Adams Oshiomhole, a former governor of Edo State, has urged the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), to protect and defend the rights and interests of workers and Nigerians.
Mr Oshiomhole gave the charge at a programme organised by media colleagues and friends of Joe Ajaero the NLC president, on Sunday in Abuja.
He said the Congress should not relent in its mandate of protecting and defending workers’ rights, but should keep the fighting spirit of the labour movement.
According to him, the unity of the labour movement and its fighting spirit is not to be sacrificed for the pleasure of any government, but to better the living conditions of workers and citizens.
“The unity of the labour movement is not at the pleasure of the government of the day. So protect the movement, defend its honour and uphold what you stand for.
“Please keep the fighting spirit of our labour movement. Deal with the big issues, when you are on the side of the people, you cannot fall,” Mr Oshiomhole said.
Mr Oshiomhole, who is the Senator-elect from Edo North, said it was the birthright of workers to be involved in politics because decisions and policies that often affected workers and their families were largely taken by politicians.
“It is [the] workers’ birthright to talk [about] politics. We produce the wealth of the nation and politics is about appropriating the fruits of the economy we drive,” he said.
He also pledged his support for organised labour in his capacity as senator.
“I use this opportunity to assure you that with me in the Senate, though I have only one vote, I cannot be a party to any anti-labour law.
“I cannot be a party to any law that is meant to weaken, undermine or do any of those things that will reverse the gains of the labour movement. I will rather be a one-man-squad,” he added.
Mr Oshiomhole, while speaking on Mr Ajaero as president of the NLC, said that the position was challenging and demanding.
“You represent the rest of society, the burden you carry goes beyond those who earn wages, and the issues you canvass for affect everyone who labours to earn.
“You represent the aspirations of those forgotten majority of our people in the rural communities who have no voice, but whose children are working in factories, offices, the oil sector and the most hazardous places.
“So to be elected as president of NLC at this time, I commiserate with you, and not congratulate you, because people see the glamour of the office but they do not understand what it takes to mobilise people to fight for the rights of workers and Nigerians by extension.
“They do not understand what it takes to persuade colleagues to believe in a cause, or get them to do what they have to do for the citizens to drink cold water while you eat criticisms, name-calling,” he said.
In his response, Mr Ajaero said that the current leadership of the NLC would not not disappoint past labour leaders, workers and Nigerians.
Mr Ajaero said: “We are encouraged, we are revitalised, we have started the work we pledged to do and the state is fighting back. We will try our best to do the right thing as we go on.”
He urged the incoming government to ensure it kept to all agreements entered into with labour unions.
“Let me also say this now, the incoming administration will have a lot of labour challenges because there is no industrial issue that was concluded by the outgoing government.
“They succeeded in apprehending the issues, according to Sen. Chris Ngige, the outgone minister of labour. Apprehending an industrial issue is not the same thing as resolving it,” he said.