News Analysis

Workers Day: Nigerian Workers In The Midst Of Covid-19

Every First of May is set aside to commemorate International Workers Day also known as Labour Day.

It is a day to mark the freedom of workers.

For centuries, workers around the world have always had to struggle to earn living wages, and ensure safe working conditions.

In the 1860’s they campaigned for shorter working hours in many countries, while on May 1, 1886, workers in Canada and the United States, embarked on a protest to demand an eight-hour work day.

Two days later, in the United States, Chicago police killed some civilians during a workers’ protest which resulted to another violent protest at Hay Market Square, Chicago where seven policemen died and many protesters injured.

Consequently, eight leaders of the Chicago Workers Movement were charged with the death of the policemen and were all convicted.

Later, four were executed, one died in custody, and three were given life imprisonment, but were eventually pardoned.

In memory of this struggle and the struggle of all workers for better conditions, May 1 was declared an eight-hour holiday in 1889, by the International Workers’ Congress in Paris, France.

Since May 1, 1981, Labour Day has always been a public holiday in Nigeria.

Nigerian workers both from the formal and informal sectors usually gather at various designated places across the country to celebrate the day.

However, it is obvious that this year’s celebration would be low key, due to Covid-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc worldwide.

The pandemic has killed thousands of people worldwide among whom were essential workers who died on duty.

Since the entrance of Covid-19 into the country few months ago, Nigerian workers have been faced with so many socio-economic problems.

While the minimum wage of thirty thousand naira was fully implemented in November, 2019 for Federal Government workers, some states and employers in the private sector are yet to commence payment of the minimum wage to their workers even with the payment of the wage to some workers, many still find it difficult to live a standard life let alone now that Covid-19 is ravaging lives.

Suffice to note that, for some weeks now, federal government workers and those on essential duties have been at their duty posts to make sure the economic wheel and the safety of Nigerians are not jeopardised.

Also, many employees in the private sector have been told to stay at home as a result of poor patronage of goods and services due to the pandemic.

The situation has continued to take its toll on many workers especially in the private sector who any salary at all, only received half salaries for the months of March and April.

In developed nations, struggling companies and self-employed workers were offered financial help by their government, to strengthen their businesses while their staff were also paid during the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus outbreak.

However, this is not the case in Nigeria.

Although government had been distributing palliatives to some categories of citizens, Nigerian workers seem not to be taken care of in the scheme.

While still hopeful that government would come up with some palliatives for Nigerian workers during this period, the federal government should be commended for acknowledging the fact that the labour force is contributing positively to the fight against coronavirus.

The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, must equally rise to the struggles of the Nigerian workers more than before.

The two labour leading unions must ensure job and wage protection by working round the clock that fiscal stimulus, financial aids and other macro-economic support incentives are provided for all workers in the formal and informal sectors.

Associations affiliated with the two labour unions should be saddled with the responsibility of distributing grants to their members, especially market men and women, commercial drivers, artisans and other categories of workers who are involved in involuntary lockdown to enable them to cope during the Covid-19 period.

Nigerian workers on the other hand, should remain dedicated to duty and continue to justify the reasons some workers laid down their lives.

They should remember that people were killed so they could have the 8-hour working hours being enjoyed today.

They should acknowledge that homes with families in them were burnt so that Saturday would be part of the weekend.

Workers must realise that people fought for the rights and dignities they enjoy today, but there is still a lot more to fight for.

The sacrifices of so many workers cannot be forgotten if not, the nation’s workforce will end up fighting for those same gains all over again.

Olaolu Fawole

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