We Have Delivered In The Labour Sector

We Have Delivered In The Labour Sector
May 27 19:21 2016

BY Chris Ngige

BACKGROUND

At present, our OPEC production quota is 2.2 million barrels per day but the reality is that we are far away from meeting this target.  As we speak, the nation produces between 1.4 – 1.5 barrels per day, meaning that about 800, 000 barrels per day  of the quota allocated to us by OPEC is lost.

So, where other countries battle with over production and being sanctioned by OPEC, we are under-producing, unable to meet our quota. Unfortunate, you may say. This means that when we assumed office, we already had economic recession, crude oil being the major revenue earner for the country.

Without enough money to take care of the needs and welfare of the citizen, which is the primary purpose of government, the prospect of swiftly fulfilling campaign promises faces serious challenge. Nevertheless, the administration trudged on and has recorded immense successes in many areas. In the Ministry of Labour and Employment where I have been in service as the Minister since November 11, 2015, a period of about seven months, we have taken significant steps and achieved quite a lot.

TACKLING JOB LOSSES

The prevailing economic situation made us think fast being fully aware of the dire consequences of recession on the job market, already being challenged by a bustling army of the unemployed. Our first target was the International Oil Corporations, the oil majors, and the oil contractors who are the immediate object of the adverse effects of the dropping oil prices with dipping prospects of job losses. We appealed to them not to retrench workers and made suggestions on how to achieve such. We reasoned that if we can’t grow the industry further because of recession, we can at least hold onto what we have. The oil companies cooperated with us, and so also the unions and the oil contractors. Today as we speak, there may be few cases of job losses but are not commensurate with the economic situation we have on our hands.

 We also made similar appeal to the contractors and unions in the construction industry who are also owed amounts for jobs done running into trillions of naira.  Most of them are owed since 2012 not withstanding successive budgets. We convinced the majority of them and they saw reason with us, as doing other wise means providing fertile ground for recruitment by Boko Haram, Biafra agitators, the Avengers, the OPC among others. Our efforts in this direction largely paid off.

JOB CREATION

This is one of the cardinal agenda of the administration and my ministry has taken concrete steps towards its realization. However, it is important to point out at this juncture that all over the world, government provides 20% of jobs while the rest are taken care of by the private sector, off course, government provides the enabling environment for the private sector to actualize this. The heavy investment on infrastructure in the 2016 budget, indeed the 350 billion-infrastructure funds, all explain the determination of government in this direction.

Notwithstanding the prevailing economic down turn, government is doing its best in the provision of jobs, with emphasis though on blue-collar. The main agency of job creation is the National Directorate of Employment, which is under my ministry.

The NDE has over one hundred skills acquisition centres across Nigeria, apart from the ones owned by some Federal ministries, agencies and states. Since I came in, we have embarked on the rehabilitation and re-equipping of these NDE skills centres to enhance their training capacity. We are establishing a liaison with other skill centres owned by other ministries, agencies and state governments so as synchronize and standardize their operations.  We are working to institutionalize them as training centres whose certificates – Trade Test 1, Trade Test 2 & Trade Test 3 can be recognized internationally just like the City and Guild certificate of the old. Trade graduates of these centres such as in tiling, mechatronics, metal works, welding, plumbing, mason, POP production and laying, Info-technology technics among others will primarily find opportunities in the formal and informal sectors and arrest a situation where a dominant percentage of such low cadre skills are provided for us by Ghananians, Togolese and citizens of other west African countries. Besides, our liaison with the International labour Migration of the European Union will soon enable this category of Nigerians export their skills as legal migrants to other countries. Our target is to train not less than 300,000 per year and trainings are already on-going in most of our centres.

COOPOERATION WITH THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANISATION

The ILO is co-operating with us in these ventures. As a matter of fact, at the last ILO meeting in Addis-Ababa where the theme was Decent Work for Africa; we got the Director-General of ILO to agree to visit Nigeria at the earliest available time. We asked for the upgrade of the country’s office in Nigeria to a multi -disciplinary centre for the ECOWAS sub-region so it can give us technical support in terms of experts on labour matters, job creation and training. Efforts towards achieving this are on.

COMPREHENSIVE EMPLOYMENT DATA FOR THE COUNTRY

It is the job of the NDE to keep the data of the unemployed and even the employed but what we met on the ground is not encouraging. Right now therefore, we are partnering reputable data companies to do a comprehensive work on this peculiar and strategic area so that on a press of a button, one can ascertain reliable and accurate employment indices in the country.

INTER MINISTERIAL/ AGENCY PARTNERSHIP ON JOB CREATION

Some of the products of our skills centres will be moved to the Ministry of Trade and Investment under the SME partnership of the Bank of Industry as well as the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) so as to enable them get necessary tools to start their business.

Also, our synergy with the Ministry of Agriculture, its farmers Scheme programme which is on-going in Kebbi State, with an anchor on rice production is going to be replicated in other parts of the country. Under this, select farmers will be given loans, seedlings, fertilizers and other farm inputs.

