Comrade Sola Olorunfemi, the General Secretary of Automobile, Boatyards, Transport Equipment, Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE), speaks about the state of the automotive sector and the impact of regulatory policies on its workforce and productivity, in this interview with JOY EKEKE. Excerpts
What is your evaluation of the implementation of the automotive policy so far?
The holistic view in evaluating the implementation of the automotive policy so far has been affected by a lot of variables that interplay in the socio-political environment of Nigeria’s manufacturing sector.
Things have gone from worse to worst. No cogent directions, no crises management of economy affairs in terms of the macro-economy hence, budget is delayed to be passed, there is policy somersault in the auto sector, no political government intervention in key area that will strengthen the auto policy.
This has affected the manufacturing sector a lot; 50 per cent of those standing and was hopeful, have once again nosedived, the 20 per cent standing have retrenched considerable number of employees who are supposed to be engaged for productive activities.
Many Manufacturing companies are fighting for survival with no rescue efforts in sight.
You can imagine all the promises made by the National Automotive Design & Development Council concerning local content equipment, except for the Raw Materials Research and Development Councils (RMR&DC) there is no other indigenous concrete efforts.
So far, the effects of the Auto policy since three years back are being submerged by the potent import dominating economy. Even though the tariff was raised, Nigeria’s greedy automobile importers are not foresighted to see the future of persistence seen in Brazil, South Africa and some Asian countries.
Although, billions of dollars have gone into investment in the last four years, not much can be shown for it, as in resultant effect.
What significant impact is the Auto policy supposed to make?
The policy is supposed to help develop the auto economy in the country, which is one of the sectors that is grand and can even save the country from recession, just as it did in South Africa.
The policy is meant to kick-start core manufacturing which will re-engineer re-industrialization, and as well as, help to open the steel and mining sector which provides the raw materials.
With that, employment creation will be boosted. But what is hampering to such drives since the auto policy has been approved is the fact that this government is directed by neo-liberalism, which is a political ideology that detests massive development and economic growth.
Government would have been on a better track if it is investing directly in the auto industry, state’s industrialization.
It is evident everywhere in the world that the state has a more robust energy to re-industrialise, other than putting the private sector as the major driver. The private sector has shown, as it is now that it does not have the financial base to solely drive the Auto sector.
What are the major challenges affecting the automobile sector?
The challenges facing the automobile sector in Nigeria are, that there is policy somersault as a result of government inconsistency. There is no intervention by the State in terms of investment.
They left everything to free market, deregulation, public private partnership and what have you. Look back at the peak of automobile assembly in the 80’s; there was a level playing ground because, government was handling the commanding height of the economy like energy, oil and gas, and the big corporations.
But, since the so-called structural adjustment programs, trade liberalisation, privatisation took over ;and import became dominant above industrialization, which led to closure of many factories and even now there is no longer government commitment because energy issue is not resolved and many cannot produce at capacity.
What is your take on casualization in the labour sector?
It is an assault on labour. Jobs are supposed to be decent and favourable to the worker that creates wealth. But casual jobs are insecure; indecent; and liable to enslave the worker the more.
We in AUTOBATE have adopted strategies that would enforce unionisation of casual workers so as to make sure the worker is not enslaved.
Casual workers have a right to join a union, as this will help in making sure that the a condition of service is at least decent. Then, we also campaign that casual workers are paid higher so that they can have better savings to cater for when the job becomes threatened.
Casual jobs are not safe; we need to fight so that safer jobs are provided in the country. Casual jobs are often never family friendly, and promote life instability.
Labour centres have to do more in campaigning against casualization. We need, for instance, a bill that will either limit casualization, or outlaw it!
What can you say about the recent lay-offs in the public service?
It is appalling! A sensible political economy is supposed to employ more and provide more work spaces during recession. So, it is correct that we resist these lay-offs. Government should create more jobs now. This is also a yardstick for the private sector.
The Auto sector is particularly witnessing a lull as many of the companies are declaring redundancies. We believe that workers are needed more now to create more wealth and drive industrialisation through tested initiatives.
Instead of Human Resources managers to advice for cutting cost on workers, why not partner with the workers to find solutions? The other issue is that employers generally are so greedy that they loot primitively when there is boom without saving for the raining day.
When there is a burst, they now blame it on workers. This is a very unfair nature of industrial relations.
What are the expectations from government in line with the vision of your union?
We expect that the government would start a direct intervention in the Auto industry by establishing its state companies, and set practical standards.
We also expect the government to fulfil its promise of injecting loans into the Auto industry, and make the workers to be at the nucleus of benefiting from the loans. We also call on the Federal Ministry of Labour to kick-start the process of criminalizing non-unionization in companies.
What can you say about the issue of unemployment in Nigeria?
Nigeria cannot be separated from the type of the system we operate, which is profit economy which solely depends on exploitation of the working class and even though they made billions of dollars during the boom, it was only invested in other sector to profit their families who are not working at all.
The unemployment history in the country is back dated to the golden years late 70’s when the leadership were not putting the economy into planning by projecting the developmental need of all the segment of the country considering the population growth because of wrong cousin of individuals.
What are the objectives of AUTOBATE?
Our first objective is to unionize all workers of the Automobile; Boatyards; Transport; Equipment; and Allied sector. We are highly equipped to offer the best platform for workers to be self-educated and self-conscious of their rights and deserved wages.
We are taking up companies that are moving against workers’ rights, like in Galba in Port Harcourt where our workers are being owed 20 months’ salaries- we are currently on an industrial dispute that has a two-week massive picketing as precedent.
AUTOBATE is revamping its locus-standi in Auto industry, through the radical praxis of the union’s motto which is, “workers welfare and industrial progress!”