Strike Continues as Presidency, Labour Fail to Agree

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Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba
  • Action records partial success in several states Text Box: Banks, fuel stations open
  • Economy losing billions of naira, say experts

Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Omololu Ogunmade, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Chiemelie Ezeobi, Chinedu Eze, Eromosele Abiodun in Lagos

The warning strike declared by organised labour continues friday despite the intervention of the presidency, which met thursday with leaders of the striking workers at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari, had met with Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, and his team to work out a truce that would see the workers suspend the strike and return to work while negotiations resumed on Thursday as proposed by the federal government.

Nothing concrete came out of the conversation.

“We’ve just finished a meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President and we did not say anything different. The strike continues tomorrow until further notice,” NLC General Secretary, Mr. Peter Ozo-Eson, told THISDAY last night and said the strike would continue as nothing new came out of the discussion.

Kyari told State House correspondents that the meeting was called to know how the negotiations that had already commenced on the minimum wage got stalled and was swift to explain that it was the process of arriving at the figures that stalled the negotiations.

“The purpose of this meeting is to know what led to the strike. It is the process of arriving that figure that got stalled,” he said.

Also speaking, Wabba said the meeting with the Chief of Staff was fruitful

Asked if the strike action would be called off following deliberations at the meeting, Wabba said the output of the meeting would be tabled before relevant organs of the organised labour before they could know the next line of action.

According to him, the federal government had made a promise to the group. Wabba however, failed to disclose the nature of the promise made by Kyari.

He said, “The Chief of Staff tried to give us detail of government position which we will have to go and convey to our members and then we can revert back to him.

“This is how far we have gone but clearly I think we have tried to share details of the information that pertain to the issue of the national minimum wage and how the ongoing negotiation was stalled and also the best way to get out of it.

“Government has given us their words which we will also go and communicate to our members and revert back to government.

“The strike as you are aware is called by a larger organ until we get their mandate before we can make any pronouncement on the strike.

“All the discussion we have had, we will communicate to our members and therefore it is the outcome of our meeting with our members that we will also communicate to government.”

“We will try to do that very shortly as soon as possible. As we get out of here we put our heads together and try to see how to get our organs informed.”

But a member of the delegation disclosed at the background that the strike would continue despite pleas from Kyari that it should be called off, saying the government had enough time to avert the strike but failed.

“The Chief of Staff was begging us to call off the strike but it is not possible now. If we do it, our members will lynch us.”

The industrial action, called to protest the sluggish approach to the workers demand for an upward review of minimum wage, was partially successful in several states across the country as workers, particularly those in public service shunned work.

Banks and fuel stations, however, opened their doors to customers.

A drive round major cities, particularly Abuja, the seat of the federal government, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Kano and others saw some affiliate unions of the organised labour, especially in the private sector defying the order to close shops.

However, many federal civil servants, teachers in public schools stayed away from work across the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Also affected was the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) where activities were paralysed by the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN).

However, same was not the case as banks and petrol stations opened for business.

In the FCT and Lagos, virtually all the banks carried on with their business activities, ignoring the strike.

THISDAY findings revealed all the banks on Gana Street, Maitama, Abuja, including Access Bank, Ecobank, Diamond, UBA, FCMB, among others opened for normal business activities.

In Lagos, virtually all banks opened for business at different locations.

Also, a visit to both the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as well as the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) also revealed normal work activities.

At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, local and international airlines were seen operating to different destinations, as the heads of the unions, including the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), the Air Transport Service Senior Association of Nigeria (ATSSAN) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) disclosed in a joint statement that they did not join the strike due to national delegate conference of NUATE scheduled for September 26 to 28 in Asaba.

They added that the labour centre had granted moratorium to all the aviation unions to allow for the conclusion of the conference.

The statement, however, said they would join the strike on Tuesday, October 2.

The strike by NLC got a boost with the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) and the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria expressing their support for the warning strike.

Government hospitals in the FCT observed the strike although skeletal services were offered by some of the health workers.

NASU and the health workers’ union in their reactions expressed outrage over the continued delay in the conclusion of minimum wage negotiations.

