President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who was elected into the Governing Board of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), at the just concluded 106th session of the ILC in Geneva, Switzerland, speaks on issues ranging from the gains of the conference, green jobs, minimum wage, child labour and the application of its standard in Nigeria, as well as his election as a titular member of the world body. SOJI-EZE FAGBEMI, gives the details:
what measure has organised labour put in place to end child labour in Nigeria?
Last year, this issue was featured and Nigeria appeared at the committee on application of standard on this particular convention. And on reaching home what we tried to do is to work on the tripod. As I speak to you now there was a tripartite committee working to review our law, particularly the one that bothers on child labour, because you find out that our law back at home is not consistent with the ILO convention on child labour. There is the need to get that law reviewed because you can’t work outside the law, especially when it is a convention. And especially the age that is being referred to as a child, our old law back at home is not actually consistent with the ILO convention. But as I speak with you, I think we are through with that law. We are working assiduously with the National Assembly. They are supposed to have had a public hearing on that law but because of the fact that at the last ILC meeting, we agreed that the law should be recovered from the NASS, the tripod should do a review and then send it back to NASS for enactment. So, progress has been made. That has been done by the tripod and very soon, it will be transmitted to the NASS.
Are you assuring that the National Assembly will not delay the process for its application to start as soon as possible?
Let me assure you that the chairpersons of the senate committee and house committee are aware of this development because it is with their consent that the law was brought back to the ministry of labour so that the tripod can look at it.
So the first step is to address the lacuna or the lack of consistency with our law and the second aspect is the application. On the issue of application, all of us must be committed because of the fact that in the context of Nigerian setting, what the law allows is that for those works that child labour is not accepted, there are also lighter works that they can also do and also limiting the number of hours. So, once that law is in place, it is now left for us to work assiduously for its implementation. But we have made progress from last year to where we are today
The issues being discussed here have been around that of Green jobs, what is its implication?
If you have followed the argument on the issue of climate change even back at home, if nothing is done, it is very obvious we, the developing countries, will be at the receiving end. So I think this initiative is quite good to make sure that even in the context of industrialisation, we must be able to work around issues of greener jobs so that the issue of pollution can be reduced and we will be able to save our environment. Because it is very obvious that it is human activities that are actually affecting the climate. So it will require another level of conscious human activity to be able to deactivate the damage that is already done to our environment. The minister recently quoted the issue of cerebra-spinal meningitis which arose because of the fact that the environment became much warmer.
How does this green initiative affect Nigerian worker?
As a country, we have a policy on climate change. As NLC, we have just launched a policy on climate change. This is because of the importance attached to this. In the context of providing greener jobs, we are looking at how our industries can have greener sources of energy. Everybody has a role in addressing this challenge. But as a country we must have a policy that the employer, the worker and the government must key into it. What we did as NLC is to look at how it affects workers, and we have come up with a policy and by the time we get home, we will be improving on it. But we must key into the issue of the moment. They are issues of development. You can’t talk of issues of development in the current dispensation without talking about climate change. Everybody is affected. If you pollute the environment, certainly you know that workers are affected, either directly or indirectly. This is the perspective and workers have a role to play.
There are fears that the issue of new minimum wage may drag on till 2018?
It’s good for people to express their fears, but it’s also good for leaders to be up and doing. For us in Organised Labour, certaintly, it is an issue that we think that is long overdue and we have gotten commitment from all levels, including from the National Assembly that they are ready to make sure that this issue is addressed once and for all. You can even see that in the last one month, an action that has been taken, the leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila proposed a bill to the effect that the issue of the review of minimum wage should even be a provision of the law, because you are aware that in 2011, what we had was a tripartite agreement that after five years, the minimum wage will be reviewed. But they have even gone one step further by saying that it should not only end up in the tripartite agreement, it should be a product of law. And I think that all of them in the National Assembly, whom we have interfaced with, are ready to do the needful, including if there is supplementary budget today, that they are ready to give it accelerated hearing. Therefore, those fears are real, but we are working assiduously from our perspective to ensure that those issues are addressed. It is an issue that you need to bring the governors, employers, government and Organised Labour. And you know businesses are for profits and anything that will take a dime out of their profits, they are ready to do everything possible to delay it. We are mindful of that. It’s not the first time we are treading this path, you remember in 2010, it was also the same process.
But I think when the die is cast, all of us will then know that certainly, when the workers are pushed to the wall, there is a limit to patience and understanding. Certainly, a hungry person, however you explain to him, there is no basis how he will understand. So we are looking at reality. Because it is very clear that N18,000 in the context of the current economic reality cannot take you for a week. I assure you that we on this side will play our role very importantly so that we take into consideration some of the issues that our members have brought to our attention.
But I think the important thing is that the process must start and we must see to the fact that this process must have a time-line where we can end it. We shouldn’t allow those workers to die first before the fruit of their labour will manifest.
Your election into the ILO governing Body, to what will you ascribe it and what is its import?
The victory is a big opportunity for Nigeria to be heard at the global level. I am dedicating the victory to the Nigeria workers and workers around the world. It is an opportunity to give a voice to poor Nigerian workers, pensioners and Africans. It has a multiplicity of advantages. With this, we are now a member of the decision making body and that means we can have our voice heard in the global sphere. It also means that in our relationship with other social partners in the country, we will ensure that ILO standards are respected either on the issue of decent work, collective bargaining, occupational safety and others. It is a call to service, because regrettably the fortune of workers globally has continued to dwindle in spite of increased wealth creation in the world.