged ambience.
Meanwhile, happy Workers Day to all Nigerian workers, all the same.