Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Social Justice Still a Dream for Nigerian Workers

In commemoration of the “World Day for Social Justice”, Linda Eroke examines the challenges faced by workers, including the pervasive structural injustice in the Nigerian work environment
Feb 20 every year has been designated the United Nations’ (UN) World Day for Social Justice. This special day is observed to encourage people to look at how social justice affects poverty eradication, decent work and gender equity. It also focuses on the goal of achieving full employment and support for social integration.

On this special day, many local and international organisations, including the UN and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are expected to make statements on the importance of social justice for people. Organisations also use the opportunity to present plans for greater social justice by tackling poverty social and economic exclusion and unemployment.
However, this is not the case for the Nigerian labour movement, civil society and other pressure groups as they failed in their responsibility to ensure that the voices of the poor are heard. The day came and went without any fanfare.
This may probably be due to the fact that Nigerian workers and the vast majority of Nigerians have never been beneficiaries of social justice and so less regard is being paid to this very important issue. More so, there is the general believe that the present crop of labour leaders have failed in their responsibility to promote the right of workers across the country. As the Nigerian situation continues to worsen by the day, the little gains of the labour movement to improve the living conditions of the workers have been eroded.
It is no longer news that Nigerian workers do not feel safe and secure in their places of work as report from various part of the country have revealed that the number of workers sent out of jobs annually has more than doubled in recent years. The degradation of work in the country jeopardizes the livelihoods and well-being of workers and their families and results in fewer opportunities for Nigerians to improve working and living conditions.
Rather than address the entrenched poverty in the country, many employers are taking advantage of the unemployment situation in the country to depress wages and weaken workers’ organisations.
The opportunities for regular, decent jobs in the country—jobs that once kept the hopes of host of families and communities alive—are being depleted by casualisation. The labour bill that will address most of these challenges has been pending with the National Assembly for over six years with little or no consideration for the bill.
The issue of minimum wage is another challenge confronting Nigerian workers. This is because minimum wage is very important to the protection of social welfare that every responsible government is expected to implement. Well over 15 state governments have practically refused to fully implement the N18, 000 national minimum wage for public sector workers, three years after the minimum wage bill was signed into law.
Many states have tried, in some cases successfully to renegotiate the modalities for payment of the new wage to civil servants. Rather than ensure that the new wage is fully implemented, the Senate is considering the removal of minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list of the 1999 Constitution.
Ordinarily, minimum wage is suppose to be a benchmark that is provided in order to ensure that social justice is enshrined and that no employer of labour will take advantage of workers.
Also, social protection programmes have not been be fully implemented in the country as people employed in the informal sector are yet to benefit from social security programme of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), an institution set up by the federal government to oversee the implementation of all social protection services in the country.
Social protection has proven to be a powerful anti-crisis measure. It protects and empowers people, and contributes to boosting economic demand and accelerating recovery. It is also a foundation for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Today, the provision of essential health care benefits, as well as basic income security constituting national social protection floors for all cannot be guaranteed while huge amount are been carted away by a few.
Now, Nigerian workers and the poor masses are more agitated and disconcerted, and they are looking up to their leadership to proffer a concrete way forward and ensure social protection for all but the leadership are seen not to be there as they are said to be busy romanticising and dining with political leaders.
These and many others are part of the challenges faced by Nigerian workers. With the above scenario, the country is faced with a deep social crisis and a crisis of social justice. In such a dismal scenario, what will be the future of the younger generation in the society, an ordinary man in the stress wants to know.
The worsening unemployment situation and social crisis, industry watchers say accounts majorly for an upward trajectory in crime rate. They believe that the state organs and institutions including the legislature, executive and judiciary are not working according to the objectives enshrined and guaranteed in the Constitution of the country. They acknowledged that the widening level of inequality in the country call for concern by leaders and all stakeholders.
According to them, the ruling political class has severally and collectively plunder the huge resources of the nation, while the poor people go hungry
State Chairman, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State, Chika Onuegbu  said it was time for Nigerians to challenge the political by ensuring that corruption and crude oil theft are treated punishable offence.
“We urge Rivers people and indeed Nigerians to reflect on how corruption, oil theft and violence have worsened poverty, deprivation and social disintegration. We therefore call on all Nigerians to treat corruption and oil theft as  abomination that should be punishable with at least life imprisonment and the confiscation of the assets acquired through stolen funds” the union leader said.
However, to commemorate this day, the UN has called on the international community to take practical steps to break down the barriers of inequality by doing more to empower individuals through decent work, provide adequate social protection, and ensure the voices of the poor are heard.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message observed that the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing adding that the situation is not only between countries but within them, including many of the most prosperous.
Ban said that as inequalities widen, the social fabric of societies is both stretched and strained. This often leads to a downward spiral of economic and social uncertainty and even unrest. He said that violent conflict in many parts of the world is often rooted in deep inequality, discrimination, and widespread poverty.
“Yet there is nothing inevitable about inequality. Our shared goal should aim at taking practical steps to remove this formidable barrier to development and human dignity,” he said, underscoring that as the international community continued efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and shape a post-2015 agenda, social justice must be central to achieving equitable and sustainable growth for all.
Echoing the UN chief’s call to action, ILO Director General, Guy Ryder declared that the strong and sustainable foundation of social justice is for world leaders to prioritize macroeconomic and fiscal policy decisions that promote inclusive growth with decent employment and social protection.
In the face of the social crisis and the crisis of social justice, the ILO boss urged policy-makers and policy making to converge on the vision and ambition of a real global socio-economic recovery - a recovery for all - and a Post-2015 development agenda that will help lift all out of poverty.
The political challenges before the working and poor people in the country is more vital today more than ever before. This is a reality no policy maker can afford to ignore.
In one of his writings, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The very existence of injustice has implications for all. Thus, all stakeholders have a responsibility to actively challenge unjust power structures wherever they exist.

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