Forex Crisis: Labour Blames Govt Officials, Meets FG Today

The Nigeria Labour Congress on Sunday lamented the devastating impact of the forex crisis on the economy and demanded urgent stabilisation of the naira. The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, who said this in a statement on Sunday, blamed government officials’ love for foreign luxury products for the free fall of the national currency. Ajaero warned that the economy was at risk of “a wave of devastating consequences” if the naira failed to stabilise against the American dollar.

The NLC president’s warning came ahead of the organised labour and the Federal Government’s meeting scheduled to hold today (Monday). At the meeting, the Federal Government and the organised labour will review the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding they signed on subsidy removal palliatives.

In a statement titled, “Urgent action to stabilise the naira amidst alarming depreciation,” the NLC president, said repercussions of the weakened currency would be felt by workers and the masses.

While the investor & exporter window has been relatively stable at around N770 to 780/$, the parallel market, where most individuals and businesses get their forex from, traded at over N1,000/$. The naira’s depreciation in the parallel market has been attributed to an increasing forex demand that does not equate to supply from the Central Bank of Nigeria.

This decline has further led to manufacturers struggling to get raw materials, with more companies planning to sack more workers or shut down. With the declining naira value, manufacturers are faced with cutting production, jobs, and raw material imports.

NLC blames politicians

The NLC, in the statement signed by its president, said public officials must stop their penchant for foreign goods to check the depreciation of the naira. Besides the statement he issued the labour leader also addressed a press conference in Abuja on Sunday.

At the press conference, Ajaero disclosed that the union had been invited to the State House by the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, on the implementation of the resolutions on subsidy removal palliatives. He said, “Hopefully, we may meet tomorrow (today) with the Federal Government to see whether the agreement with organised labour on the fuel subsidy removal palliatives was met or not.

“If that meeting is to be held, it will be without the Minister of Labour and Employment (Simon Lalong) because we will not be part of any meeting with the Federal Government that the Minister of Labour and Employment will attend.

Labour warns minister

“You will recall that the decision we had on the National Union of Road Transport Workers was that all parties including the police should leave the premises, pending the resolution of the dispute but that did not happen. Therefore, any meeting we will have with the Federal Government, the minister of labour and employment will not be part of it,” the labour leader vowed.

The NLC had earlier accused Lalong of giving support to a faction of the NURTW and encouraging them to conduct their own delegates conference, both zonally and nationally, in a bid to confer legitimacy on the group. Based on the allegation, Ajaero said the union believed that any meeting with the minister would be a waste of time “since he appears not to be in control of issues as far labour relations are concerned.’’

Confirming today’s proposed meeting, the National Vice President of NLC, Adewale Adeyanju, said the organised labour would inform Nigerians about the outcome of the parley.

“I think the government knows what to do because we signed a communiqué with the government. So, the communiqué is binding on the two parties. Whatever the outcome is, you will hear from us to know the next action.

 “We are meeting on Monday (today) after which we will know the next point of action. For now, I cannot pre-empt my leaders; So, let us see what tomorrow will look like,’’ he said.

Also, the Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress, Mr Toro Nuhu, said, “The organised labour would be meeting with the Federal Government to roll out an assessment on what has been achieved and what is left. The organised labour would deliberate with the Federal Government on the demands yet to be achieved.”

In the statement on the forex crisis, the NLC recommended various ways in which the President Bola Tinubu-led Federal Government could “rescue“ the naira. The NLC urged the government to deliberately “protect” the naira by purchasing locally manufactured goods such as public vehicles for government officials. It also urged public officials to remain patriotic and refrain from the purchase of foreign products.

The congress noted, “Nigeria is fortunately currently blessed with local producers in certain sectors whose brands meet international standards and can therefore meet the demands of certain products for the public service in the country. We are, therefore, surprised that rather than patronise these brands, our public officials insist on the use of foreign products yet, we want the value of the naira to remain robust in the foreign exchange market.

‘’The simple maxim is that, ‘you cannot have your cake and eat it.’ It is either we put our food where our mouth is or we end up destroying our economy with our own hands. These actions of our public officials de-market the naira and they are one of the most dangerous factors sounding the death knell on the local currency. We, therefore, call on all Nigerian public officials to be more patriotic in their choices and favour locally manufactured goods.

