Despite FG’s Offer of Reopening Talks, Labour Begins Strike Thursday

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President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Ayuba Wabba
  • Banks, petrol stations to shut down

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

Organised labour has made good its threat to commence a warning strike across the country thursday, asking all its members to ignore work and stay at home from the middle of last night.

By the industrial action, all public and private offices, including banks and petrol stations would shut down.

The action by workers came in defiance of a late rally by the federal government, which offered to restart negotiations on new national minimum wage after weeks of suspension.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and all its allies and affiliate unions have jointly mobilised their members nationwide to ensure observance of the industrial action.

As at 8p.m. wednesday when THISDAY spoke with the Head of Information at the NLC, Mr. Benson Ukpah, on the update regarding the strike, he said labour leaders had ordered that the warning strike should proceed by midnight as planned.

Also the organised labour has asked its members not to listen to any instruction to resume except that given by the leadership of the umbrella unions.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, had announced yesterday that the federal government had agreed that the suspended tripartite negotiations on the new national minimum wage would reopen on Thursday, next week.

The minister, who met for two hours with labour leaders led by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said all processes had been put in place to reconvene the meeting of the tripartite committee as demanded by the union.

Addressing journalists shortly after the talks with the organised labour, Ngige said, “Yes we are resuming next week, Thursday, precisely October 4 and the meeting is expected to dovetail to Friday.

“All the processes have been put in place and labour leaders are to consult with their affiliates to come back for the meeting. I think we don’t have any need for strike.”
He said that the National Economic Council is deliberating on the issue and will most likely conclude action on it before the resumption of negotiations next week.

Ngige, however, said he could not give any time frame for conclusion of action on the new minimum wage.
He explained that the processes leading to the eventual implementation of the new minimum wage does not end with the work of tripartite committee.
According to the minister, after agreement on the new minimum wage may have been reached, the Federal Executive Council will consider and review it and subsequently forward same to the National Assembly.

On his part, Wabba said that the meeting with the minister provided opportunity for them to have update on the efforts being made by the federal government to meet the worker’s demand.

When asked if Labour would still be going ahead with the warning strike, Wabba said, “As you are aware, there was a meeting where the Minister of Labour and Productivity tried to update us on government’s efforts, since this was the first meeting after the suspension of negotiations. That briefing will also be taken to our members.”

The President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Igwue Achebe, told journalists that they are only representatives of their various unions and they have no powers to cancel the industrial action.

Leaders of the organised labour, had said that their decision to embark on the action was because of the unilateral suspension of negotiations on minimum wage by the federal government.
Various figures ranging from N65,000 to N45,000 have been suggested during negotiations as the new national minimum wage by stakeholders, but none has been agreed upon.

While speaking to journalists earlier in the day, the NLC president said the workers have been taken for ride over the past one year by the government, which has failed to show sincerity in the handling of new minimum wage negotiations.

He said what angered the workers most was the pronouncement made by the federal government that minimum wage negotiations had been adjourned sine die.

“This was the reason why the organised labour was outraged and shell-shocked by the decision of government to adjourn the meeting of the negotiating committee indefinitely”, Wabba said, saying the action of government was against the principle of collective bargaining, which cast doubts on the integrity and seriousness of government.

He said the directive by Organised Private Sector urging its employees not to comply with the strike should be discountenanced.

Subsequently, the unions led by the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) yesterday said that it would shut down all government offices, and private companies, including petrol stations by midnight.

According to Wabba, the warning strike is in compliance with the decision of the various organs of the organised labour which endorsed the 14-day ultimatum served on the federal government by members of the organised labour who are members of the tripartite committee on the new national minimum wage.

The National Minimum Wage Committee was set up in November 2017 but commenced work in March, this year.

Ayuba said there were assurances that negotiations will follow timeline which is to terminate with an agreement on new minimum wage latest in August or September, 2018.

Explaining further, the NLC president said the tripartite committee in the course of its work received several memoranda and inputs from 21 state governments, organised labour, agencies of the federal government and organised private sector.

Wabba also reacted to the statement attributed to the governors that they should not be compelled to pay a national minimum wage.

He said: “We do believe that the reasons why governors find it difficult to pay the national minimum wage are lack of political will, high level of corruption, excessive cost of governance, indulgence in obscene lifestyle and White elephant projects.

On whether labour would be ready to suspend tomorrow’s industrial action if the federal government summons them to a meeting, Ayuba said the strike cannot stop unless the leadership goes back to consult with its organs.

On his part, the President of NUPENG, Mr. Igwe Achese, said that workers strike would go on despite the last minute offer by the federal government to meet with labour unions next week.