By Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure
Organised labour was adamant Sunday that its nationwide strike scheduled to start Tuesday would proceed despite a National Industrial Court’s Friday ruling, restraining workers from shunning work until the determination of a suit instituted by the federal government on the dispute over national minimum wage.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had approached the court on Friday and asked it to stop the strike, pending the determination of the substantive suit the federal government had filed.
The court obliged him with a restraining order, putting the strike on hold.
But organised labour said having not been served with any court process, it was unaware of the court ruling, therefore, the tomorrow’s strike shall proceed as planned.
Labour also denied knowledge of a meeting held at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and attended by the SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, and Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.
As the federal government made last minute efforts to stave off the strike, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) announced the resumption of its strike suspended months ago, accusing government of not keeping to its promise of acceding to its demands. The strike is indefinite.
Workers under the aegis of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) had threatened to go on national strike to compel the government and the private sector employers to pay N30,000 as new minimum wage.
Whereas the federal government has offered to pay N24,000 and state governments, N22,500, labour has insisted that it is either N30,000 or no deal.
Following the deadlock, the federal government approached the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) in Abuja and obtained an order restraining the organised labour from proceeding with the nationwide strike.
Delivering ruling in an ex-parte application by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Justice Kado Sanusi restrained the NLC and the TUC from engaging in the proposed strike pending the determination of the substantive suit filed by the federal government and the AGF.
Justice Sanusi also restrained the NLC, TUC and the Incorporated Trustees of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum listed as the first to the third defendants from taking steps capable of destroying the subject of the dispute.
However, the labour unions said they were not aware of any court order stopping the strike.
While giving update on the planned strike, the General Secretary of the NLC, Mr. Peter Essom, said tomorrow’s national strike would go ahead as planned.
Essom who spoke to THISDAY on telephone Sunday evening, said labour had not been served with any court proceeding.
He said, “The conditions we have given is clear, pay the N30,000 agreed by the tripartite committee on minimum wage. “The government should act on it; that is the only thing we know about. We don’t know anything about court; strike is going on as planned on Tuesday. We are not aware of any other development.”
Also the NLC scribe said that labour was not part of the meeting convened Sunday by the SGF and would not be bound by its decision.
“We are not aware of any meeting at the SGF and we are not part of it,” he added.
Meanwhile, labour and all its affiliate unions yesterday sent out messages sensitising its members and Nigerians on the rationale for the industrial action.
In a statement signed by the Chairperson of Joint Action Force (JAF), Dr. Dipo Fashina, and General Secretary, Mr. Abiodun Aremu, the unions said the current demand for a new National Minimum Wage has gone beyond the stage of negotiation.
The statement said the N30,000 agreed at the Tripartite Committee, which is even very poor (at $83 per month compared to 1981 Minimum Wage of N125 at $250), represents an irreducible minimum for industrial peace.
According to the statement, “What is clear today from the unnecessary tensions being generated in the polity by the APC Looters’ Government and its officials is that none of the 36 state governors and the federal government, irrespective of political parties (APC, PDP and APGA), like in the past struggles for upward review of wage, is committed to pay the minimum wage without being compelled by struggle to do so.
“JAF therefore challenges the presidency, state governors and legislators in the national and state assemblies to forfeit the questionable security votes/ undisclosed allowances, and cut down their outrageous total packages, and salaries and allowances of other political office holders in order to free up more resources that can be used not only to augment the cost of the new wage, but also the provision of social welfare programmes, such as free and quality education and free and adequate health care.”
The unions said that as a regulator, the federal government has a responsibility to enforce compliance of the minimum wage on both public and private employers of 50 employees and above. They said that the government should call the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige to order and to stop spreading falsehoods and deepening the tensions in the polity.
The unions said, “In addition, the federal government should prevail on its agent – Minister Ngige to submit the reports of the Tripartite Committee that agreed on the N30,000 Minimum, and the federal government should prepare immediately a N30,000 new minimum wage bill and send to the National Assembly.
