As this week may yet witness rise in new cases of the COVID-19 pandemic that has significantly challenged the wit of government’s officials in recent weeks, there are indications that employers of labour, after the crisis, may not be smiling when it comes to making the hard decision to part ways with an unimaginable number of their employees, going by insight from economic and corporate data.
While the unusual circumstance of negative threat of mass sack of workers may not be good news to workers, many players in the industry say it is an indication of more bleak days ahead, and the years of government not creating an enabling environment for investment would not be corrected in a period of weeks or even months.
Timothy Olawale, the Director General of Nigeria Employers Association (NECA), in a telephone discussion with DAILY INDEPENDENT, argued that while discussions about how to resolve the ongoing global economic crisis accompanying COVID-19 remain largely unresolved, manufacturers, financial experts are keeping their eyes on economic and earnings news that emanated from National Bureau of Statistics as inflation report for march hit 12.26% from the previous position of 12.20% to record the highest in 23 months.
He said: “The hard business decisions by employers of labour to part ways with employees are seldom unavoidable. If the needful is not done now, unimaginable mass job losses loom in Nigeria because ‘a stitch in time’, they say, ‘saves nine’.
This call for policy measures, according to Mr. Timothy, is necessary for government to address the consistent rising consumer price index for straight eight months, especially now that coronavirus outbreak and lockdowns globally and domestically have triggered prices of goods and services due to panicky shopping and buying.
“Government of countries, in response to COVID-19, have taken steps to bolster key sectors and lessen the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. Measures include economic assistance packages, tax moratoriums, extended deadlines, social security contributions, as well as wage subsidies, loans and guarantees for workers, and Nigeria is no exception,” he said.
He added: “To save jobs in Nigeria, more direct intervention such as: direct wage or income support, wage subsidies, tax credits or tax deferrals, short-term work schemes, moratoriums on loan payments and the establishment of a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where government pays up to 60% of private sector salaries until June as long as workers are not laid off, as done in other climes i.e. UK, France, and Denmark, would reduce the negative impact on businesses and slow the rate of job loss.”
Olawale, who argued that the devastating effects of the long-standing inclement environment for doing business in Nigeria have been over flogged, said: “This has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the follow-up effect of the unproductive lockdown which understandably was necessary to rein in the blight and protect lives.
“With the lockdown leading to shutdown of manufacturing, businesses, and movement, many companies will not be able to pay salary; this will affect purchasing power of Nigerians thereby leading to supply and demand shock that needs urgent policy measures from the government and policy makers to address the dwindling national and industrial productivity,” he said.
According to NECA’s Director General, “While businesses remain passive and unproductive with attendant mass losses of revenue, overhead costs remain. Wages obligations to workers and several statutory payments without respite remain constant.
“The truth is that five weeks of the economic and business shutdown has overstretched the limits and businesses are beginning to buckle under the weight of the burden it is carrying without corresponding productivity from workers and necessary support from government. This is the reality today.”
He, however, explained that the government had spoken well in urging businesses to continue to bear the brunt without recourse to staff rationalisation and the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), as the most representative body for organised businesses and employers of labour in Nigeria, had equally added its voice by advising its members to continue to keep the full complements of its workers for as long as it is bearable, and as far as economic indices will permit.
Balancing Protection Of Lives With Economic Interests
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), in his response to what is ahead of the workers, especially with respect to post lockdown socio-economic response, said “we can sustain, enhance, and conclusively win the fight against Covid-19, particularly on the strength of tripartism”.
Wabba agreed that balancing the protection of lives with economic interests should, ordinarily, not be difficult for the government.
He, however, said: “While protection of life should take precedence, the need to protect the economic foundation of the nation cannot be discounted as the economy will ultimately sustain life. While the government takes decisive steps to protect lives, efforts should also be made to keep productive activities going.
Government’s Action On Stimulus Package And the questions
While a lot has been said on the intervention of the Federal Government and various coordinated efforts of other stakeholders, Comrade Quadri Olaleye, the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), noted that more decisive action on stimulus to businesses need to be taken.
He, however, said: “The announced stimulus, to a large extent, has not addressed the critical needs of businesses that will guarantee sustainability and protection of jobs.”
Relaxation Of Lockdown With Regulations To Protect Lives
Omorodion Ambrose, Chief Research Officer, InvestData Consulting Limited, in his chat with our correspondent, emphasised that the global economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, now projected to be the worst recession since the Great Depression by the IMF, would bring about a reconsideration of long-standing need to safeguard or protect jobs in the country, both in the interim and in the long term after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said: “While it is desirable for the lockdown to be relaxed and not totally removed, it is important to state that mismanagement of the lockdown relaxation process might spell doom for the gains already achieved.