Government must prioritise workers’ welfare to achieve improved productivity – Comrade Okon

National President Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) Comrade (Dr.) Tommy Etim Okon speaks on why the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should be different from other past governments among other national issues. MOSES JOHN brings the details. 

As a trade unionist, what should his administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu priorities?

Without mincing words, President Tinubu must priorities most importantly job creation, followed by workers’ welfare and he must be a president that implements agreements reached with labour unions. He must come up with policies and programmes that aim at lifting Nigeria up from the abyss the past administration buried it. 

He must be different if he wants to make a difference in Nigeria. Nigeria as of today, is in a sorry state across the board. So, the worst thing Tinubu will do is to allow himself to use the same method the last administrations, especially the immediate past government used. I repeat, he must not make a mockery of himself by governing like a man who knows not his left from right. He should do things appropriately and target-fully. He should tell himself that he has no choice than to turn things around for the better. 

Job creation must be on the top 10 list of the things his administration must be remembered for. I am not talking about giving billions to the Humanitarian Ministry to waste or to any other agency that has no capacity or required structure to execute job creation related policies. He must particularly put the pegs in the right holes.

Why the emphasis on putting the pegs in the right hole?

The emphasis is because we saw a lot of abnormalities, especially in the way the immediate past administration governed. I won’t go into details but President Tinubu must be different. Governance might not be easy but when you use the right people, already established agencies and monitor the progress of what you assigned them to do, you will definitely achieve the desired result. And right now, Nigeria and its citizens are in dire need of a breath of free air.

For instance, we all know that when it comes to job creation, white collar jobs are no longer available as in the past. Therefore, blue collar jobs are the new horizon. And to succeed in this direction, we need to seriously equip our graduates with the required new skills. Even without 21st Century labour required skills, they cannot even get the few available white collar jobs. So, job creation now is much about ensuring that our youths are given opportunities to learn skills and enable to startup businesses. 

And you cannot be talking about skills or other programmes for job creation and you will not make the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and other agencies inclined, start agencies for such important projects. 

When the National Directorate of Employment was created, the aim was to equip the youths with skills whether they are in school or not. In fact, the plan was to train Nigerian youths with one skill or the other provided you are interested in learning a skill. 

Decent work

Nigeria is a country that needs to create an environment that is very conducive for the world of work. Because we cannot talk about decent work where the environment is not conducive for the employee. You cannot talk about decent work where the take-home of a worker cannot take the worker home. You cannot take about decent work where there is no social safety net that cares for families or social protection for the worker. 

So, for you to talk about decent work, these are areas that need to be focused. You need to focus on the energy which is the environment and also the economic, because where a worker has the required energy which is the skill and then operates under a conducive environment, the end result will be productivity. When productivity is enhanced, the economy will automatically boom. 

When the economy booms, workers now have purchasing power. The worker will be able to buy goods and services and also save. Once a worker can save, the bank will have money and when the banks have money, it can lend and when the bank can lend, the manufacturing industry will thrive and there will be job creation. 

So this is the  practical aspect of decent work that we need in Nigeria and should be talking about. 

Most people talk about blue collar jobs as a viable option in the quest for job creation. Where  should the federal government start from?

Let me go back to the National Directorate of Employment. NDE is one of the government agencies that have structures. For the mere fact that NDE and its job creation programmes have been there since 1987, and has structures in all the states and every local government area in Nigeria, is a good place for government to start. The agency is well placed and positioned when you talk about executing poverty alleviation, job creation programmes. 

But let me also talk about the political consideration because every government that comes wants to take credit for one policy or the other. Perhaps, the democratic governments we have had in recent times felt that given NDE  and other job creation agencies the required impetus to provide the needed millions of blue collar jobs for the unemployed Nigerians, the praises may not be credited to them alone. Apparently, this is why the needed development in Nigeria is far from fetch. Evidently, our political office holders are petty in thinking that they forgot that government is a continuum. 

So it might be that  past governments muted or silenced NDE and its job creation programmes, an agency that should be a star in the combat against unemployment but still goes about screaming job creation through blue collar jobs.

For instance, the government has removed fuel subsidy. They are going to create avenues to cushion the effect. If the intention of government is to make the policy work, it will work. If the government’s intention is to frustrate the policy, you will see that it will amount to nothing in the end.

What I am saying is NDE is well institutionalised to solve the skill gap when it comes to job creation in this country. If at all, there are aspects of NDE operation that don’t match the present day realities, the best thing is for the government to redesign and fund the agency to meet the current job creation need. 

To jettison fine policies is not the best way to move a country forward. It is just like the calls from different individuals for scrapping of NYSC. NYSC was and still is a very successful policy put in place to foster unity and socio-cultural development in Nigeria. Instead of redefining it to suit and be more productive in line with present day realities, people are calling for it to be scrapped. All we need is a policy that can change and transform this economy and the citizens to have a sense of belonging and to be proud citizens of this country. 

Today in Nigeria, there are so many programmes created under different platforms in the name of combating unemployment, yet the unemployment rate in the country is still skyrocketing. The problem is that the government is not doing what should be done. In the name of job creation programmes, the government is running here and there, doing this or that in a structure-less manner and in the end, there are less or nothing to show for it. 

Does the government have anything to lose if it prioritises workers’ welfare?

Not at all, the government has nothing to lose if it prioritises workers’ welfare rather it will gain more. Check for instance a parent that takes good care of his children, sends them to good schools, they end up doing well. And in the same way, parents that did otherwise are automatically raising generations of poverty. So, if you create workers who are driven by poverty, it has a spillover effect. You are building a poverty-stricken society and the economy suffers. So, when you place a premium on the workers, every other thing surrounding work will flourish.  

Any government that does not take the welfare of its workforce as a priority is bound to doom. Because if you like, build infrastructure, it is the same worker that will operate it. If you like to bring artificial intelligence, it is the same worker that will manipulate it. A punch in the bottle is done by the worker. Workers’ welfare and productivity go hand in hand. If the government must priorities productivity, then workers welfare is the best or shortest route to achieve that. 

You cannot talk about national competitiveness or international ranking without the workforce. It therefore means that the government must take premium on the welfare of workers. It is about running to court to get Injunction to stop workers from going on strike. No! You are just postponing the evil days. Do the right thing, the workers will follow. 

So, this government has to be different in implementing collective bargaining agreements.  Because the only problem workers have with the government is reneging on collective bargaining agreement.