“JAF wants to alert and urge organised labour and Nigerians to further demand that the N30,000 new minimum wage must be implemented to the fullest, without retrenchment and the arrears of salaries and allowances owed on the basis of the 2011 Minimum Wage Act must be paid.
“JAF takes strong notice of the manipulative court injunction obtained by the federal government on Friday November 2, 2018, with the criminal intent to undermine the impending strike action, but JAF is resolved that the strike action must continue.”
FG awaits tripartite committee report
But the federal government has said that the Tripartite Committee on the national minimum wage set up November last year will meet today and submit its reports to President Muhammadu Buhari for consideration.
The SGF, Mustapha, disclosed yesterday at the continuation of the Reconciliation Committee meeting between government and labour, which started on Friday.
But the NLC shunned yesterday’s meeting that had in attendance the federal government representatives, the Organised Private Sector and the National Salary and Income CommissionNgige, and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, went into a technical session after the reconciliation committee sitting.
NLC shunned the meeting, claiming it was not informed it was taking place.
The tripartite committee was set up as a result of the outcome of the negotiation between government and labour unions, when subsidy was removed from some aspects of petroleum products last year.
Mustapha, told reporters that the deliberations of the committee would be concluded when the committee ratifies its recommendations, while it will subsequently send the report to the president for approval.
He said, “Government is desirous to receive the report once the Tripartite Committee concludes its sitting. We are waiting for the report to be concluded and transmitted to the government.
Once that is done, we will set the processes that are required for the purpose of effecting the recommendations of the committee.
According to him, after the president receives the report, it will subsequently send it as draft bill to the National Assembly, National Economic Committee and the Council of State before it is drafted as a bill.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the technical meeting, Ngige said they expected to meet labour leaders on Monday at the reconciliation meeting.
The minister said union leaders were only making up excuses for shunning the parley held on Sunday.
“It is a continuation of meeting that we had on Friday and it’s programmed to be a reconciliation meeting before we hold the tripartite committee on Monday. Their absence did not affect the outcome of the meeting,” Ngige said.
He said what government is offering labour is N24,000 as the minimum wage and is not in support of the N22,500 and N30,000 offers made by state governors.
He said the next meeting will look at the template and know how to accommodate government’s position, saying what the outcome reached on Monday will be consensual.
ASUU Declares Indefinite Strike
Meanwhile, ASUU last night announced the resumption of the nationwide strike it suspended last September.
The resumption of the strike was announced by the ASUU president, Biodun Ogunyemi, at a news conference he addressed at the end of the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Ondo State.
The ASUU boss said the strike became necessary in view of the failure by the federal government to implement many items in the 2017 Memorandum of Action on certain agreements reached with the government over the years
Specifically, the ASUU said the government failed in the area of implementation on the release of N20 billion revitalisation fund as a sign of commitment to implement the Needs Assessment Report and the N1.8 trillion for revitalisation of universities.
The ASUU also alleged that the federal government also failed to release the report of the forensic audit, payment of outstanding amount and mainstreaming of EAA into the 2018 budget as well as payment of arrears of shortfall in salaries.
Ogunyemi also condemned the underfunding of university education and undue interference in the affairs of state universities and the failure of the government to payment of EAA to their loyal members in University of Ilorin.
“Today, our union has observed that the most important overall government policy thrust in university education is privatisation. The private universities clearly fill the bill of elites that have decided to rob the people and rape our country by creating private universities whose staff and students surrender to market forces.
“Our union has run of patience with government unpreparedness to address old and new challenges facing the Nigerian university system.
“There can be no justification for government’s failure to address outstanding components of the 2017 Memorandum of Action and concluding the renegotiation given the reckless spending by our leaders on primary elections and bailout to banks.
“It is evident that government is not interested in funding public universities.
“ASUU and Nigerians were betrayed over the 2009 agreement. The 2012 MOU, 2013 MOU, 2017 MOA and continue to erect barricades in concluding the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement,” Oagunyemi stated.
He therefore directed all ASUU members to withdraw their services until government fully implement all outstanding issues as contained in the 2017 MOA and conclude renegotiation of 2009 agreement.