NLC, TUC Adamant, Say Strike Goes on Today, As Negotiation with N’Assembly Fails

*Akpabio: Strike will bring more hardship 

*Action premature, illegal, Fagbemi declares

*Bala Mohammed: demands not feasible for states 

*There’ll be dire economic consequences, Ngelale warns  

*Sultan appeals to labour to shelve strike

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Alex Enumah, Sunday Aborisade in Abuja and Chinedu Eze in Lagos

A meeting last night between organised labour and the leadership of the National Assembly to try to find a middle ground and prevent the proposed nationwide strike by labour, ended in a stalemate, with Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) insisting they would go ahead with the strike today, while negotiations on their demands could continue.
President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, told journalists in Abuja that efforts by the National Assembly leadership to convince the labour unions to suspend the strike had failed.

Akpabio noted with concern that organised labour’s action would paralyse the economy and bring more hardship to Nigerians.
Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, advised labour against its planned nationwide strike, saying it would be both premature and illegal.

Similarly, media adviser to President Bola Tinubu, Ajuri Ngelale, who appeared on TVC television’s “Politics on Sunday with Femi Akande”, last night, cautioned that labour’s demand for a significant increase in the minimum wage could have far-reaching and devastating consequences for the Nigerian economy.
Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum and Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, also said some states could not even afford to pay the new minimum wage being negotiated by the federal government and the labour unions.

Mohammed warned that the wage being demanded by labour could collapse the already fragile economy and create more poverty in the country.
In a similar vein, Sultan of Sokoto and President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, urged labour to shelve its planned strike.  
In a statement by his media team, the sultan said though organised labour were fighting for the well-being of fellow workers, they should do it in a way that will not plunge the country into further adversity.
However, in a show of solidarity, aviation labour unions threatened to shut down both the international and the local airports if the planned strike was not suspended by last night.

Yet, President of TUC, Comrade Festus Osifo, commended Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, for prioritising the welfare of workers in the state and increasing their minimum wage to N70,000, the highest in the country.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had on April 3 approved an increase in electricity tariff for customers in Band A classification, from N66 to N225 per kilowatt-hour (kwh).
The tariff hike attracted public outcry and calls for its reversal.
Organised labour reacted by giving NERC and the federal government an ultimatum of May 31 to reverse the electricity tariff hike.
The labour unions had also given a May 31 ultimatum to the federal government to finalise the new national minimum wage fixing process for workers.
In the course of negotiations with labour, the federal government proposed, incrementally, monthly minimum wage of N48,000, N54,000, and, most recently, N60,000.

But NLC and TUC rejected all the proposed amounts and insisted on N615,500, citing the high cost of living.
Addressing journalists in Abuja after the latest meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly, which lasted several hours, Osifo said the two labour centres – NLC and TUC – had presented their positions.
He also said the labour movement had received the pleas from the National Assembly leadership to call off the strike, but such request was beyond the mandate of the labour negotiating team.
“We have met with the leadership of the National Assembly and the issues regarding minimum wage negotiations were laid bare by by the government side and organised labour,” Osifo said.

According to him, “There was an appeal from the senate president for us to call off the industrial action tonight, but on our part, we said that we have heard him but it is not possible for us to sit here and call off any industrial action because there are conditions precedent given to us by our National Executive Council.
“We would have been happier if this evening, we had a great understanding that by tomorrow morning we sign off the issues of minimum wage.
“As at the last meeting, we were very close to signing the new national minimum wage. If the figures were right, it is just to prepare report and sign. So, it is not something that is that lengthy anymore.
“But we have listened to them, we will take all their plea to our organs and we would have an organs meeting, taking all they have promised and pleas they made to our organs.

“For now, we don’t have the powers to call off the strike, so the industrial action will continue while we meet with respective organs as soon possible to lay bare what government has proposed.”
Addressing journalists, too, Akpabio said efforts by the National Assembly leadership to convince the labour unions to suspend the strike had failed.
He regretted the economic effect of such breakdown in talks.

Akpabio said, “We also know that it’s not just a question of strike, the hospitals will be closed and most poor people will die.
“Those who are even on oxygen will die. Those in need of medical services will die. Goods and services will not move freely and productivity will reduce drastically.
“The living standard of Nigerians will also be impaired. Hence, in the last four hours, we have been making appeals, and we are still appealing to the leadership of the NLC and the TUC to quickly return to the negotiating table with government.
“This is with a view to finding a lasting solution on this minimum wage issue. So we thank you. Without going into more details, I believe we’ve had very positive meeting.

