The Federal Government has invited organised labour to a meeting in a last-minute bid to stop the planned October 3, 2023 nationwide strike announced by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress on Tuesday.
The two unions had declared an indefinite strike with effect from Tuesday to protest the alleged failure of the FG to provide post-subsidy palliatives for workers, but the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity assured Nigerians it would meet with the leadership of the unions before they shut down the economy.
The spokesperson for the labour ministry, Olajide Oshundun, said the meeting scheduled for Tuesday, would be centred on the pronouncements that would be made by President Bola Tinubu during his October 1 Independence Day broadcast.
Tinubu is expected to unveil the palliative package for workers in the customary presidential speech to commemorate Nigeria’s Independence Day.
Oshundun disclosed in an interview with one of our correspondents, that the two major demands from the unions had been presented to the government.
He further said that the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Simon Lalong, had met one of the NLC’s demands which was the release of the factional National President of the National Association of Road Transport Workers, Tajudeen Baruwa, from police custody.
Baruwa and 21 others, including three national officers of the union, had been detained by the police for alleged criminal conspiracy, culpable homicide, public disturbance, and conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
Oshundun noted that the second major demand was on the wage award for workers which the Labour centres said would help in mitigating the suffering occasioned by the removal of the petrol subsidy.
He said, “We will avert the strike. We got the news of their intention to go on strike. They need to be rest assured that there will be a pronouncement in the October 1 speech of Mr President for Nigerian workers.
The ministry is working assiduously to meet with the second aspect of the demand which focuses on the wage award. We have already secured the release of the NURTW factional chairman.
So we hope to invite them on Tuesday following the pronouncement of the president to see reasons for them to call off the strike.”
Justifying the decision to proceed on strike at the virtual meeting of the National Executive Committee of the NLC held on Tuesday afternoon, Ajaero said the FG had failed to reverse its anti-poor policies characterised by the removal of fuel subsidy earlier this year.
The NEC meeting had in attendance several union leaders, including the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke; the National President, Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions, Prof Theophilus Ndubaku; the National Treasurer of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, Mercy Lanka; the General Secretary of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, Ibrahim Bomoi, and others.
The NLC leader told the over 90 participants at the meeting that the walkout would be carried out in collaboration with the TUC which had earlier failed to participate in the two-day strike declared by the NLC on September 5 and 6.
The TUC had said that it was not interested in embarking on any industrial action for now, preferring to give the FG a two-week grace while sustaining its ongoing dialogue with government officials.
But Ajaero explained that the TUC had decided to participate in the strike following a meeting with the leadership of the congress led by its National President, Festus Osifo.
The TUC later endorsed the decision at a joint media briefing held by Ajaero and the TUC president in Abuja on Tuesday.
During the NLC NEC meeting which commenced at 12:32pm with an opening prayer and adoption of motions by representatives of the NLC state councils of Ebonyi and Borno states, Ajaero alleged plans by agents of the government to break the ranks of the congress.
The unionist also noted that there were plans to divide the ranks of the NLC leadership by individuals spreading rumours of a possible compromise by the congress’ leadership.
He stated, “Some people are saying that we have collected money. I have been here for a very long time and I have not encountered such. If anyone has any information, let them come forward and we will investigate.”
Speaking further, Ajaero informed the NEC-in-session of the plans to ground economic activities in the country from Tuesday.
Addressing journalists, Ajaero and Osifo said their unions decided “in the spirit of the Independence Day celebration and to demonstrate our resolve for a truly independent Nigeria to take our destinies in our own hands and rescue our nation.”
Ajaero carpeted the FG over what he described as its lackadaisical stance towards the demands raised by the unions since the subsidy removal policy took effect.
He accused the government of deliberate refusal to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue within the ambit of good faith during the 21-day ultimatum and the two-day nationwide warning strike.
The union leader explained that the national executive councils of the NLC and TUC in their various meetings deeply analysed the current situation in the country, taking into cognisance the hardships and deprivation afflicting the citizens across all the states of the federation.
