By Our Correspondent
Worried about the hazards in work environment, poor remuneration of workers, outsourcing of jobs, casualization of workers, unfavourable government policies against workers, as well as non-payment of salaries by employers of labour within the continent, leaders of trade unions across West African sub-region under the aegis of Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) assembled at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to deliberate and proffer solutions to the myriad of challenges confronting the workers in the continent.
The two days conference which is tagged ‘Abuja Renewal Congress’ attracted participants from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries including delegation from the host country and the biggest labour union in Africa, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).
The choice of Abuja for the revival conference is apt considering the fact that the above identified challenges confronting workers in the sub region is rife in Nigeria, following activities of multinational oil corporations and ever-growing Chinese firms in the country that has penchant for dehumanizing labourers in their payroll.
Another factor that confered legitimacy to the choice of Abuja for the conference is the continual non payment of salaries of workers by state governments across the country as well as the attendant consequences of such action on the socio-economic life of the workforce within the affected states.
Though federal government had designed a palliative aimed at helping the states navigate this huge burden of paying backlog of salary arias through the famous central government bailout funds to states.
Consequently, even when the move is commendable, it however does not address the remaining challenges enumerated in the preceding paragraph.
It is nonetheless, in line with that fact and in a determined effort to tackle and mitigate the socio-economic consequences of the aforesaid problems and the need to cub them that these union leaders in the sub region gathered at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre venue of the revival conference to contribute ideas on how best to rejuvenate labour movement in the continent.
The General Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Peter Ozo Eson while fielding questions from newsmen during the conference in Abuja gave more insights on OTUWA.
His words, “Reviving OTUWA is a positive effort aimed at building a regional labour Centre in West Africa that can engage the policies of ECOWAS so that the labour issues can be placed on the agenda of the regional body. The outgoing leadership of the union had appealed to leaders across the sub region to support the initiative. Meanwhile some of us from the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) will be taking the lead by bearing the burden of the financial resources that is required to make the effort in resurrecting the union a success.”
He however attributed the menace of casualization and outsourcing of jobs in the sub-region to the negative effect of globalization.
According to him, “Abuja is one of the worst hit cities as some government establishments also outsource jobs to consulting firms instead of engaging the unemployed citizens to benefit from the existing opportunity. globalization is a two edged sword, it had affected labour movement in Africa negatively in terms of the neo-liberal policies that accompanied globalization, which of course had led to economic crisis in a number of countries. As a result, reforms, such as privatization, monetization and other policies had affected labour union negatively. Under these policies, we have seen the emergence of issues like casualization, outsourcing and other anti labour practices.
“Nonetheless, globalization has also helped in entrenching labour cooperation, to the extent that we no longer look insular ie we no longer look at labour as it affect Nigeria alone but West Africa, Africa at large as well as our role in the global labour union.”
Also conferring authority to the aforesaid view, the acting General Secretary, National Union of Civil Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW) Comrade Ibrahim Walama also condemned outsourcing and casualization of workers, describing it as anti workers.
“Casualization of workers for me is anti labour and anti worker. These are some of the effect of International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies on third world countries. Jobs that are permanent in nature are casualized because they want to maximize profit to the detriment of the workforce. It is bad and dehumanizing; we are talking about decent work, so a worker should be treated like a worker. So this nomenclature of permanent and casual has to stop and that is why we are advocating for decent work environment for workforce with the sub region.
“We have been engaging the authority on how to put a stop to this inhuman practice against workers in the continent but the challenges is that they will tell you that their door is open but their heart is locked against making changes to favour workers in Africa.
“The West African Trade Union have decided to come together so as to address the numerous challenges confronting the sub region trade union. It will also encourage healthy networking and integration amongst member state.”
On his part, the National Vice Chairman Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Amechi noted that African workers will use the platform to fight any form of government attempt to divide labour union within the continent, in a bid to always have their way.
“With the revival of the regional union, we will use the platform to encourage workers across the sub-region, particularly Nigerian workers to always come together to fight government effort at dividing labour union across Africa with the view to weakening their strength base which is embedded in unity. Nigerian Labour Congress will contribute its quota in ensuring that the objective of this revival conference is actualized.”
Earlier in a welcome address at the occasion, the President of Organization of Trade Union of West Africa (OTUWA) Comrade Alex Bonney expressed confidence that the revival assembly will help in regional integration.
“Today is a great day in the history of Trade Union development in Economic of West African States (ECOWAS) as we gather here in Abuja for the rejuvenation of Organization of Trade Union of West Africa.
“We should recollect that sub-regional trade unions have a key role to play in their respective regional economic communities to make sure that labour and employment issues become central to all socio-economic policies and programme of the regional economic communities. For trade unions to play this critical role in the globalized world, they must be strong, influential and adequately organized,
“Therefore there is need to consolidate and strengthen sub-regional trade union organization for them to remain relevant in their respective regional economic communities. We have a duty to contribute effectively to ECOWAS regional integration process. However, it is very unfortunate that our organization has been inactive for a number of years and has not claimed its rightful position in the region.”