•Labour demands 200% wage award
•Govt worried over economic impact of another strike
•Meets TUC today
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The meeting between the federal government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday, that was called to avert an indefinite strike that the trade union centre said would begin from this Friday, ended without reaching any of the demands of the NLC.
This was just as the NLC proposed that the federal government should grant a 200 per cent Wage Award to workers as part measures to cushion the effect of the withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum products.
THISDAY also gathered that federal government has also invited the leadership of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for further talks today, at the Ministry of Labour and Employment in Abuja.
Speaking to journalists at the end of the meeting held at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said the talks at the meeting were meaningful, but with no agreement to tell the story.
When asked to comment on the outcome of negotiation, Ajaero said: “You can see that there was no agreement on any issue, there is no CNG anywhere and refineries are not working neither has anything been done on the issue of wage award and cash transfers or the ASUU issues.
“However, we believe that between now and next few days when the ultimatum will expire that something will happen.”
He said that based on the ultimatum issued by the congress, if no progress was made before the expiration, an indefinite strike would commence from Friday.
“We had meaningful discussion on issues relating to our demands. We equally discussed frankly on issues bordering on the coup plotted and executed by the Nigerian Police against the NURTW which had led to the sideling of the democratically elected leadership of the union.
“This is one sore area that the Nigerian trade union is not ready to compromise. Coup must be condemned whether it is in Niger, whether it’s in Congo, whether it’s in Mali or whether it’s in the trade union movement in Nigeria.”
On the specific issues considered at the meeting, Ajaero said: “In the ultimatum we gave and in the NEC resolution, the issue of NURTW was clearly stated and it was at the time the issue has not degenerated the way it is now.
“That was why we had to bring it along with other issues.”
Ajaero had in his opening presentation, before the meeting went into a closed door session, said the Congress was sad that government summoned them to a meeting while the national headquarters of its key affiliate, the National Union of Road Transport Workers was still under Police occupation and its leaders clamped in detention.
Ajaero said: “It is with great honour that we showed up for this meeting to show our commitment once again to the Nigerian project. We came with mixed feelings on whether it will work or not because we have had so many meetings from beyond this level that did not yield anything, but as great optimists we are here in the hope that something will happen.”
He said government failed to engender trust for a long time.
Ajaero, also countered federal government concern over loss of man hours and productivity during the last NLC warning strike, saying that even some states have officially reduced working days to two due to the unbearable hardship imposed by the fuel subsidy removal.
According to Ajaero, it was the federal government that promised palliatives as a means of cushioning the hardship in the land but seemed to be reneging on it.
He said there were a lot of demands that organised labour presented to government, such as the conversion to CNG, revival of local refineries, cash transfer and wage award.
“On all these agreements, not even one has been addressed, if anyone has been addressed, then we will be patience that tomorrow others will be attended to.
“But not when this was not the case and every day we will enter into a meeting and finish without anything. I think there is meeting lethargy,” he added.
On his part, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Ho. Simon Lalong, disclosed the meeting with the leadership of NLC was fruitful and was still progressing
He said discussions on many of the items which the NLC had tabled previously before the federal government had not reached the final stages.
Lalong, said the government appreciated the genuine grievances of the organised labour and was ready to address them.
“We acknowledge the valid grievances that have fueled the recent labour crisis, and we are committed to addressing them in a just and equitable manner.
“We must also recognise the economic realities that confront us. As we address the concerns of our workforce, we must be mindful of striking a balance that promotes economic growth and secures sustainable progress for our nation.
“Today, I call upon each one of you to join hands in an open-minded and constructive dialogue, enabling us to bridge any gaps that may exist between the interests of workers and the ultimate goal of driving economic advancement.
“In the spirit of unity and with utmost commitment to the betterment of our nation, let us seize this opportunity to listen and understand one another. “Together, let us explore innovative approaches, reimagining strategies that enhance working conditions and worker benefits while nurturing a robust economy.
“I am confident that this gathering will produce resolutions that propel our labour sector towards greater strength, and our beloved country towards a brighter future,” he added.
Meanwhile, speaking on a programme monitored Channels Television last night, Ajaero, said the demand for the wage award became necessary following economic difficulties imposed on the worker by the over 200 per cent increase in the pump price of fuel in the country.
Regarding the wage award, Ajaero said both labour and federal government were yet to meet on the table to discuss the percentage that would be granted.
He said what the NLC was seeking was for the government to conclude the issue of wage award before delving into that of minimum wage.
He said considering the percentage of the hike in the pump price of fuel, labour would be asking for “almost 200 percent in wage award.”
He added that rather than look at the matter on straight percentage, NLC would want the government to identify things that it could take along with it holistically.
“We would have addressed the issue of CNG for instance and where people pay N500 per litre of fuel maybe they will be paying less than that on CNG”.
On the outcome of the meeting,” Ajaero said.
On whether the NLC has agreed to give more time for the government to address its demands, Ajaero said: “We agreed that the federal government has had more than enough time for the past four months, even if there is commitment and genuineness of purpose that between now and next few days issues will be resolved and we hope that the minister will work with us within the next few days to make sure we resolve the matter.”
Ajaero was asked to confirm if the meeting would continue today and he said: “if they invite us to a meeting tomorrow we will accept it.”
However, Ajaero said that the issues were beyond the Minister of Labour except for one or two issues that came up after the withdrawal of subsidy.
“You will discover that there is already a Presidential Committee that is kind of Inter- Ministerial and was discussing the issue of CNG gas, that the minister can’t work on it, also the issue refineries, wage award and even Cash Transfer.
“All these issues are beyond the Ministry, especially when discussions are ongoing on these issues.”
He said the minister was competent enough to mediate on issues between Labour and Federal government as a consolidator.
“Apparently that was the premise under which the minister invited us to see whether he can apprehend the issue of industrial crisis between Labour and the federal government,” he said.
Ajaero, also responded to a question on why the TUC was holding a separate meeting with government, saying both NLC and TUC are independent labour centres.
He said the NLC and TUC always try to carry each other along, but if the two couldn’t agree on issues, they are free to meet separately with the government to table their matters.
According to him, wage award is different from minimum wage, adding that going by the law, minimum wage would be due for renegotiation by next year when the federal government and states would be involved.