Few days ago, the member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Onofiok Luke held his audience to a discourse that gave a perspective to the new normal in the changing world of work. As a keynote speaker on “Skill development: reshaping union’s policy, strategies and actions for sustainability of the workplace” at the opening of the 2021 State Level School of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Akwa Ibom State Council, Luke reflected on evolving workplace policies and how it may displace many workers if they do not re-skill and retrain themselves for the years ahead.
While acknowledging the significant contributions of labour to the political, economic, social and cultural development of Akwa Ibom State, the Federal lawmaker did not hold back his bullets by pointing out the lapses within the workforce which labour leaders must urgently address.
“Despite the milestone achievements by the Nigerian Labour Congress particularly in Akwa Ibom State, a deep dive into the Union’s policy document shows clearly that our approach and strategies as a Union might be counter-productive and at best prepares the Organized Labour for a world that ended yesterday.
“There is a new reality of unprecedented, transformative change in the world of work. This transformative change will only excite the people who are sustainable thinkers and are ready to grow with the growth of the future. On the other hand, this reality will only intimidate those who are unprepared for the future and who live only for the now. It is my belief that this chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress will be among the excited class in this conversation.”
“These are critical times and critical times require critical measures. As forerunners, we must go beyond the easy by constantly disengaging from the norm. We must have a deep reflection and reshape our tools to stand a chance in this exciting future by developing a plan for sustainable growth.”
“The world of work is undergoing a major process of change. There are several forces transforming it, from the onward march of technology and the impact of climate change to the impact of demographic changes in economics and employment.”
“It is important to note that while the nature and location of work has always been changing, the pace of change has greatly accelerated, the scope of change has broadened, and the impact of change has deepened, affecting even existing social values.
“The drivers of change in the world of work include aspects such as globalization, automation, digitization, demographic developments, global warming and other environmental developments. Those are not new, but the speed of change has increased greatly during the last two decades: the rapid expansion and acceleration of communication technologies, the spectacular progress in automation and digitization, as well as the increase and growing importance of emerging economic sectors. This situation was further attenuated by the COVID-19 Pandemic which ravaged the world.”
Onofiok Luke’s assertion on new labour policies in line with trend is necessary. The era where workers go on strike to drive home their demands or get a deal for a better welfare is over. While Nigerian Organised labour still hold onto this crude policy, workers in countries like United States of America, UK, Canada are giving government and their employers opportunity to have a rethink on better welfare packages for them through mass resignation.
For instance, in April 2021, 4 million people in the US quit their jobs according to the Department of Labor-the biggest spike ever. Since then approximately the same number have voluntarily left employment every month, so far peaking at 4.3 million in August.
In the UK 38 per cent of workers said they planned to quit in the next six to 12 months, according to a survey by human resources software firm Personio.
Research by Microsoft found that 41 per cent of 30,000 workers surveyed around the world were thinking of leaving their jobs or switching professions. This is because COVID-19 pandemic gave workers the opportunity for self-development which has enabled them reappraise their work environment and condition of service. Today, some employers have found that they simply cannot hire people on the same terms as they could prior to the pandemic and are being forced to adapt to increasing salaries and changing internal policies.
It is antithetical that while workers in these countries are resigning to effect changes in work places and get better welfare, workers in Nigeria are sitting tight to their wooden chairs, clinching their fists on their poorly paid jobs. Their fear and limitation is hoarded in lack of self-development.
Beyond this, the transition to the post COVID-19 era is gradually eroding physical work place. People now prefer to execute their assigned roles remotely. In Nigeria, since March 2020, Chevron Nigeria has not called back its staff to office. Everybody now work remotely. This is a new normal that will redefine every organisation’s workforce. Employees will be treated on order of relevance and their contributions to the organisation, not on labour policies. The world is titling to a time where organised labour will have no say in the workings of any organisation with regards to workers’ welfare. Workers will be left to what they can offer instead of what labour laws or policies say the should be offered. With this, there is urgent need for concern.
Onofiok Luke’s position is a clarion call for workers to reappraise their roles, contributions and prospects in any organisation they find themselves. There is need for labour leaders in Akwa Ibom State to engage in mass training of workers on Information and Communication Technologies. There is need for individual self-development based on work place demands so as to sit pretty at any turn of event in the organization.
Onofiok Luke’s challenge to labour leaders cannot be said to be a political statement. In his leadership positions over the years, Luke has engaged in assisting techies stabilise in business. During his time as the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, he approved several trainings for Staff of the Assembly, his colleagues and members of the House of Assembly Press Corps. These trainings were meant to enable them sit balanced on their jobs in demands with post-modern changes in workplace.
As a Federal lawmaker, Luke has so far provided laptops to youths for educational training and enterprise development. He has also constructed ICT Knowledge Centres at Nsit Peoples Grammar School, Afaha Offiong, Nsit Ibom Local Government Area and Community Comprehensive Secondary School, Ikot Etobo, Nsit Ubium government area.
These are testimonials that Onofiok Luke is not a public office holder who talks to impress but a leader who works the talk.
As a man who has been with the labour, supported their courses at different times, he understands the need of workers in the state and he is a better option for a change in leadership process of Akwa Ibom State in 2023.
Kufre Etuk writes from Uyo.