Joe Ajaero, NLC President
By Victor-Ahiuma Young, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
THE Organised Labour made up of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, yesterday agreed to suspend its planned strike scheduled to begin tomorrow to enable further negotiations with the Federal Government.
This was part of the resolutions reached at the end of the meeting late yesterday evening.
Monday’s meeting and resolution were attended and signed by Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, Chief of Staff to the President; Festus Osifo, President, TUC; Nuhu Torò, Secretary General, TUC; Joseph Ajaero, President, NLC; Emmanuel Ugboaja mni, General Secretary, NLC and Ms Kachollom S. Daju, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
Other resolutions arrived at the meeting include: “Continued engagements by the TUC and the NLC with the Federal Government and secure closure on the resolutions above.
“The Labour Centres and the Federal Government are to meet on June 19, 2023, to agree on an implementation framework.
According to the Negotiating Committee, the Federal Government, the TUC and the NLC are to establish a joint committee to review the proposal for any wage increase or award and establish a framework and timeline for implementation.
•The Federal Government, the TUC and the NLC to review the World Bank Financed Cash transfer scheme and propose the inclusion of low-income earners in the program.
•The Federal Government, the TUC and the NLC to revive the CNG conversion programme earlier agreed with Labour centres in 2021 and work out detailed implementation and timing.
•The Labour centres and the Federal Government to review issues hindering effective delivery in the education sector and propose solutions for implementation.
•The Labour centres and the Federal Government to review and establish the framework for the completion of the rehabilitation of the nation’s refineries.
•The Federal Government to provide a framework for the maintenance of roads and expansion of rail networks across the country.
•All other demands submitted by the TUC to the Federal Government will be assessed by the joint committee.
Industrial Court stops strike
In a related event, the National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, yesterday restrained the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, from embarking on their planned strike to protest the unilateral removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government.
The order came on a day the NLC returned to the negotiation table, having earlier refused to attend the meeting, Sunday, insisting that government return the price of petrol to the status quo.
This is even as the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, made public its demands and presentation to the government among which were N200,000 minimum wage and subsidy on food items.
Recall that the TUC had in a meeting with government representatives at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Sunday, demanded payment of a new minimum wage to mitigate the effects of the subsidy removal but was silent on the figure.
The court, in a ruling delivered by Justice O. Y. Anuwe, barred the two unions from proceeding with the strike, pending the determination of a suit brought before it by the FG.
The court held that the interim order, as well as the substantive suit, should be immediately served on both the NLC and the TUC, which were cited as defendants/respondents in the suit marked: NICN/ABJ/158/2023, even it fixed the matter for hearing on June 19.
The court order followed an ex-parte application FG filed through the Federal Ministry of Justice.
FG’s lawyer, Mrs Maimuna Lami Shiru, who moved the application, maintained that the proposed strike was capable of disrupting economic activities, the health and education sectors.
FG further tendered Exhibits FGN 1, 2 and 3, which were notices from the NLC, TUC and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, to their members, asking them to withdraw their services with effect from tomorrow, June 7.
The court, in its ruling, held that it was empowered by section 7(b) of the NIC Act, 2006, with the exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to the grant of any order to restrain any person or body from taking part in any strike, lockout or industrial action.
It held that sections 16 and 19(a) of the NIC Act 2006, also empowered it to grant urgent interim reliefs.
The court held that the affidavit of urgency as well as the submission of FG’s lawyer revealed “a scenario that may gravely affect the larger society and the well-being of the nation at large.’’
Justice Anuwe held: “Counsel has pointed out that students of secondary schools nationwide, especially those writing WAEC exams, will be affected; the tertiary institutions who have only just resumed after a long ASUU strike will also be affected, not leaving the health sector, among other sectors; and above all, the economy of the nation.
“In my view, this is a situation of extreme urgency that will require the intervention of this court.”
According to the judge, “having, therefore, considered the totality of this application, I make the following orders: ‘’The defendants/respondents are hereby restrained from embarking on the planned industrial action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice dated 5th June 2023.
“It is ordered that the defendant/ respondents be immediately served with the originating processes in this suit, the motion on notice and the order of this court hereby made.