“The positive multipliers created by patronising locally manufactured goods is huge and is capable of jump-starting the critical sectors of the nation’s economy but our refusal to do that has left the naira wobbling and teary.’’

Ajaero emphasised that every cent spent on buying foreign-made goods created jobs outside the country to the detriment of the local labour market and put pressure on the naira.

According to him, every amount spent on purchasing locally manufactured goods creates jobs in Nigeria and increases employment, elevates income, reduces poverty, and much more reduces the pressure on the national currency as it encourages local manufacturers to increase production, raise their standards and create better chances for export. The statement said, “The Nigeria Labour Congress hereby calls upon the custodians of our economy to recognise the gravity of the situation and take immediate and decisive action to halt this uncontrolled depreciation of the naira.

“We implore the monetary authorities to implement effective measures to safeguard the naira, stabilize the economy, and secure the future of our beloved nation. All the nations of the world take pride in protecting their domestic currencies from all manners of threats but the reverse seems to be the case in Nigeria.

“Why a country with a high import coefficient and less than one elasticity of exports would allow its local currency to be at the mercy of the vagaries of the so-called market forces leaves us surprised and deeply worried. This is despite all the wise counsels warning against the consequences of such actions.

Local firms

“It is only an economy with a vibrant and robust domestic manufacturing capacity that is export-oriented that will respond quickly and effectively to a free-falling local currency, not one like ours that is steeply bogged down by supply inertia and unable to meet domestic demands competitively talk less of responding positively and taking advantage of the falling naira.’’

The Labour union vowed to take action should the Federal Government fail to urgently address the crisis.

“In the absence of swift and tangible interventions, the Nigeria Labour Congress may find itself compelled to take appropriate steps to compel the relevant authorities to prioritise the rescue of the naira, the economy, and ultimately, the entire nation,’’ it warned.

Weighing in, a financial expert, Mr Okechukwu Unegbu, reasoned that improved local production of commodities, increased consumption of local products, and reduced importation of goods and services would help to stabilise and strengthen the naira.

Unegbu, a past President of the Chattered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, told the News Agency of Nigeria that it would also be advantageous if the government could price commodities for export in naira.

Meanwhile, the Labour movement has vowed to go ahead with its protest in Owerri, the Imo State capital, on Wednesday, over an unresolved dispute with the Imo State government on the sacking of workers and unpaid salaries. It alleged that more workers had lost their lives in Imo State to hunger than to bullets from gunmen.

Ajaero said that the NLC was deeply concerned about the persistent and egregious violations of the rights and privileges of workers in Imo by the state government. He threatened that Labour may be forced to make a ‘political statement’ on the maltreatment of workers if the state government failed to resolve the dispute, adding that it would not hesitate to shut down the state on November 11, the governorship election day.

“Despite our repeated efforts to engage in constructive dialogue and reach amicable agreements, the Imo State Government has become a habitual and serial breaker of these agreements, continuing to trample on the rights of workers in the state. As a result, we are left with no choice but to embark on mass protest and industrial action beginning on (Wednesday), the 1st day of November 2023, to demonstrate our outrage and stop the continuing violation of the rights and privileges of workers in the state,’’ the labour leader declared.

He said that the state government had repeatedly reneged on agreements, notably the accord reached on January 9, 2021, between the government and Organised Labour.

Ajaero listed the infractions to include outstanding salary arrears; unjust declaration of workers as ghost workers; vandalisation of the NLC state Secretariat; implementation of discriminatory pay; non-compliance with the National Minimum Wage and unsettled gratuity arrears.

He said that some workers were being owed 20 months of unpaid salaries under the unfounded label of being ‘ghost workers’.

He stated, “Approximately 11,000 hardworking individuals have been unjustly branded as ghost workers, their salaries diverted even while they diligently carried out their duties. The wanton destruction of the NLC state secretariat is a blatant attack on the rights of workers and a violation of the sanctity of their representative body.

“The introduction of discriminatory pay practices and the imposition of apartheid-like policies in determining monthly payments is an affront to fair labour practices. The government has failed to address the eight-year backlog of gratuity owed to retirees, showing a grave disregard for the rights of those who had dedicated their careers in service.’’

Ajaero further lamented that the government had persistently shirked its duty to implement the N30,000 National Minimum Wage, a critical safeguard for the economic well-being of workers.

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