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NIGERIA: Our quarrel with new cement policy —Labour

“OUR union will lose approximately 15,616 direct workers in the cement sector and over a million workers involved in indirect activities related to cement usage.”

These were the words of labour leaders and workers in the nation’s Chemical and Non-Metallic Products sector, during a protest at the Lagos State Governor’s Office, over the new cement policy of the Federal Government.

The protesting labour leaders and workers, who were at the Governor’s Office to deliver a protest letter to Governor Fashola for delivery to President Goodluck Jonathan, contended that the new policy was ill-conceived, ill-advised and portends dire consequences for the national economy and could not be defended anywhere outside Nigeria.

Under the umbrella of National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-metallic Products Employees, NUCFRLANMPE, with support from Lagos chapter of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGTWN, the workers called on government to halt the policy because it was capable of disrupting the transformation agenda of the present administration.

Armed with placards bearing various inscriptions, they marched from Toyin Street, Ikeja to Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, lamenting that the policy was hasty and would worsen the unemployment situation in the country.

They implored government to give the cement manufacturers a minimum of two years to standardize their operations, arguing that it was wrong for the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, to suddenly introduce a new policy on cement production.

At a briefing before the protest, President of the union, Mr. Boniface Isok, insisted that the introduction of 42.5 standard of cement was a welcome idea if only it was allowed to compete with other types of cement while leaving the choice to the final consumers.

According to him, “We call on all stakeholders in the cement sector in Nigeria to let wisdom prevail and leave the existing 32.5 type of cement to compete with the new 42.5 type while leaving the choice for the final consumers.

The 32.5 cement type has been in existence over 70 years ago as long as our memory can recollect and many high rise buildings in the country like the Cocoa House in Ibadan, multi-storey buildings on Broad Street in Lagos, many five star hotels in Lagos and Abuja, Federal Secretariats both in Lagos and Abuja, Government Houses all over the federation, residential buildings and many others too numerous to mention were constructed with the 32.5 cement type and they all have withstood the test of time.

Therefore, if government shuts down factories that are producing 32.5 type of cement with impunity as SON is intending to do, it will deny workers of their right to gainful employment.

Job losses

“Our union will lose approximately 15,616 direct workers in the cement sector in companies like WAPCO, UNICEM, SOKOTO, ATLAS, ASHAKA, PURECHEM etc. and over a million workers involved in indirect activities related to cement usage.

The point we are trying to make is that while we do not oppose 42.5 cement type; other manufacturers like Lafarge Group (WAPCO and ASHAKA), Unicem and Sokoto Cement plants should not be allowed to close down and thereby sending their workers to the already saturated labour market.

As a trade union organization and an important stakeholder in the sector which is saddled with the protection of worker’s interests; the introduction of 42.5 standard of cement is a welcome idea if and only if it would be allowed to co-exist with other different types of cements especially 32.5 type.

“We aver that policy making should consider the prevailing circumstances which are hinged on the acceptability of the general masses and not the one that is predicated on overzealous interest pursuit of influential ones. A policy that is forced on people can never stand the test of time.

Our argument

Isok contended that “there exist 27 types of cement in the world and each serves different purposes. It is on record that none of these cement types is inferior to the other in as much as they serve different purposes.

The implication is that no particular cement type is applicable to all construction works. We have 12.5 type, 22.5type/ 32.5type, 42.5type, 52.5 type, sulphate resistant cement, oil-well cement, white cement etc. all serving different and specific purposes.

Cement type has nothing to do with building collapse, rather, poor application, corruption that is evident in stealing and compromising, lack of technical know-how on the part of personnel on sites with respect to determining what reinforcement is required for a particular soil type and at a particular location, poor soil analyses and other human factors are the major reasons why building collapse is rampant in Nigeria nowadays.

It is a known fact that most of the high-rise buildings and heavy construction works like road, bridges, drainages, factories etc. were constructed with 32.5 type of cement yet they are still standing strong in the face of weather and other climatic elements that are taking toll on them.

“The Union believes that different agenda is being subtly pursued to create monopoly in the sector. It is worrisome that the proponents of the cement standardization failed to put so many things into consideration.

The direct gain from market domination if the idea sails through has impaired their senses of reasoning on the negative effect the action will have on the Nigerian economy which is already assuming down-turn trend; the attendant consequences will be loss of jobs thereby provoking the already saturated unemployment situation in the country.

To upgrade the crop of cement plants in Nigeria to be able to produce 42.5 type will require nothing less than two years. The implication is that the likes of Lafarge cement, Sokoto Cement, Unicem, Ashaka Cement etc. will shut down while the upgrading lasted, resulting to scarcity of cement, high price, high demand, and importation of cement, unemployment, and delay in on-going construction works etc.

According to him, “Supporting 42.5 type of cement as the only cement to be produced in Nigeria would mean that all on-going construction projects have to be re-designed to conform to 42.5 type of cement. The wastage will be unimaginable. Why the fuss about 42.5 type and not 52.5 type and or any of other higher types? If 42.5type is superior to 32.5 type, then Nigeria should even go for 52.5type and/or any other higher one.

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