He said both NECs unanimously condemned the government’s tardiness in handling the consequences of its petrol price hike on Nigerians.
Ajaero also noted that the NLC and the TUC NEC-in-session observed that there was no disagreement between Labour and government on the existence of the massive suffering, impoverishment and hunger in the country as a result of the hike in the price of petrol which he said required an urgent remedial action.
He accused the government of abdicating its responsibility and ‘’had shown gross unwillingness to act, thereby abandoning Nigerian people and workers to excruciating poverty and affliction.’’
Labour accuses FG
He further accused the government of continuous grandstanding and forestalling all avenues to peaceful dialogue with organised labour on ways to save Nigerians from hunger and suffering.
Ajaero noted that the Tinubu administration has equally demonstrated a complete lack of intention to take positive steps to rescue the multi-dimensionally impoverished citizens.
He stated, “The Federal Government has, therefore, not met in any substantial way the demands of Nigerian workers and peoples as previously canvassed in our mutually agreed roadmap to salvaging the economy and protecting workers and Nigerians from the monumental hardship.
The grace period given by the two labour centres has expired but the trade unions continue to face severe threat from the state via the brutal and suppressive power of the police and government.
The National Union of Road Transport Workers office continues to be illegally occupied by the government via the instrumentality of the police who have cloned the leadership of NURTW.’’
“The Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria continues to be illegally occupied by the Lagos State government in total disregard for the courts and the statutes.
That the state has continued to blackmail and sponsor serious campaigns of calumny against trade union leaders on social media using its buying and coercive powers instead of making efforts to lift the burden on the masses,” the NLC President alleged without providing any evidence.
Disclosing the decisions jointly taken by the NLC and TUC, Osifo said, ‘’Consequently, the NLC and TUC NEC-in-session resolved as follows: To, in the spirit of the Independence Day celebration and to demonstrate our resolve for a truly independent Nigeria to take our destinies in our own hands and rescue our nation
“To embark on an indefinite and total shutdown of the nation beginning on zero hours Tuesday, the 3rd day of October, 2023; To direct all workers in Nigeria to withdraw their services from their respective workplaces commencing from the 3rd of October.
To direct all affiliates and state councils to immediately start mobilizing accordingly for action to organise street protests and rallies until government responds positively to our demands
We enjoin all patriotic Nigerians to join hands across the nation to assist this government put the people back at the centre of its policies and programmes.”
Speaking earlier on Channels TV, Osifo said the union was tired of the promises by the labour ministry to implement the unions’ demands, stressing that the TUC wanted concrete actions.
The TUC is demanding wage awards for civil servants to cushion the hardship occasioned by fuel subsidy removal, tax exemption for some categories of workers, as well as setting up structures for the effective implementation of the palliatives from the FG.
He said, “In the last meeting we had with the ministry of labour, they told us the same thing that the president was out of the country and when he comes back they believe that he will make the pronouncement.
But I saw it this morning that he said the pronouncement will come soon but again we are really tired of soon, we want a definite pronouncement, we want a definite solution to these lingering issues.
At the end of the day, we have been hearing dates, we have been hearing it will come today, tomorrow or next tomorrow, we are relatively tired of promises; all we want is action.
Nigerians are tired of a lot of meetings, lots of promises, what we want is concrete action, so we are tired of promises and promises.”
FG, labour warned
However, the declaration of the industrial action did not go down well with the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria, which has warned the FG and labour of its wider implication on the economy.
It observed that the strike would truncate business activities and worsen the economic hardship Nigerians are facing.
The OPSN, in a statement, emphasised that the economy cannot afford a nationwide strike at a time like this, and called on the Federal Government and the labour unions to work hand-in-hand to avert the looming disruption of socio-economic activities in the country.
The OPS comprises the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, the Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and the Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists.
Having keenly watched the back-and-forth consultations between the government and the unions, the OPS noted that it is evident that the series of consultations have not yielded positive results, a development which sets the stage for the imminent industrial action.
