The newly elected National President of the Nigerian Union of Mines Workers (NUMW), an affiliate of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comr Mohammed Hamza has called on the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi to work with the Union in its determination to expose ills perpetuated by foreign operators against indigenous workers who are on the payroll of foreign companies, saying that the cooperation of government is crucial to salvaging the oppressed workers. Francis Kadiri reports.
The mining sector no doubt wields enormous potentials of economic diversification for Nigeria, but this must not be done at the expense of disregard for the freedom of association guaranteed by the constitution of Nigeria, the newly elected National President of the Nigerian Union of Mines Workers (NUMW), Comr Hamza Mohammed has said.
According to Hamza, foreign investors operating in Nigerian mining sector have continued to perpetuate evil against their Nigerian staff while shielding themselves from being exposed. This he said they do by imposing a ban on unionism of quarry workers.
“Apart from disregard for laws, they overlabor the workers, under pay them and deny them retirement benefits,” he said.
In an exclusive interview with our correspondent shortly after he was declared winner of the keenly contested election in Abuja, Hamza, who had chaired the FCT Chapter of the NUMW said the quest for foreign investment need not be pursued at the cost of degrading the humanity of citizens. According to him, economic diversification in the mining sector would be more beneficial if the Nigerian government also cooperates with its own citizens adding that when this is done, enormous potentials of economic regeneration which the sector wields will be realized.
Discussing the focus of his administration, Hamza said: “Apart from putting in place strategies that will ensure economic diversification through the mining sector, my administration will address other crucial national issues currently bedeviling the sector especially the influx of expatriates who are fast taking over the profits in the sector to the detriment of Nigerians.
It is very wrong to allow foreigners operate to the detriment of the citizen, he said adding that although foreign investments may be encouraged, but not to the extent that they take over the activities of the sector to the detriment of Nigerians and the economy.
“There is serious need for government to prioritize the participation of Nigerian citizens in the operations of the sector because foreigners have taken undue advantage of government’s investment-friendly policies such that they overshadow indigenous investors to the detriment of the economy.”
While he called on government to enforce extant laws meant to protect the rights of Nigerian laborers and the constitutional freedom they should enjoy, Hamza advised the Buhari administration to constitute a presidential task force that will address abnormalities currently being perpetuated by expatriates in the mining sector, adding that if this is not done, no mean disservice would be suffered by the country.
He further tasked the Buhari administration to work with the Union and give needed encouragement of young miners by solving the problem of mining finance, an issue he said was a source of fear to prospective miners who do not have enough funds to start their businesses.
“Mining is a capital intensive business that requires the support of government and financial institutions,’ he said adding that government needs to enact policies that will effectively address the funding difficulties associated with the sector.
“Government should ensure that it prevails on foreign firms to allow the unionisation of Nigerian workers in their employ. It is sad that most foreign miners do not allow association of Nigerian workers because unionism has capacity to expose the ills being perpetuated by foreigners,’ he said.
“Ordinarily, a group of five mine workers is entitled to begin a workers union but foreign mining companies deny these rights because they want to over-labour the workers, underpay them as well as deny them their retirement benefits. They are afraid of being checkmated by the union, if it exists. In order to perpetuate these evils, foreign firms outlaw formation of mines workers union despite the constitutional freedom of people to unionise.
He said expatriates deny Nigerian workers even their basic rights. Government must challenge this because we cannot sacrifice they citizen for the sake of foreign investment.
In a message to Acting President Osinbajo, Hamza said: “Only Nigerians can make the mining sector succeed, not foreign investors, because foreigners have their hidden agenda.”
“The sector’s worst enemies are foreign investors who don’t want miners to unionise; those who are afraid of being brought to justice because they know that when workers unite, they can successfully fight their oppressor.
“I want the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi and the Buhari administration to investigate the issues we have raised here as well as cooperate with the union to solve the problems.
The Secretary General of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comr Peter Ozo Esan said Nigerian workers must work hard to have a united front saying that there is strength in unity.