Media hype, labour gains, govt loss
By Victor Young
FOR a while, the nation has been on the edge over planned nationwide strike by Organised Labour to force implementation of the N30,000 new national minimum wage. The planned strike is being anchored by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and its Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, counterpart.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on April 18, 2019, signed the N30,000 new national Minimum Wage Act into law, repealing the 2011 act that brought about the current N18,000 minimum wage.
The implementation of the new minimum wage has however been stalled due to disagreement between Labour side and government’s side in Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council, JNPSNC, over the consequential adjustment arising from the N30,000 for workers on levels seven to 17.
Following the quagmire, NLC and TUC had on October 2, 2019, in a joint statement, among others, told the federal government that “the leadership of organized labour in Nigeria wishes to categorically state that the leadership of labour cannot guarantee industrial peace and harmony in the country if our demands are not met at the close of work on Wednesday, 16th October, 2019.”
The joint statement by NLC and TUC was amplified and interpreted by a section of the media to mean that a nationwide strike would commence Thursday.
Unfortunately, the government bought into the media creation of strike and became apprehensive triggering tension in the country. As expected, leaders of NLC and its TUC counterparts have taken full advantage of the situation to push for better bargain.
In the midst of this, the leadership of United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, on Tuesday dissociated the group and members from the planned strike, saying among others, that members and other critical stakeholders were not being carried along ahead of the planned action.
ULC in a statement by its President, Joe Ajaero said among others, “the proposed nation-wide strike is designed to fail or at best watered down to achieve nothing but to bring few Nigerian workers on the street to dance and wave flags without shutting down the economy which is the effect a nation-wide strike ought to have. Markets will be opened, Road, Maritime and Air transports will work, Filling stations and Depots will operate, banks will work and generally, the economy will go about its business as if nothing has happened. So, where is the effect of such action?
“Unfortunately, this strike will not have the desired impact and would not achieve the intentions Nigerian workers would want as it is seemingly; dead on arrival as programmed by the hidden interests pushing the agenda.
“ULC will not therefore be part of an exercise designed to hoodwink Nigerian workers and masses into believing that their interests were being championed while the contrary may be the case. We will not be part of this ruse neither will we partake in a complete jamboree that makes a mockery of the genuine struggle by Nigerian workers to begin to enjoy the new national minimum wage.”
No date for strike
Never the less, the truth is that NLC and TUC never planned to begin a nationwide strike today, October 17.
In fact, the leadership of the two bodies did not fix any day to commence a nationwide strike outside saying they would not guarantee industrial peace after the close of work of October 16, 2019.
Strike is not a tea party. Though there is no doubt that Labour could declare a strike to force implementation of the new national minimum wage should government continue to show unwillingness to implement, it is yet to do so.
Investigations by Vanguard uncovered that the leaderships of NLC and TUC have not even called, briefed and convinced the private sector unions why they should go on strike and cripple the private sector for a strike that will not have any direct benefits to private sector workers.
The history of any successful nationwide strike in Nigeria in recent times show that every stakeholder; especially informal sector workers such as market women, traders, commercial bus drivers, civil society organisations, among others, must be carried along.
Besides few states that have issued statements on the planned strike, many of the states are not ready because neither NLC nor TUC has given them a date to commence strike.
The closest directive has been for state councils to mobilize and prepare for strike.
Whenever a date is given, it takes not less one week to mobilize and get critical stakeholders deeply involved to achieve result. In fact, in this case where the issue in contention affects only a segment of the workers, the public sector especially the federal workers, it will require longer time and strategy to carry critical stakeholders including the informal workers along.
Irrespective of what critics may say about ULC’s position, the truth is that Labour is not prepared for a nationwide strike today.
The question is. why was the ULC sidelined after NLC and TUC joined the fray in the negotiations following the breakdown of negotiations between Trade Union Side, TUS, and government side JNPSNC? Agreed that most of ULC’s members are private sector workers that will not directly benefit from the negotiations, but for Labour solidarity, and judging by the influence some of its affiliates in the potency of a strike of this magnitude, ULC ought to be carried along. Above all, having been part of the struggles to achieve the N30,000 new minimum wage, sidelining the group was a serious blunder that may hunt the movement for a long time to come.
However, it would have been better for ULC leadership to remain mute on the issue no matter the pressure or reasons to avoid misinterpretation by critics.
In-fighting in NLC
Meanwhile, sources within NLC informed that there is in-fighting among public sector unions over the consequential adustment negotiations as some feel sidelined in the entire process.
Among the alleged aggreived unions that feel excluded are Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, and other non-core public sector unions.
In all, the government should be blamed for the quagmire over the protracted negotiation on the consequential adjustment. Governmnet is said to be using mostly same negotiating team it used during the negotiations that gave rise to the N30,000 new national minimum wage for negotiating the consequential adjustment.
This, observers believe contributed in no small measure to the alleged insincerity of government side in JNPSNC.
According to the sources, the government side was to have worsened the situation by preparing and including budget for the payment of the new minimum wage in the budget when negotiations for the consequential agreement have not been concluded.