“We’ve heard from both sides and we are happy and satisfied that actions will be taken on both sides.
“I appeal that the strike be suspended and negotiations commence in the interest of the Nigerian economy and the interest of all Nigerian students.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, also said the meeting agreed to prevail on the federal government to review the N35,000 wage award to federal government workers while negotiations on the minimum wage continued.
Speaking to journalists, also, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Muhammad Idris, said the strike would worsen the hardship currently being experienced by Nigerians.

Idris wondered why organised labour refused the option of collecting the N35,000 wage award pending the conclusion of the minimum wage negotiation.
He stated, “You remember that when we signed the agreement with labour in October of last year, it was agreed that until the new wage regime comes into being, wage award of 35,000 for federally paid workers will continue.
“That is the position of government. The federal government will continue to pay its workers the wage award that was started last year until a new wage regime is instituted.”

The minister added, “Now to make further comments about what has transpired today.
“You know that we’ve been indoors here with leadership of both the NLC, the Trade Union Congress, and their affiliate bodies to find a common ground so that labour will not go on strike, as they wanted to do tomorrow.
“Strike is not an option at this point. And we believe that the organised labour will see reason with the federal government, the National Assembly and everybody to call off the strike in the interest of Nigeria.
“We know that they had given this warning. Of course, it was a surprise to us that on Friday this came about, but notwithstanding, we have continued to engage labour.

“We want to appeal to them once again, like the senate president said. And we know, and we do believe that they will see words of reasoning from the leadership of the National Assembly.
“They can’t come to the National Assembly and say, you know, they will not listen to the leadership. If they are having problems with the executive, the senate president has said he is going to wade in, he is going to talk to the president.”
Idris said the National Assembly leadership would talk to the president to secure an agreement by the federal and state governments, as well as the organised private sector to pay N60,000 monthly as minimum wage.
He said, “They will come back to the federal government and, in turn, we expect that labour will see reason and call off the strike. We said earlier that paying this amount that labour has asked for is like paying a cumulative of N9.5 trillion to only 1.2 million Nigerians.
“It’s a country of over 200 million people and others also deserve other services of government. We have roads to fix, we have hospitals to build, we have education system to fix.

“The federal government is very sensitive to the demand of labour, but we also call on labour to see reason, to see reason and toe the part of the federal government. We know that they are going to heed the call that the leadership of the National Assembly has made to them.
“We do believe and we sincerely hope that no one, no one is interested in having a strike, an industrial action at this point.”
In attendance at the meeting were Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume; Head of Federal Civil Service, Folashade Yemi-Esan; Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr. Wale Edun: and Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Atiku Bagudu.
Others were Minister of Labour and Productivity, Nkiruka Onyejeocha; Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Security, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi; Deputy Senate President, Jibrin Barau, and other principal officers of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Fagbemi: It’s Premature, Illegal to Strike

 Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, urged organised labour to cancel its planned nationwide strike, saying it is both premature and illegal.
Fagbemi advised the aggrieved labour leaders to return to the negotiation table with the federal, state governments and other employers of labour to “avoid foisting avoidable hardships on the generality of Nigerians”.
The AGF, whose position was contained in a letter to the presidents of NLC and TUC, dated June 1, stated, “My attention has been drawn to statement made on May 31, 2024, by the leadership of the NLC and TUC declaring an indefinite nation-wide strike action from June 3, 2024.

“I wish to note that this latest declaration of strike action by organised labour is premature at a time when the federal government and other stakeholders involved in the Tripartite Committee on determination of a new national minimum wage had not declared an end to negotiation.”
He advised the workers to be mindful of the fact that the federal and state governments were not the only employers to be bound by a new national minimum wage, hence, it was vital to balance the interest and capacity of all employers of labour in the country.

Fagbemi argued that at no time did either NLC or TUC declare a trade dispute with their employers, or issue any strike notice as required by law for such strike action to be legitimate and lawful.
“It is not in doubt that the fundamental importance of the 15-day notice is underscored by the fact that Sections 41 and 42(1) criminalise non-compliance with this requirement for a valid declaration of strike action,” Fagbemi said.
He pointed out that the proposed strike action by labour was also at variance with the order of the National Industrial Court and ongoing mediators settlement efforts over issues connected with the subject matter of the order.

The AGF further called to question the legality or legitimacy of the proposed strike owing to the fact that both NLC and TUC failed to comply with the statutory condition precedents (dispute resolution procedures) provided for under Section 18(1)(a) of the Trade Disputes Act 2004 (as amended).
Fagbemi submitted that the proposed strike action was in breach of relevant conditions itemised under Section 31(6) of the Trade Unions Act (as amended).
He stated, in the letter, “I wish to further draw your attention to the fact that the conditions outlined by our national legislations for exercising the right to strike are in tandem with the International Labour Organisation principles concerning the right to strike.

