Last Saturday, May 1st, 2021, marked this year’s International Workers Day and Nigeria joined the rest of the world to celebrate it. There were public parades by Nigerian Workers in various states of the federation while the federal government declared today, Monday, May 3rd, 2021, as a public holiday to accentuate festive essence of the Workers Day. The day was established in the US in 1888, by a group of socialists and trade unionists who designated May 1st every year for remembrance of the May 4, 1886 ‘Hay Market Square Riots’ in Chicago, when a protest by workers in support of an eight-hour working day and which began peacefully, eventually turned violent and both police officers and protesting civilians were killed. Over time, the day became one for celebrating the progress made by labour movements globally, in promoting better conditions for the working class.
Presently marked in over 80 countries of the world, the Workers Day was first celebrated in Nigeria in 1981 by the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) government in Kano under late Abubakar Rimi, and was adopted by the federal government as a national public holiday on May 1st, 1981. Since then, the day has served as a rallying point for labour movements across the country to draw attention to the trying conditions of work under which the Nigeria worker operates.
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However, the 2021 Workers Day must rank as one of the most unusual anniversaries being the second of such, soon after the onset of the trending COVID-19 pandemic which imposed significant privations on the global economy – manifesting in shrinking of economies, job stoppages, workers’ layoffs and general downturn in the welfare of the typical employee. The case of the Nigerian worker in 2021 could not have been more challenging, as it appears to be more acute than the generic circumstances across the world. What with the incidence of poor salary which diminishes by the day, lack of regular payment of even the poor salary, skyrocketing inflation in prices of basic foodstuffs and attendant high cost of living, his or her condition is even aggravated by the lack of vibrant, effective representation by the leadership of the labour unions. Added to the foregoing is the complement of insecure career and job future with any assurance of pension and gratuity wallowing in abeyance.
Indeed, to many workers, the labour movement in the country is as good as dead as hardly can the leadership muster the capacity to speak truth to power. This is not to absolve the government which routinely displays crass insensitivity to matters affecting the Nigerian worker.
Coming to specifics, even the recently enacted Minimum Wage for the country has been compromised by several state governors who, rather than serve as the main drivers of its implementation, have trampled on the dispensation and are reversing on their earlier commitment to pay, citing the instance of dwindling revenues. Yet, there exist promising opportunities for them to restructure their states’ fiscal profiles and generate revenue to implement the minimum wage. Beyond the foregoing, many state governors are also unwilling to reduce the numbers and remunerations of their rather idle aides and hangers-on, in order to address the minimum wage for their workers. In the prevailing circumstances, it has become imperative for the country to revisit the issue of minimum wage for Nigerian workers, as the matter is far from being resolved. The trending argument is that if it is to stay then there should be renewed efforts at making it work.
Hence, whereas the 2021 Workers Day should have been one of happiness and hope for better days for the Nigerian worker, he or she really has little to cheer. And this situation remains far from healthy for a developing country like Nigeria, whose prospects for developing are intertwined with the working conditions of the typical Nigerian worker. There is therefore manifest danger in not giving the worker their due in terms of improved working conditions of service. Federal and state governments need to do more. Happy Workers Day!