Workers draw battle line over lingering naira scarcity

NLC directs picketing of CBN offices •Apex bank plans return of old notes
Workers yesterday vowed to stay at home from next week until further notice over the worsening naira scarcity.

They said they can no longer pay for transportation fares to work.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) also directed all its affiliate unions to mobilise for the picketing of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) offices, including its headquarters in Abuja, from next week until cash is made available.

It asked workers to stay at home to enable them to join in the picketing exercise.

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But the apex bank hinted yesterday about plans to flood the banks with old naira notes from today

The naira crisis has also worsened gender inequalities and made women poorer, according to Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Kedem Tallen.

She said as good as the cash-less and naira redesign policy is, the ramifications have meant millions of women have been left behind.

The minister spoke at the 2023 edition of the Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN) International Women’s Day celebration in Abuja.

Tallen said this inequality is exacerbated by “the new monetary policy as we go cashless”.

She said a solution must be found to what she called “growing inequalities which have left women poorer”.

NLC President, Joe Ajaero, gave the picketing and sit-at-home directive during a briefing at the end of the Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting.

Ajaero said the exercise would be “total and till further notice.”

The labour leader said the directive became imperative following the expiration of the one-week ultimatum given to the CBN to make cash available to Nigerians last week.

He said the situation had not changed since the ultimatum was issued, forcing the Congress to decide on the picketing of CBN offices nationwide.

He said mobilisation for the picketing would commence on Friday ahead of next week.

The NLC President lamented that despite the Supreme Court order allowing the old N500 and N1,000 notes to circulate with the new notes till December 31, the situation is getting worse as workers cannot access cash to pay fares to work and cannot buy food for their families.

The NLC last week gave the CBN and commercial banks a one-week ultimatum to make naira notes available.

The organisation said it would direct workers to stay at home if the CBN failed to comply.

Ajaero said: “Last week at the end of our CWC meeting, we gave a one-week ultimatum for the Federal Government to address immediately, among other issues, the issue of cash crunch that was caused by the policy.

“As of this morning when the CWC met again to review the situation, we discovered that not much improvement has been made.

“The situation is still almost the same. People are still buying our currency with our currencies.

“People can no longer access the currency and the government seems to be very adamant about this.

“No moves have been made to reduce the suffering of Nigerians.

“Consequently, the CWC-in-session resolved to go into the process of actualising the one-week notice.

“From Friday (tomorrow), there will be mobilisation of all state councils through a NEC meeting.

“All unions have already been directed to mobilise all their organs and their branches. By Wednesday next week, all CBN offices nationwide will be picketed.

“All CBN offices, from the CBN headquarters, will be shut till further notice.

“Workers are directed to stay at home and join in the picketing exercise.

“We call on Nigerians to understand the circumstances we are operating in. People will be telling you about the political situation.

“The political situation is self-inflicted and the economic crisis is worst than the political situation because people cannot eat.

“Workers can no longer go to the office and nothing is happening.

“So, we have been pushed to the wall having given one week and we thought they could address the situation which is not addressed.

“We have decided to take our destiny into our hands. So, comrades, the mobilisation commences immediately and when we talk of action from Wednesday, it’s total, until further notice.”

The NLC president also criticised the pricing irregularities in the petroleum sector, which he said was also a cause for concern.

He said the cash crunch was compounding the petroleum sector crisis as people are being compelled to buy naira with naira at exorbitant costs.

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Tallen, represented by Director, Gender Affairs in the ministry, Mrs. Friiya Bulus, told the large gathering of women at the Yar’Adua Centre that digital revolution opportunities come with the risk of existing patterns of gender inequality.

She said: “As good as the policy is, in the long run, the immediate concern is the growing inequalities which are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies with women being left behind as a result of this digital gender divide.”

She lamented that the rural and urban vegetable seller who agrees to be paid through transfer would be charged a fee by the banks.

This, she believes, would result in “the devaluation of her goods and loss of income”.

Tallen added: “This explains why the average market woman does not believe in this cashless policy and remains resistant to accepting the change.

“What will you say about the Point of Sale (PoS) operator who controls the economy for want of cash?

“You want N5,000 and you have to pay close to N2,000 as charges.

“The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is, therefore, crucial for a sustainable future.

“We must work together to create access to the use of digital devices, internet and content to mainstream women into the digital space.”

Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, said efforts must be made to end the inequalities.

“We must work to eliminate the gender pay gap and support women entrepreneurs and business owners,” she said.

DBN Managing Director, Dr. Tony Okpanachi, said Nigerians must ensure that technology is used to empower women, not reinforce gender stereotypes.

He lamented that “there is still a significant employment discrepancy in the tech profession, with women accounting for between 28 per cent and 42 per cent of the workforce”.

Okpanachi added: “We must continue to challenge gender biases and promote diversity in all aspects of our lives.

“We must join our hands together to close gender disparity and provide more opportunities for women to gain the skills they need to succeed in the digital economy.”

<<The Nation>>