As is well known, every 1st of May, Nigerian workers join working people all over the World to celebrate May Day, otherwise called, Workers’ Day. This year, organized labour in Nigeria chose the theme, “Another 100 Years of Jobs, Dignity and Social justice in Nigeria.” Lagos State fully identify with organized labour and I am confident that the movement will continue to be champions of jobs, dignity and social justice for the foreseeable future.
As the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode undoubtedly demonstrated in his speech on Worker’s Day, the State through the Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions worked closely with union leaders in a way that has never been experimented with before, such that we had the advantage of directly feeling the pulse of workers on all major issues. It has indeed been a pleasure to serve the workers of the State under the leadership of the Governor.
The struggles of the labour movement in Nigeria in times past have indeed been notable and commendable. On our part, we laboured all through our stewardship at the Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions to preserve and elevate the jobs in the Lagos State Public Service by embarking on, and implementing, an extensive training programme for the officers of the service. Other agencies of the Lagos State Government implemented policies that resulted in the creation of jobs for the youths in our state.
The Lagos State Government under Governor Ambode did a lot in appreciation of the importance of jobs at the social and macro-economic levels. We believe that the top priority of government has to be the stimulation of jobs and growth. This is because jobs are central to economic growth and political stability. As long as people are busy with their work and are able to provide for themselves, their morale is high, and things are stable. Jobs create earnings, which creates demand, which in turn creates production and investment and hence more jobs. It is a virtuous cycle. It does make sense to build random infrastructure even if just to employ people. It may not make sense in isolation but at the macro level it makes a lot of sense.
We also dignified labour by appreciating and rewarding it appropriately. We proceeded, agreeing with John Carmack that, “hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” Under the leadership of Governor Ambode, everyone who turned up for service was dignified with appropriate appreciation and rewards in form of competitive, timely salaries and faithful pension contributions.
When the Governor took over the reins of the leadership of this great state in 2015, one of his key resolutions was to do all that was required and necessary, not only to pay unprecedented attention to the welfare of workers of the Lagos State Government, but also to work closely and directly with union members and leaders on how to address the policy and infrastructural issues that, over the years, have hindered the effectiveness and efficiency of workers in the State
In his speech on Worker’s Day, the Governor said: “Having devoted myself to these objectives for the past four years and, having worked with you all, both workers and union leaders, I am glad to say that it has been a pleasure to be your partner on this journey. I am proud of what we have accomplished together, and I am grateful for the cooperation and support that you have given me. Indeed, I am pleased that working together, we have given the people of Lagos State four beautiful and productive years of sustained industrial harmony. This is, perhaps, the longest of such period in the modern history of our State and this achievement was made possible chiefly as a result of the culture of mutual respect and understanding we nurtured and deployed. As a result of this, the good people of Lagos State have witnessed an unprecedented and consequential period of public service-inspired policy formulation, review and implementation in practically all facets of governance.
“Given my career history, understanding and appreciating the interests of workers came to me naturally. Furthermore, I found myself able to profoundly empathise with workers’ points of view while patiently presenting the views and interests of the government. I have always believed that such approach to labour matters always produces mutually-satisfactory results. This is why, right from the beginning of my administration in 2015, I initiated a quarterly forum for the exchange and cross fertilisation of ideas between the leaders of the labour unions in the public service and myself and other government functionaries. This initiative indeed contributed in no small measure to the impressive progress we made and the landmarks we attained. The culture of openness, mutual respect and frank discussions that marked my administration’s relationship with labour and the resulting period of industrial harmony allowed the government to initiate and implement programmes and policies that have resulted in immediate and long-lasting tangible values to the workers, the state government, and the good people of Lagos State. Thus, among others:
“We embarked on perhaps, the most ambitious programme of training and retraining the officers of the public service. Relying mainly on the existing structures of the Office of Establishments and Training and those of the Public Service Staff Development Centre, workers in the employment of the state government were exposed to trainings and seminars that have direct relevance for the roles they discharge in the public service. We also embarked on a successful campaign of re-orientation in the public service. We advocated for the embrace of a Growth Mindset in place of the hitherto limiting Fixed Mindset that pervaded the public service. We also advocated for a Customer-Centric public service in order to reposition the service as one that is squarely focused on delivering value to the citizens of the state.