“It is the position of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association that the obligation to give prior notice, obligation to have recourse to conciliation, mediation and (voluntary) arbitration procedures in industrial disputes, etc are prior prerequisites for declaring a strike, the AGF said in the letter.”The AGF contended that the issuance of an ultimatum to the government by labour for the conclusion of negotiations before May 31 did not satisfy the requirement of issuing a categorical and unequivocal formal notice of strike action.

He said, “While the government assures that it will continue to adopt a conciliatory approach to resolving matters pertaining to workers and citizens welfare in the spirit of collective bargaining, I would like to urge you to kindly reconsider the declaration of strike action and return to the ongoing negotiation meetings, which has been adjourned to a date that would be communicated to parties.
“This would be a more civil and patriotic approach and will enable your congress pursue its cause within the ambit of the law and avoid foisting avoidable hardships on the generality of Nigerians, which this proposed industrial action is bound to cause.”
Copies of the letter were sent to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief of Staff to the President, Minister of labour and Employment, National Security Adviser, Inspector General of Police, and Director General, State Security Service.

Ngelale: There’ll Be Dire Consequences for Economy

Media adviser to the president, Ajuri Ngelale, last night, on TVC’s “Politics on Sunday with Femi Akande”, cautioned that the demand by labour for a significant increase in the minimum wage could have far-reaching and devastating consequences for the economy.
Ngelale stressed that while President Bola Tinubu was committed to improving the welfare of Nigerians, the economic realities of the country could not support the new wage demands of labour.
He explained that should labour’s demand fall through, it would not only affect the federal civil service, but also the entire economy, including small businesses and the informal sector.

He warned that mandating a 20-fold increase in wages would lead to massive job losses, business closures, and unsustainable price increases for goods and services.
The presidential spokesperson urged labour to consider the pragmatic implications of their demands, which could exacerbate the struggles of Nigerian citizens, including increased school fees and prices of food and commodities.
Ngelale stated, “I think the starting point is to recognise that President Bola Tinubu would love to have a minimum wage in this country that is even worth of N1 million per month for every Nigerian, he would love to be able to do that. He does and his administration does have the highest regard for our people and he believes they do deserve the best.

“But he also recognises that there are economic realities and fundamentals within the country right now that do not support what the organised labour movement is advocating for and I want to be very clear this evening about what the consequences would be if organised labour had its way.
“Right now, there is this notion out there that the minimum wage conversation in the country is simply almost a conversation between a federal executive administration and organised labour about a new minimum wage for the federal civil service.
“That is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a new national minimum wage for every Nigerian citizen, both within the formal economy as well as the informal economy.

This has ramifications. Essentially, we’re moving from the current minimum wage, where it is, to, if labour got its way, something north of N500,000 per month, you’re looking at almost 20 times, right.
“So the impact that would now have on the citizens of the country, we’re not talking about government now, we’re talking about our people. I want to be practical about this, if you’re thinking of the mom and pop shop that is dealing in chin-chin and bakery and these kinds of goods and services.

“The idea that you are going to mandate them to 20 times whatever it is they’re paying their staff within that small business, you know that you are essentially mandating the closure of that business and you are literally, indirectly sacking the entire set of people who happen to be working there because that business is closing because they cannot live up to the minimum wages that organised labour is asking for.
“I’ll be even more practical about this, aside from massive job loss across sectors, across our nation, at a time when we are looking for new job opportunities for the teeming youth population in the country.

“You’re also talking about private schools, for example, where you are now going to be mandating for not just teachers, but janitors, cooks and the like, a 20-times increase in the wages they will have to pay.
“What that will now mean is that if those schools don’t just close or if they don’t have to go into a massive retrenchment exercise, what it will also mean is for the Nigerian citizen right now, who is currently grappling with what we all agree is an unsustainably low minimum wage as it is today.
“He or she is now going to be grappling with school fees that are 10 times plus what they presently are today, not to talk of the price of food items, not to talk of the price of so many other goods and commodities that our people, even if they’re in a struggling state, can kind of try and afford, it now becomes totally unsustainable.

“So these are, I think, some of the real pragmatic assessments that need to be made public so that everyone understands that this is not just a matter of government not wanting to budge or government wanting to maintain as much of its revenues as possible. No, we’re talking about an existential issue to the Nigerian economy and it should be treated as such.”
On whether the president would be willing to shift ground to meet labour’s demand, Ngelale said though Tinubu was an empathetic leader, who had shown concerns for the sufferings of his people over and again, he was also as pragmatic and would not let labour push government into an unachievable decision.  

Mohammed: New Minimum Wage Not Feasible for States, It’ll Cripple Economy

Mohammed, who paid a courtesy visit to Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, in Umuahia, said, “Definitely, what the federal government will be negotiating, some of the state governors will not be able to pay.
“Even at the moment, with the current minimum wage of N30,000, some states are not able to pay. And I know labour leaders are really leaders. They should look at this because the strike may cripple the economy and further cause pain to workers and all of us.
“So, we are pleading that we should have a combining point, where we can look at our affordability.”

