President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday said that the welfare and interest of workers in the country is a top priority for his administration.
The President stated this at the 4th Ordinary Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) with the theme 'Unite and Make a Difference' on Wednesday in Abuja,.
This is as the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba has warned Africa leaders against take loans from the International Monetary Fund, IMF and World Trade Organizations.
President Buhari speaking at the occasion said that his government was worker friendly, adding that he has shown a strong understanding and empathy in dealing with issues and challenges confronting workers.
President Buhari who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha, said when his administration came on board in 2015, it inherited huge arrears of unpaid salaries, allowances of civil servants and pensioners, enthusing that most states are currently free of the inherited accumulated salary arrears.
The Permanent Secretary, General Services Office of the SGF office, Olusegun Olakunle, who delivered the President's address on behalf of the SGF, urged the workers' representative organizations to continuously defend the interest of workers, demonstrate a greater zeal in defending the interest of the society by showing greater dedication, integrity and commitment to their duties at work.
According to him, "When this Administration came on board in 2015. we inherited a huge arrears of unpaid salary and allowances of civil servants and public sector workers especially those working for sub-national and local or municipal govemment. We asked our State Governors how do you manage to sleep at night when you are owing workers?
"We followed up on this concern by advancing credit facilities to our sub national governments to enable them offset huge salary arrears. Today, we can confidently say that most states in Nigeria are free of accumulated arrears of salary indebtedness. We did not only stop with those still in active service. we energized the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) to offset the pension indebtedness owed by successive government.
"The Muhammadu Buhari led Administration have also deepened the reforms in the administration of the pension scheme for our military pensioners. Those of us who are conversant with Abuja will confirm that our reforms have put to an end the sufferings of military retirees who were forced to put up in shantles close to military pension offices while they waited endlessly for an elusive pension. Today, all that is history.
"A few months ago, we approved the release of required funds to settle the severance claims of workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways. They were owed for nearly twenty years. We can go on and on to recount the several critical interventions of our government in the lives of workers in Nigeria. Well, since Mr. President was a salary earner as a military man and also now a pensioner, he understands perfectly well the truth that worker deserves their wages. He has therefore vowed that workers welfare and interest would be at the top of his priority.
"More recently, our government through a collective bargaining process increased the national minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000. Just a few weeks ago, we also worked very hard with the leadership of organized labour in Nigeria to negotiate for adjustments in the salary of public workers consequent upon the new national minimum wage.
"I doubt if we need further proof to show that this government is a worker-friendly government. Our receptive disposition to workers issue stems from the fact that we believe that wakes and government are partners in progress. We know that the best intentions and policies of government would fail if workers do not play their part to implement."
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, called on the ITUC to reposition. Africa by uniting against poor governance, decadent public institutions cum services, corruption, oppression, inequality, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, wars, violence, gender discrimination, and desperate journeys.
He said fair trade was the only way Africa could attract genuine investments, accumulate capital, industrialize, create decent jobs, bring peace, stop forced migration and beat poverty, disease and untimely death.
While stressing on the the need to make a difference in the continent by putting up a united front, he demanded improved working and living conditions, real democracy, real social progress through the creation and sustenance of decent jobs.
He said, "Never in history has the fate of workers hang from a precarious and perilous cliff. Never has organized capital been more daring and menacing. Never has the ideals of freedom, human dignity and the ecosystem of rights been assaulted as they are today. Today, labour has been mislabeled as a mere commodity.
"Today, universal labour guarantees are being presented as privileges rather than social rights. We live in a world where it is becoming quite suicidal to protest and demand for the enforcement of social rights in many countries.
"We demand that the failed narrative for Africa be reversed because we are not a failed people. Africa does not need another handout. Africa does not need another loan from Bretton Woods Institutions. Africa is not asking for cheap favors. In fact, we demand the repatriation of our stolen wealth stashed away in developed economies. Instead of free trade, we demand fair trade.
"Africa wants to add value to her raw materials and create jobs for our teeming youth. We want to export semi-Finished and finished products for the global market without the overbearing restrictions of trade tariffs and unwieldy standardization constraints placed by the developed world. Africa wants to reverse her dismal contribution to global trade which United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 2015 Report puts at 2.39%."
He criticized African nations that queue behind the Bretton Wood institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for cheap loans.
He said contrary to their expectations, such loans mortgage their collective wealth and limits their vision to promote fair trade.
Wabba who doubles as President of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUCAfrica), said developing nations ought to realize that loans sourced from IMF or WTO promote over bearing restrictions on trade tariffs, including unwieldy standardization constraints on the continent.