“The motion on notice is hereby fixed for hearing on 19th June 2023. Hearing notices to that effect shall be served on the defendants/respondents along with the other processes.”
Courts to shut down as judiciary workers join NBC’s planned strike
Prior to the order, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, had in a notice signed by its General Secretary, M. J. Akwashiki, mobilised its members across the country to withdraw their services from tomorrow.
The statement read: “This is to inform all branches and chapters of our great union across Nigeria to begin mobilisation for a nationwide action and withdrawal of service which would commence on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.
“This followed a decision of the National Executive Council, NEC, of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, at her meeting on 2nd June 2023 over the increase in the pump price of petroleum motor spirit, PMS, by the federal government through NNPCL.
“All zonal vice presidents are to coordinate their zones by ensuring that branch and chapters chairmen mobilise their members for total compliance. Also note that the nationwide action commences on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.”
FG, NLC in horse-trading
The negotiation between the FG and the NLC took a new dimension last night as the two parties engaged in horse trading in a bid to avert the planned strike slated for tomorrow.
As the meeting progressed, the NLC President, Comrade Joe Ajaero, was seen outside in discussion with the Group Chief Executive Officer, of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, alongside the General Secretary, Comrade Emma Ugboaja.
Later, they were joined by the President of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, and thereafter the exco members.
When contacted on why the leadership of NLC was outside, Ajaero told State House correspondents that both sides were wooing each other.
Asked whether they stormed out as a result of the court injunction restraining it from going on strike, he only said they were not aware of any court injunction halting the strike.
He said there was no need for government to use underhand tactics, but advised it to engage labour and address the concerns of workers.
Sources within the NLC said the court order was yet to be served on labour.
At press time last night, NLC’s meeting with the federal government was still on, even as TUC joined in at about 9:20 pm..
TUC demands N200,000 minimum wage, others
Also yesterday,The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, demanded pasyment of a new minimum wage of N200,000 monthly.
It also demanded that the government reverted to the old N185 pump price of petrol per litre to allow for a conducive environment for negotiation.
In a statement the President and Secretary General, Festus Osifo and Nuhu Toro, respectively, TUC said: “For immediate implementation: Status quo ante of PMS pump price should be maintained while discussion continues. The minimum wage should be increased from the current N30,000 to N200,000 before the end of June 2023, with consequential adjustments on the cost of living allowance, COLA, like feeding, transport, housing, etc.
“A representative of state governors will be party to this communiqué and all the governors must commit to implement the new minimum wage.
“Tax holiday for employees both in government and private sector that earn less than N200,000 or 500USD monthly whichever is higher. PMS allowance to be introduced for those earning between N200,000 and N500,000 or 500USD to 1,200USD whichever is higher.
“The exchange rate for retailing PMS in the country must be kept within a limit of two per cent for the next 10 years where the fluctuation is more than two per cent, the minimum wage will automatically increase at the same rate.
“Setting up of intervention fund where the government will be paying N10 per litre on all locally consumed PMS. The primary purpose of this fund is to solve perennial and protracted national issues in education, health and housing. A governance structure that will include labour, civil society and government will be put in place to manage the implementation.
“Federal government should provide mass transit vehicles for all categories of the populace. State governments should immediately set up a subsidized transportation system to reduce the pressure on workers and students. The framework around this will be worked out.
“Immediate review of the National Health Insurance Scheme to cover more Nigerians and prevent stock of drugs.
“Visitation of the refineries that are currently undergoing rehabilitation to ascertain the state of work and setting up a timeline for its completion.
“The president should direct whoever will be labour minister to immediately constitute the National Labour Advisory Council, NLAC. This platform will be used by the government, labour and employers to discuss issues and policies of the government that may affect workers and all other mandates as specified in the law.
“Provision of subsidy directly for food items, the $800million could be a first step. The existing National Housing Fund, NHF, should be made accessible to genuine workers; the framework on this must be discussed and agreed.”
TUC also said the medium term would include the “deployment of Compressed Natural Gas, CNG, across the country, in line with the earlier promise made by the government. The framework and timeline will be developed and agreed by both parties.
