By Obiechina Emeka
Enugu------ The Federal Government and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar have praised health workers across the country for being in the frontline of the crusade to stop the spread of Covid- 19 pandemic.
Minister of Labpur and and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige spoke in his May Day message to workers, saying that government was working out special packages for the health workers.
Also, the former Voce President, Atiku Abubakar praised the health workers for rising to the occasion by sacrificing their lives in a bid to save others from the Coronavirus disease.
"For being in the frontline of this war with the invisible enemy,
we praise you. In appreciation, the government has introduced a special hazard and inducement allowance at this time of Covid-19 crisis.
"Also, Group Life Insurance Policy has been activated for all workers in the Federal Government Public Service," while there be Employees' Compensation for injuries, disabilities sustained and even death in the course of discharging their duties.
"Furthermore, the government's appreciation goes to health workers' umbrella, the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, and for medical doctors, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, for your professionalism and support at this time of global health crisis.
"I call on employees in our science, technology, and research sector of the economy to put on your thinking caps and join your colleagues throughout the world and produce cure and/or vaccine for the covid-19 for testing and other required processes and procedures.
"Madagascar and Senegal have done it. We can also do something greater or key into their knowledge to mass produce for the Nigerian populace...," Ngige said.
On his own, Atiku said, "Since December last year when the novel coronavirus reared its ugly head in China, it has expanded to nearly every corner of the world.
"Nigeria has not been spared of this scourge. From our incident case in February, the plague has spread to 33 states and the FCT with 1,728 confirmed cases and 51 deaths, according to information from NCDC as at April 29.
"The good news however: thanks to our heroic healthcare workers, 307 persons were successfully treated and discharged.
"One of those is my son, Mohammed. I remain eternally grateful to the medical personnel for their services.
"Sadly while we had to embark on lockdown to stem the spread of the virus, what was left of the hemorrhaging global economy took a bruising. In the aftermath of that, jobs both formal and informal, were the first casualties of this invisible and virulent enemy.."
However, Ngige stressed that,
"over the years, May 1 has been a unique day in the world of work. As we all know, it is called May Day, a day dedicated to workers as partners in socioeconomic development of the nations. Workers on this day are recognized as an important limb in the tripod that sustains enterprises and development. "Workers, over the years celebrate May Day and in Nigeria Marchings are conducted by Trade Unions and their Federations in various stadia throughout the Federation. "Today, May 1, 2020, is different. The stadia are empty and there are echoes of silence. We are all taking refuge in our respective homes and staying off the streets in a global bid to stay alive and beat an invisible enemy called Covid-19.
"We stay at home to minimize and eventually stop the spread of the covid-19 infection which has killed many people in the world and dwindled life and economies. Offices, workplaces, businesses (small and large scales), and nations are closed. The Covid-19 outbreak has laid seige on humanity and we must all develop and imbibe a common will to fight and conquer this enemy.
"The covid-19 outbreak has affected modes of work and the utilization of teleworking is on the increase. I therefore urge you all to continue to do your best in that regard and to endeavour to demarcate your personal life from work as you work from home, although a bit difficult. It is a well known fact that arising from the covid-19 crisis, businesses in both the private and public sectors have suffered.
"Sustainability of the enterprise has become a subject of concern. The worries precipitated by the covid-19 crisis are further compounded by worries of maintaining a source of livelihood.
"In this regard, the government and Social Partners would have a look at the four - pillar plan of policy responses to Covid-19 crisis laid out by the International Labour Organization, ILO, which are intended to be human -centered and built on global solidarity.
"This would be in addition to the Federal Government evolving plan of action to sustain the economy in the context of current global crisis.
"All relevant factors to the nation's workforce will be identified, analysed, and solidified to ensure job retention and the continued realization of the decent wprk agenda. In doing this, we will be guided by the Labour Standards as benchmarks for social and employment protection at this time of vulnerabilities.
"Along this line, talks are currently ongoing between the Presidential Economic Sustainability Council and Employers on job protection and even job creation at this time and progressively to post Covid-19 crisis. I wish to state that employers will not be encouraged to disengage staff without prerequisite social dialogue and clearance from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
"I hail employees in the healthcare sector, the medical doctors and healthcare workers, for their call to duty and selflessness to care for the sick and the dying when no one else is allowed proximity to them due to the nature of the covid-19 infection. God bless you all who have so discharged your duties to humanity.
