By Victor Ahiuma-Young,  Olasunkanmi Akoni, Godfrey Bivbere, Oscarline Onwuemenyi, Daniel Idonor,Monsur Olowoopejo & Stella Christian
LAGOS—THE nation’s fragile economy, yesterday, suffered a hitch as most of the critical sectors of the economy such as the banks, power, petroleum, ports and others were shut down in full compliance with directives of organised Labour to compel the Federal Government to implement the N18,000 new Minimum Wage.

This came even as the three-day warning strike was called off on the first day of the action.

Also crippled were government offices at all levels, ministries, parastatals and other public institutions like schools, transport companies like BRT, among others.

However, the warning strike that was scheduled to last three days was called off, yesterday afternoon, following hours of meeting of leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and their Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, counterpart.

Their meeting was the fall-out of Tuesday night parley with President Jonathan who pleaded that the industrial action be shelved while he would fast-track the processes that would lead to the passage of a Bill to legalise the new minimum wage by the National Assembly.

Reports across the country

Reports across the country indicated complete shut down of commercial and economic activities.

In Lagos, though commercial vehicle operators who are not affiliate members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, and members of Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, did not comply; effects of the strike were felt in all sectors.

Cross section of workers during a protest rally by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Labour & Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) during a joint 3 days warning strike to demand from government the #18,000 new minimum wage in Lagos yesterday at the Murtala Mohammed way in Yaba Lagos Photo: Biodun Ogunleye

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As early as 6.30 a.m. workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, threw the state into total blackout in compliance with the strike. Similarly, public primary, secondary and tertiary institutions across the state were shut down in compliance with Labour directives.

Desperate bank customers at ATM machines

Banks were also shut and desperate customers besieged the Automated Teller Machine, ATM, to withdraw money.

Also, port activities were grounded and users denied access as the first and second gates of the Tin-can Island port were shut.

Most of the terminals operating within the port were under lock and key when Vanguard visited.

At Port and Cargo terminal, Five Star Logistics Terminal, Tin-can Island Container Terminal and others, there were no activities as at 12.00 p.m.

Same situation was recorded at Apapa port where security operatives were visible at the gate.

President of the Dock Workers branch of Maritime Workers Union of  Nigeria, MWUN, Adewale Adeyanju, who spoke with Vanguard, said there was a complete shut down of ports activities across the country while the strike lasted.

He, however, called back at about 5.00 p.m to say that work would commence immediately in any of the terminals that was able to get the staff to commence work following the directive by NLC  to suspend the action.

At Alausa the seat of Lagos State government, the six gates of the secretariat were shut and manned by executives of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, NCSU, Lagos State Branch. Visitors  were forced to go back home.

Vanguard observed that the strike also affected the 30th anniversary of the Lagos Television station slated for yesterday as fewer dignitaries attended the event following the inability of key members of staff to get access to the secretariat.

The ongoing Lagos International Trade Fair was not spared as few people went for shopping as against the earlier days.

Secretary of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, Lagos Branch, Comrade Olasunkanmi Olubade, told Vanguard that the gates would remain closed until Monday when NLC called off the warning strike.

He said the union had recorded 95 per cent compliance and would not relent until it got its demand of minimum wage from the Federal Government.

NLC flyer on demand

An NLC  flyer that was distributed by the NLC, said the union embarked on the warning strike because the government had failed to pay the workers N18,000 minimum wage.

It said the NLC had earlier demanded N52,000 minimum wage in 2008 out of patriotic zeal agreed to N18,000, which the government had also failed to pay.

The union noted that the Joint Government-Labour-Employer Negotiating Team chaired by retired Chief Justice of the Federation, Alfa Belgore, drafted a new minimum wage bill to reflect the agreement but months after the government has refused to implement it.

It added: “Since the government does not want Nigerian workers to have better minimum wage and higher salaries, the NLC has directed that a nationwide warning strike should hold from Wednesday, November 10 to Friday, November 12, 2010.”

The striking union members also stormed the National Stadium and locked up the main gate to the stadium. There were also protest rallies in parts of Lagos by Labour and Civil Society Coalition, LASCO, and students.

General Secretary of LASCO, Comrade Biodun Aremu, who led the rally in Lagos accused the government of insensitivity to the plight of ordinary people while government officials and top politicians continued to pay themselves jumbo salaries and allowances.

Government-labour-employer negotiating team

General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement, DSM, Comrade Segun Sango, noted that the joint government-labour-employer negotiating team chaired by retired chief justice of the federation, Alfa Belgore, which completed its assignment in April 2010 drafted a new minimum wage Bill to reflect the agreement with government’s obligation being to forward the Bill to the National Assembly.

He said that while the National Assembly had expressed readiness to give the Bill an accelerated passage, government had failed to submit the Bill to the legislators to be passed into law.

Organized labour therefore called on state governments, in particular, Lagos and South-East Nigeria to “desist from despicable habit of violating agreements reached between unions and government nationally on the basis of ‘dubious true federalism’ and demanded that Lagos should  implement the national agreements on better pay, improved working condition and adequate funding of health sector; as well as those in the education sector at the tertiary level.

Suspension of strike

Suspending the strike after an emergency meeting of leaders of NLC and TUC, the two Labour centres, said the new minimum wage must be signed into law on or before the first week of December, warning that if this was not done, Organised Labour would meet to take further action.

They also ordered an embargo of aviation supply to Arik Air for allegedly flouting the strike.

In a communique by Comrades Promise Adewusi and John Odah, Acting President and General Secretary of NLC as well as Comrade Peter Esele and Chief John Kolawole, President-General and Secretary-General of TUC, respectively, leaders of the two centres said: “The sessions after due consideration resolved to suspend the three_day warning strike given the desired attention the issue has drawn from various organs of government.

“The sessions noted in particular the role of the National Assembly in giving assurance that the matter will be given accelerated passage when brought before them.

The sessions noted that having lost precious time on the issue of a new national minimum wage, the Presidency should immediately after the meeting of the National Council of State on November 25, 2010 present a bill to the National Assembly which will fast tract the process before the meeting of this very organs in the first week of December 2010.

“That the two Labour centres will not accept any figure less than the negotiated figure N18, 000 in the Report of the Tripartite Committee chaired by Justice Alfa Belgore.

The two Labour Centres will reconvene again in the first week of December to take further action should government fail to submit the bill to the National Assembly for accelerated passage. We commend those state governments who have expressed willingness to pay the negotiated salary immediately it is passed into law.”

FG hails Labour for shelving strike

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has commended the organised Labour for suspending the ongoing three-day warning strike over national minimum wage.

Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr. Emeka Wogu, thanked the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, for calling off the warning strike it started yesterday.

Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the minister said Labour’s decision to shelve the strike was a demonstration of the patriotic spirit of the Labour leaders.

While thanking well meaning Nigerians and political leaders for intervening in the strike the minister maintained that the government will do it own part of the bargain to ensure that Labour demand was meant.

PHCN workers threaten to continue strike

Meanwhile, workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, have threatened to continue the industrial action suspended by organized Labour over alleged presence of armed security men in PHCN’s stations and installations.

A text message from the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, said: “We may have to extend our action given the presence of armed military men in our stations. We ask for your understanding.”

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