The unions urged their members to make sure they use their voter’s cards to vote out governors that are owing workers’ salaries.

They also asked workers to interrogate politicians seeking public offices on what they can offer to alleviate their sufferings.

Addressing journalists at the opening of the National Executive Council meeting of NASU in Abuja, the General Secretary, Mr. Peter Adeyemi, said he had directed members to comply fully with the warning strike.

Adeyemi lamented the ugly state of workers’ welfare particularly the non-payment of salaries to workers in state-owned tertiary institutions.

The labour leader also expressed worry over the apparent foot-dragging being witnessed in the negotiations for new national minimum wage.

According to NASU General Secretary, it amounts to great insensitivity for President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate a tripartite committee on new minimum wage only to allow its lackadaisical approach to its assignment.

Similarly, health workers under the auspices of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) yesterday rallied support for industrial action, which entered the second day today.

The President of MHWUN, Mr. Biobelemoye Josiah, who said that the national minimum wage was supposed to be reviewed after every five years, lamented the apparent reluctance by the federal government and the states to conclude action on a new minimum wage.

“We at the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria, wish to register our unalloyed support to the NLC under the leadership of Ayuba Wabba,” he said, adding, “We have watched with keen interest unfolding events leading to this unfortunate situation and are convinced that organised labour has exhibited the highest level of civility, patience and respect for due process in the quest for the legitimate aspirations of the working class.”

In Lagos, Vice President of NLC, Mr. Amaechi Asugwuni, led other members to several sectors to enforce compliance with the directive to embark on strike.

Some of the areas where compliance was enforced were Lagos State Government Secretariat in Alausa and other agencies and parastatals.

It was gathered that the workers who had no inkling about the strike had reported to work only to be turned back at the gates of their respective offices.

The Lagos State Chairman of the NLC, Mr. Idowu Adelakun, said the strike was long overdue, given the body language of the federal and state governments in living up to the required minimum wage.

The labour unions were said to have arrived the secretariat early enough to stop workers from gaining entrance into the premises.

Stressing that they would not leave the premises until 2p.m., he said they would repeat the move for the next seven days to ensure that there was compliance with the strike action, as well as no destruction of lives and property.

He said, “When we call for a strike action like this and we are not here, some people may decide to go inside and start spoiling government property. As leaders, we are responsible enough.”

Also speaking to newsmen in Lagos yesterday, the President General of MWUN, Mr. Adewale Adeyanyu, said the maritime union had to comply with the directive of the union by calling his members out for strike.

According to him, “We are complying with the national leadership and there won’t be economic activities at the seaports throughout the warning strike.”

MWUN is comprised of four branches, which include the Dockworkers, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), shipping and members of the MWUN.

Meanwhile, when THISDAY visited the Lagos port complex, Apapa and the Tin Can Island Port yesterday, the ports were in total shut down.

THISDAY findings revealed that MWUN members shut the gates against clearing agents seeking entrance into the ports to clear cargoes.

Also, shipping companies, banks around Apapa were short down. Only the Nigeria Customs Service officers were allowed entrance into the ports.

A senior manager at the APM Terminals, APAPA informed THISDAY that there were no activities at the quayside.

He also confirmed that the port gate has been closed against vehicles from accessing or exiting the ports.

Economy Losing Billions of Naira, Say Experts

However, the Director General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, Prof. Akpan Ekpo, estimated that the country would have lost over N1 billion from the nationwide industrial action, saying that the amount would be higher if the oil workers also down tools.

Ekpo called on government to intervene because the industrial action is not healthy for the economy that is struggling to recover.

“The government should intervene and still the strike because this is not healthy for the economy that is struggling to recover. The issue at hand is minimum wage and they should have reached this agreement long ago,” he added.

Also, the Managing Director, Afrinvest Securities Limited, Mr. Ayodeji Ebo, advised the organised labour to come up with a blueprint on how the government can reduce the cost of governance as well as revenue leakages, “so that there would be enough for them to cater for an increase in minimum wage.”