"My dear Nigerian workers, let me conclude my 2020 May Day remarks by sharing with you the ILO laid - out workers' response options to the covid-19 crisis: "Efficient social dialogue at all levels is essential for quick and effective action. Workers’ organizations can play an important role in participating in decision making and policies responses to the crisis on COVID-19.
"Assist governments to make critical social, economic and environmental protection policy decisions such as how to save jobs without risking the health of workers, how to implement the necessary COVID-19 measures without destroying livelihoods, how to mobilize and allocate the human and financial resources necessary without exacerbating the national debt crisis. How to extend social protection to the most needy and how to protect incomes, jobs, and rebuild, reshape and reorganise the economic and social infrastructure and priorities beyond the crisis;
"Contribute to the prevention and protection of workers by giving reliable information; encourage responsible behaviour, cooperate with response measures and stay calm; promote solidarity and non-discrimination / stigmatisation of workers and sick persons.
"Since COVID-19 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets good workplace hygiene practices are essential, e.g. regular hand-washing, using hand and surface sanitiser.
"Reach out to UN country teams especially Resident Coordinators and offer solutions from a trade union perspective"
"In view of these proposed options for workers' response, we can all agree that the road to victory will require cooperation and togetherness with social dialogue as a driving Instrument. "I wish you all God's Divine Mercy and Protection. Eschew fear and its attendant ills. Observe all authorized guidelines on how to stay safe at this time especially with the partial lift of the lockdown for some states of the federation.
"Wash your hands regularly and observe Social Distancing. When the time comes, return to your places with greater zeal to minimize crisis impact.
Believe that this too shall pass my comrades. God bless you all."
On his own, Atiku paid tribute to the heroic healthcare workers in the frontline of the war against Covid-19.
His words, "Because this year’s Workers Day is coming at a time when we are in the middle of a ravaging health pandemic, I believe it is more appropriate to use the opportunity to express my utmost gratitude to our health workers who have been leading the battle to contain the spread of the deadly Corona Virus in our country. We cannot thank you enough.
"The outbreak of this pandemic however has vindicated organised Labour’s long time agitation for improved investments in our healthcare service system.
"There is no doubt that when the world comes out of this depressing anguish, governments will look around and see the absolute necessity to increase spending on healthcare, human capital development, better standard of living for the people and all those other topical issues that Labour has long called our attention toward.
"We are all witnesses to the reality today that governments across the world have fallen short of the requirement to keep people safe and healthy if there is a sudden and unexpected shock. For a developing country like ours, this is a moment of truth - a time for us to look inwards and accept that the strength of our national security is intrinsically connected to how virile our workforce is. That is a lesson that we must be ready to learn from this pandemic. That no matter what, we are all exposed to the same dangers when the time is dire.
"No one ever envisaged that the global economy could afford to shutdown for several weeks with heavy consequences on businesses - both public and private sector.
"But even the greater casualties of the current lockdowns are the workers. There are abundant reports about how companies and corporations are laying off staff and cutting wages. Even many state governments in Nigeria could not pay monthly dues to workers who, even before the lockdown, lived on subsistent means, while some others are slashing workers’ salary on account of the Covid19 situation.
"This is a grossly irresponsible thing to do. It will be wrong of us as a society to say that the weakest of us, should bear the pain of this affliction. The reverse should be the case. It will not be asking for too much to urge the National Assembly to forbid any employer of Labour from penalizing workers in the effect of the pandemic.
"The grim reality of the situation that we are in today calls for greater understanding between government and Labour. It is therefore time that both entities saw each other as partners in progress.
"On the occasion of this year’s Workers Day, I join many across the world in solidarity with the Nigerian workers in particular who have been making great sacrifices to keep our frontiers firm.
"I want to however take solace in the can-do Nigerian spirit. We shall not give up. We shall not give in. It will take more than Covid19 and the consequential lockdown to knock us down. It will not be easy, but standing united, we can rebuild our country because it is the place we call home."