The governor appealed to organised labour to shelve the planned nationwide strike scheduled for today.
Mohammed, who spoke on Saturday after his visit to Otti, Governor of Edo, Godwin Obaseki, and members of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC), insisted the strike could cripple the economy and cause pain to workers.
But NLC’s spokesperson, Ben Ukpa, said, “The strike is because of the government’s refusal to increase the minimum wage and also their refusal to reverse the electricity tariff hike.”
Ukpa added, “I have always looked forward to making sure that workers get the best in terms of welfare, in terms of salaries and wages, but it has to be affordable – something that is within the threshold of affordability by all the sub-national and local governments.”

Aviation Unions Threaten to Shut Down Local, International Airports During Strike

Aviation labour unions threatened to shut down both international and local airports if the planned strike today was not suspended.
In a statement jointly released by National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSAN), Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), the unions said Nigerian local airports would be shut by 00:00hrs on June 3, while strike action at the international airports would commence June 4.

The statement was signed by General Secretary of NUATE, Abba Ocheme; Deputy General Secretary, ATSSSAN, Com. Frances Akinjole; Secretary General, ANAP, Com. Abdul Rasaq Saidu; and General Secretary, NAAPE, Comrade Olayinka Abioye.
They said the withdrawal of services by the unions would be indefinite.
The statement said, “In compliance with the directive from our labour centres, NLC and TUC, we, hereby, inform the general public, aviation service providers, airline operators, aviation businesses and all aviation workers nationwide that starting from 0000hrs of June 3, 2024 all services at all Nigerian airports shall be fully withdrawn till further notice.
“Being not oblivious of the fact that many international flights to Nigeria are already airborne, the strike action will commence at international terminals on 4th of June, 2024.”

TUC Applauds Obaseki for Prioritising Workers’ Welfare

Osifo commended Obaseki for prioritising the welfare of workers in the state and increasing their minimum wage to N70,000, the highest in the country so far.
He made the commendation during a courtesy visit to the governor at Government House, Benin City.
He commended the governor for his administration’s achievements in the last seven and a half years, stating that the Obaseki administration has taken Edo to enviable heights.
The TUC president said, “This is the first courtesy call we are paying to any governor in Nigeria. In fact, on a few occasions, we have actually been invited by a few governors. What we normally do is to check their records if they are good and have performed well.
“But if the records are not good, we don’t go because we could easily be blackmailed that a government that is not doing well wants to use us as if it is doing well, especially when it concerns the plight of workers.

“We are here to tell you, thank you, for some of the things that you have done for workers in Edo State. Starting from the fact that just recently, on the 29th day of April, you invited us to commission a very befitting secretariat for the labour movement in Nigeria. On that day, clearly everybody that came to that event will attest to the fact that it is one of the best.
“In fact, that is the best secretariat we have in Nigeria. That day, you surprised us by announcing a raise of the minimum wage of workers in the state from N40,000 to N70,000.
“It was something worthwhile because you know we are still battling with the issue around minimum wage. Whenever we have these conversations, Edo State is always a reference point.”
Obaseki, on his part, said, “First, let me thank the President of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, Comrade Osifo for remembering home. You are our pride; you are our gift to the trade union movement in Nigeria.

“We said you are working in the tradition of trade unionism from Edo State in Nigeria. You are working in the shadows of Michael Imodu, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and others.

“One of our agenda is to build this place as a tourist centre and when people come and visit, we will tell them one thing that makes us outstanding in Nigeria, is that we are the home of the labour movement.

“As a government, honestly, we do not understand why you have government-labour tension because as you said, you are a factor of production. You provide labour, you provide human capacity and it has to be paid for. It’s one of the greatest factors of production in any system today.”

Sultan of Sokoto Appeals to Labour to Shelve Strike

Sultan of Sokoto and President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, through a statement by his media team, advised labour to cancel its planned strike.

The statement said, “The labour leaders should consider the overbearing effects of the strike action they plan to embark upon in the wellbeing of the same Nigerians, whose interest they are fighting to protect, and, therefore, shelve the industrial action.”

The sultan added, “We appeal to labour not to take the nation through another leg of hardship because that exactly is what will happen, if they make good their plan to go on this strike.

“They should try to listen to the government while the government should listen to them and both parties arrive at a conclusion that will be beneficial to all Nigerians with the working class inclusive.”

Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar said having been personally involved in such negotiations between labour and government in the past, he was aware of the fact that the labour leaders were doing what was right making a case for better welfare for their fellow workers. But they should do that in a way that will not plunge the country into further difficulty.

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