“Labour and government to design a framework that will be geared towards the reduction of cost of governance by 15 per cent in 2024 and 30 per cent by 2025.
“A framework should be immediately put in place to maintain roads and expand the rail networks across the country. Government must design a framework for social housing policy for workers through a rent-to-own system.
“The state of electricity in the country must be appraised and an action plan should be defined with timelines on how to get this fixed.”
NECA recommends 11-point solutions to post-subsidy removal challenges
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, has provided at least 11 recommendations to tackle post-subsidy removal challenges.
It also appealed to organised labour to shelve its planned nationwide indefinite strike over fuel subsidy removal and the subsequent hike in the pump price of petrol.
NECA in a statement by the Director-General, Wale-Smatt Oyerinde, listed the recommendations on how to address the post-subsidy removal challenges.
The statement read: “We reaffirm our call of many years for the total removal of the fuel subsidy, as it has neither served the interest of the average Nigerian nor has it promoted enterprise sustainability, growth, and competitiveness in the country.
‘’The subsidy removal could unlock over six trillion naira in revenue annually, which can be channelled into infrastructure development, etc. Reports have shown that less than three per cent of Nigerians (the super-rich), benefit from the subsidy regime. Efforts to provide immediate short-term palliatives should be fast-tracked in view of its urgency.
“Government should urgently complete the rehabilitation of existing refineries to boost local production. However, in the medium term, it should commence transparent privatization of the moribund national refineries and encourage the entrance of new investors to encourage competition.
“Government should step up widespread public awareness campaigns to communicate not only the reason for the subsidy removal but also its potential impact and measures to mitigate the short-term negative effects. Citizen’s engagement is paramount.
“While paying rise across-board and other palliatives seem an immediate response and a low-hanging fruit, a more fundamental and long-term approach should be to create deliberate economic paths toward improving the general standard of living of Nigerians.
“One of the sure paths to achieving pay rise across-board and other palliatives seem an immediate response and a low-hanging fruit, a more fundamental and long-term approach should be to create deliberate economic paths toward improving the general standard of living of Nigerians, is to stimulate domestic economic activities by facilitating an enabling environment for organized businesses to thrive and create decent and rewarding employment.
“Immediate reversal or suspension of the recently approved 2023 Fiscal Policy Measures and Tariff adjustment, which increased tariffs on some products and introduced a green tax, among others.
‘’This is a major policy inconsistency that is capable of jeopardizing business continuity, discouraging investment inflow, reducing local production capacity, and encouraging smuggling and counterfeiting, which could also result in estimated N3.87 billion annual losses to the economy among many other negative impacts.
“We demand a unified exchange rate to curtail arbitrage, round-tripping, and speculative activities in the FOREX market, thereby stabilizing the economy and promoting transparency and accountability. ‘’We equally support the electricity value-chain for significant investment in generation, transmission and distribution.
“We want the federal government to review several taxes and levies imposed on the private sector and collected by the three tiers of government. Initiate immediate tax adjustments and reforms to reduce the burden on organized businesses and workers, while expanding the tax net.
“The government should promote energy efficiency and alternatives: Encouraging the use of energy-efficient technologies and alternative fuels can help to reduce dependence on petrol. In Brazil, for instance, the promotion of biofuels as an alternative to petrol has significantly reduced petrol consumption.
‘’Also, the government should strengthen Public-Private Partnerships like the ITF-NECA Technical Skills Development Project, TSDP, which has produced over 20,000 trainees in 40 trade areas across the six geopolitical zones of the country in the past 13 years, as a model for job creation and skills development.”
Appeal to Labour
While appealing to labour to shelve its planned strike, NECA said: “We call on organized labour to sheath its swords and reconsider its threat of another strike. The economy is already in tatters, with businesses (both in the formal and informal sectors) facing multidimensional challenges.
‘’Further disruption of the ongoing recovery trajectory will not likely hurt the government but do more colossal damage to businesses, workers and Nigerians in general.
‘’The imperative for social dialogue cannot be over-emphasized as a veritable and potent means of resolving the knotty issue of fuel subsidy removal.”