Similarly, we are liaising with the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development for the conversion of countless illegal mining going on in many parts of the country into legal business. The essence is to streamline and legalize their operations; make decent jobs out of them while enabling government earn taxes from this huge but uncoordinated industry.

CURTAILING THE ABUSE OF THE EXPATRIATE QUOTA

This is an important step in protecting our national interest and my ministry is matching efforts with the Ministry of Interior to look at the expatriate quota provision to make sure that expatriates do not displace qualified Nigerians. We already have a working relationship over the strict observance of this,  so that jobs meant for Nigerians would not be lost to expatriates for any reason. A situation where foreigners drive bulldozers and other heavy-duty machines, some are even taking over as graders, and displacing Nigerians in low skill jobs in the oil and gas industry is not acceptable. The Inspectorate Division of my ministry is on its toes already.

CREATION OF WHITE COLLAR JOBS

Even though the emphasis of our government is on the massive creation of blue collar jobs, we are also making efforts in the direction of white collar category. The government is currently recruiting 10,000 Nigerians to beef up the Police force. There is also recruitment in the army, navy and airforce. Some spaces will also be made available in due time in the ministries and agencies of government. However, the most important is that government is re-building infrastructures so as to enable private businesses thrive and be able to provide its quota of 80% job creation as is obtained globally.

RE-INVIGORATION OF PARASTATALS AND AGENCIES UNDER LABOUR

Since assuming office, I have embarked on the assessment and strengthening of the agencies under the ministry. I have taken on the critical job creation agency of the Federal Government, the National Directorate of Employment( NDE) and boosted its operations. In the last three months, the agency has empowered over 4000 Nigerians  under the Artisans Resettlement and Mentoring Scheme while recruiting  and training over one thousand eight hundred and fifty persons around the nation under the Community Based Training Scheme(CBTS). The NDE has under the period also empowered three hundred and seventy newly trained agricultural entrepreneurs under another NDE scheme termed Commercial Farmers Training Project with soft loans amounting to Thirty-seven million naira to start agro-business  across the states of the federation. Its Graduate Coaching Scheme has also engaged over five hundred graduates with qualifications in education as WAEC/NECO/JAMB instructors in designated centres in the country.

Beyond the NDE, similar programmes of the ministry like the Graduate Conversion Scheme of Teacher Corps where 500,000 teachers are to be recruited, the Community Service Scheme, School Feeding programme, the Micro- Credit scheme, are being given final details for takeoff. These are elements in the Conditional Cash Transfer of our Social Intervention Scheme for which the sum of 500 billion naira was budgeted  this year.

At the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) we are currently on sensitization, revaluation and broadening of its statutory roles to enable it realize government objectives in line with the ILO’s decent job provision of uplifting the welfare of workers. Under my administration, we   have engineered a process for the repositioning of its regional and states offices, create awareness on its roles, so as to enroll more companies and establishments while insuring their workers  against injuries , disabilities and death in work places as contained in the Employee Compensation Act of 2010.

Similarly, the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) was re-invigorated under me and has successfully mediated and reconciled several disputes, thus, enabling industrial harmony needed for productivity.

CENSUS OF SKILLS CENTRES IN THE COUNTRY

Most ministries and agencies of government run one skills centre or the other like the Youth for Nigeria in the Ministry of Youths and Sports, in Women Affairs, Agriculture and several other government agencies. The need to synchronize, harmonize and standardize their operations is important to our government. So, we are taking a census of all of them  with a view to  achieving uniformity of standard both in coaching content and in certification.

CREATION OF OIL INDUSTRY STAKEHOLDERS’ COMMITTEE

The Ministry under me also created the Oil Industry Stakeholders’ Committee to deal with the issues of labour malpractices like long term contracting of staff, casualization and unilateral declaration of redundancy by the oil contractors and the International Oil Companies on the one hand, as well as the unnecessary and incessant issuing of threats of strike by the unions on the other. Apart from maintaining harmony among social partners, the committee will generate vital  oil- labour practices and regulations which will form necessary inputs  into  the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)

PROACTIVE ENGAGEMENT OF SOCIAL PARTNERS

Since assuming office, I have quietly but relentlessly been active in dialoguing with all social partners to ensure conducive atmosphere for national productivity. I have unambiguously placed government intentions, positions and challenges on the table for all partners to appreciate and make necessary adjustments in their expectations  in the over all interest of the nation.  The tenor of last week’s general strike, carried out only by a section of the labour community and its decision to call it off in matter of days speak a lot of our persuasive mechanism and openness which no patriotic organization could ignore.

 As you may be aware, the entire NLC and TUC have keyed into the palliatives which the federal government rolled out to cushion the effects of the increase  in pump price of petrol. We have all agreed to agree!

This is the summary of my efforts in the last seven months as the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment. I am very hopeful that by this time next year, the results of most of the programmes which our administration is putting in place to give a rebirth to the nation will be more manifest. Thank you and God’s bless.