The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has assured members of the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Joint Employers and Workers Association that the Federal Government will review the newly introduced 500 per cent excise duty on locally produced alcoholic beverages to save the sector from imminent collapse and forestall the consequent loss of about two hundred thousand jobs.
Ngige said: “You have written to the Federal Government through me that the increase in excise duty on alcohol and beverages will create job losses because once you add a new cost and pass it on, there will be consumer resistance, resulting in low patronage whereas the products coming from overseas that are being smuggled in which are cheap, will take over the market. It is a statement of fact.
“I have passed your complaints and luckily we have a listening President who wants the good of all Nigerians. He will definitely ask the Minister of Finance and the economic management team to review the tariff. We cannot afford to create poverty and job losses here while promoting abundant jobs in other countries. Job losses are not part of this government and will not support the 500% tariff increase.”
Ngige gave this hint while responding to a rallying cry by the leaders of the association, who were in his office on a Save Our Soul mission.
The Minister said the Economic and Recovery Growth Plan of the Federal Government was partly tailored towards job creation rather than losses, saying that the Executive Order Nos. 1 and 4 was for job creation as well as ensuring that jobs created were done by the locals.
He added that the cardinal place job creation and protection occupy informed the administration’s fidelity to non-declaration of redundancy in the Federal Ministries and Agencies, hence no retrenchment of workers.
Ngige said: “This is not to say that we don’t know that in some places available jobs have more than available staff members to match them but this is a compassionate administration. The President does not want to throw many families into anguish. The President always said that he was a salary earner in all his working life. You can also see that we did not place an embargo on recruitment as we used to have years ago even while we were under recession. The Federal Government has been replacing staff members who exited as well as creating new jobs in the public sector. But this has to be complemented with the private sector jobs to have a full blend. ”
He also said the stoic resolve of President Muhammadu Buhari to the policy of non-retrenchment made him further push the policy down to the states through Federal Economic Council to ensure that no worker is sack at any level of the Federation, “otherwise some of the Governors who can’t salaries would have retrenched by now. He has also followed it up with various bail-out funds, Paris Club Refund e.t.c to the state governments.”
Further buttressing the commitment of the Federal Government to the welfare of workers, the Minister referred to the staff housing programme for workers being operated by the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, under the Federal Integrated Staff Housing as well as other housing progrmmes meant to provide cheap houses to Nigerian workers.
The Minister, therefore, said: “The Federal Government who has this level of commitment to the upliftment of the Nigerian workers cannot resort to any measure that can trigger job losses. We will certainly not commit to any policy that will make us lose 200,000 jobs.”
Ngige further assured the delegation that the Federal Government through the Custom and Excise Department was working round the clock to tame the activities of smugglers so as to save local industries.
Earlier in their address, the leader of the delegation and the Acting General Secretary of the Union, Comrade Mike Olanrewaju, cataloguing the plight of the association, said the 500 per cent tariff increase by the Ministry of Finance on their products was counter-productive as the measure was an assured destruction of the sector.
Olanrewaju said: “It will kill investments, it is already creating palpable fear in the operators, jobs losses is looming while imported products will displace local goods for reasons of smuggling and cheapness.”
He, therefore, explained they were on SOS to the Minister to save the sector from going the way of the textile industry as well as prevent the loss of about 200, 000 jobs with the attendant economic and social consequences.
He said: “We have run to you as our last hope. Your antecedent in protecting the cause of the workers, that you have zero tolerance for anything that hurts the workforce is source of our confidence that the 500 per cent tariff on our products, which spells doom for the sector will be looked into by the government.
They further raised fears on the displacement of workers by the creeping automation regime in the industries to which the Minister assured that the demerits of new technology will be modulated by policy of compliance to Corporate Social Responsibility Policy in order to give jobs to the locals where the industries are sited.