“We exhibited an unimpeachable commitment to meeting the pension obligations of the state government and we reduced the outstanding pension obligations of the state to the lowest levels hitherto unreached in the recent history of our state. Our administration also continued and expanded on the government’s programme of providing social safety nets to the aged and retired officers of the public service. Through the Civil Service Pensions Office, my administration reached out to, and maintained contact with, retired and aged officers and supported their welfare needs in accordance with existing policies.”
Governor Ambode continued by stating that his administration enabled and empowered the labour unions within the Lagos State Public Service by providing developmental and infrastructural support to facilitate the activities of the leadership of the unions. Among others, the government supported the unions by sponsoring trainings and retreats and by donating towards the transportation and office accommodation needs of the unions.
“Perhaps most importantly, my administration, in addition to other record-setting exploits in pension management matters, concluded the review of the state’s pension law by signing the amended Lagos State Pension Reform Law in the first quarter of Year 2019. This amendment, among others, increased the government’s pension contribution from 7.5 per cent to 10 per cent. This is a legacy that we are proud to bequeath to the hardworking officers of the Lagos State Public Service. As we celebrate what we have achieved together in the last four years, I am pleased to note that the theme for this year’s celebration of May Day is one that takes a peep at the years ahead. By adopting the theme, “Another 100 Years of Jobs, Dignity and Social Justice in Nigeria,” I see a labour union movement in Nigeria confidently moving forward with optimism and clear focus on the fundamental values and pillars of the labour movement. Indeed, the labour movement in Nigeria has come a long way from the days of Pa. Michael Imoudu yet it remains on the right path, focusing on the values that are of utmost importance to the society and the economy.
“Jobs are important because they create further wealth and provide the purchasing power that enables the producers of wealth to continue to produce wealth and value. Dignity for workers is essential because it rewards those who diligently and laboriously apply themselves to the everyday work of creating value and earning a living with respect and social recognition. I therefore use this occasion to call on workers, unions and governments at all levels in Nigeria to rededicate to the tested principles for job creation. This requires massive investments in developmental projects and infrastructure. Similarly, our society must re-orient to honour, respect, and reward labour and not wealth. All stakeholders must also bear in mind that social justice is the only recipe for true peace and harmony in any society. When the society works to give everyone his due, we find that the society thrives as everyone is afforded the opportunity to work and is accorded respect for whatever work he or she does.
“Social justice also calls for society to go beyond the regular call of duty to provide exceptions for those who are most vulnerable and in need of assistance. It is my sincere hope that organised labour and governments at all levels will redouble their commitment to catering for the most vulnerable in our society in terms of providing appropriate jobs and benefits for them. Indeed, in order to birth lasting peace both industrially and socially, we all must resolve to promote social justice. Respectfully rethinking old values, incisively questioning the effectiveness and fairness of present values, and boldly embracing new values, we all must co-struggle that each worker receives what is due him or her. Furthermore, we must direct our struggle at ensuring that the most vulnerable in the society are protected and well catered for”, Governor Ambode said.
On my part, I am confident that the visible result of the passionate commitment of the Lagos State Government under to all issues affecting welfare, and service entitlements of public service workers, and to infrastructural development projects for all workers in Lagos State will long-attest to our sterling stewardship and exemplary cooperation as partners in the struggle for jobs, dignity, and social justice.”
I urge that we all remain conscious that we are a part of history. It has been well over a hundred years since the celebration of the first May Day in Chicago, USA. Since then, the labour movement has dramatically transformed the relationship among the factors of production and especially the relationship between labour and the owners of capital. Unlike the state of affairs depicted in Jack London’s book, The Iron Heel, enlightened nations and owners of capital now better appreciate and reward the prime, indispensable and invaluable role of labour in the grand scheme of wealth production.
I am proud to count the Lagos State Government as one of such enlightened owners of capital and employer of labour to whom the welfare, remuneration, comfort and continuing education and training of labour is of utmost importance.
By Honourable Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions, Dr. Akintola, Benson Oke