The statement read in part, “We are worried that adequate consideration is not given to the dire situation of the economy and the devastating/disruptive impact that a nationwide strike will have on the country at this time.
The government and labour need to understand that our economy is being de-marketed and the livelihood of the average Nigerian is being diminished by this incessant bickering.
One is beginning to wonder if the wellbeing of more than 200 million Nigerians is being factored into their negotiations.”
It also implored the government to endeavour to re-engage the leadership of the unions and find an amicable ground to avert any disruption in business activities that will attend the nationwide strike.
The OPS stated, “Government should demonstrate good faith in keeping to its promises during the negotiations with labour and abstain from making promises they cannot or do not intend to keep.
On the other hand, labour should do a realistic assessment of its demands within the context of prevailing economic realities and possibilities, while going the extra mile to indicate how its demands could be met.”
Speaking to The PUNCH, the President of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, Elliot Ibie, said his colleagues would down tools in compliance with the NLC directive.
“Of course we’d be joining the strike, we’re an affiliate of the NLC. We just finished a meeting, everybody is part of it.
Asked if activities at the airport will be grounded, he said, “Yes, everywhere.”
Similarly, the President of the National Union of Air Transport Employees, Ben Nnabue, confirmed the NUATE would also participate in the walkout.
He said, “Yes, we are an affiliate of NLC so we’d be joining the strike.”
But the Deputy President of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Jaja, said, “ATSSAN is under the Trade Union Congress, so we wait to get direction from our centre. As soon as we get directions from our labour centre which is the TUC national, we take it from there.’’
The Head of Media of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Mr John Ikemefule, also affirmed that maritime workers would shut down the ports and jetties from Tuesday.
He added, “It has been confirmed that the union will be joining the NLC and TUC to shut down the country from October 3rd. There will be a total and indefinite shutdown of the country. We are going to withdraw our members from jetties and terminals.’’
The President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, Oluwole Olusoji, said, “As an affiliate of the Trade Union Congress, we are bound by the resolutions until otherwise advised.
“We, however, expect that the government will act in good not just by making public pronouncements but actualising such statements without delay.”
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, has appealed to organised labour to shelve its planned industrial action owing to the economic challenges facing the nation.
Abbas, who made the plea during plenary, while welcoming lawmakers back from a two-month annual recess, expressed the commitment of the lawmakers to the welfare of the Nigerian workers through robust legislation and other critical interventions.
He noted that the challenges of meeting daily needs were the reason the NLC s “Seems to have lost patience with the painstaking effort of the government to plan and provide sustainable minimum wage and palliatives to citizens.”
“As the peoples’ representatives, we feel and equally share in the pains of our people at these very difficult times. However, I would like to appeal to the NLC to consider the various actions being taken by the Federal Government to alleviate the current hardship faced by Nigerians,’’ he said.
Abass assured that the 10th House would interface between the organised labour and the government to quickly work out a realistic new national minimum wage and other palliatives.
Admonishing his colleagues to prioritise the needs of Nigerians, the speaker noted that “When people are hungry and despondent, what is needed is a leadership with a clear vision, a leadership that daily, demonstrates its commitment and capacity to tackle the challenges at hand; a leadership that should be innovative in proffering short- and long-term solutions.
“That is what Nigerians need at this time and as representatives of the people, we must rise to the occasion. It is our considered opinion that embarking on a nationwide strike at this point will only aggravate an already bad situation.
I, therefore, urge the leadership of labour unions to give us the benefit of doubt and suspend any planned strike action while we engage the Executive.”
The Speaker urged his colleagues to get set to speedily treat the 2024 Appropriation Bill due for presentation in the weeks ahead, saying, “We must diligently consider the bill to ensure that it meets the needs of our constituents.”
In a similar vein, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, has called on the FG to find a solution to the economic crisis the country is facing in the light of the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy.
The group also urged the government to meet the demands of the NLC to avoid the planned industrial action.
This was contained in a communique issued after a meeting of the group held at the residence of its acting National Leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, in Isanya Ogbo, Ogun State, on Tuesday.