September 28, 2023

Strike: How labour veterans got NLC, TUC to close ranks


By Victor AhiumaYoung

On Tuesday, September 26, 2023, leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and their Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, counterparts, announced to Nigerians, especially workers, that the two labour centres would jointly prosecute the planned nationwide indefinite strike starting on October 3, 2023.

Until then, the two centres had been in a cold war and worked at cross purposes to the detriment of the suffering masses especially workers, who are bearing the brunt of the removal of subsidy on petrol.

Recall that after the initial joint meeting the NLC and TUC held with the representatives of the Federal Government in June led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, other meetings with the government were held separately.

Although, the NLC and TUC held a joint nationwide protest on Wednesday August 2, 2023, to protest perceived government insensitivityto the plights of poor Nigerians, the frosty relationship between them came to a boiling point ahead of the two-day warning strike declared by NLC for August 5 and 6, 2023.

Why TUC backed off

Leaders of the TUC after a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, were quoted by a section of the media to have said they had backed out of the planned strike.

As expected, leaders of NLC hit back at TUC, dismissing the claims that they were backing out of the planned strike as untrue because TUC did not declare a strike in the first place. In other words, leaders of TUC could not withdraw from a strike they did not call.

The leaders of the TUC also went ahead to give the government two weeks to address their demands, claiming the government still needs more time to address those demands.

On Monday, September 18, after a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, TUC told Nigerians and workers that the government would announce wage awards for workers the following week.

NLC 21-day strike notice

On the other hand, at its meeting with the government, leaders of NLC told the Labour minister and his team that the government had up till Friday when the 21-day ultimatum given to the government by NLC would expire.

Recall that on September 1, while declaring the two-day warning strike, NLC had also given the government 14 days and 21 days notice within which to address its demands or face an indefinite nationwide strike.

Consequently, the September 18 meeting ended in deadlock as the meeting that commenced around 2 pm, ended around 4.23 p.m. without agreement.

On Friday, September 22, NLC summoned an emergency meeting of its National Executive Council, NEC, for Tuesday, September 22, to invariably fix the date to commence an indefinite strike.

Intervention by veterans

While all these were happening between NLC and TUC, Vanguard gathered that concerned elders in the Labour movement and civil society allies became worried that the movement was slipping into the divide-and-rule agenda of the government and that urgent intervention was needed to rescue the movement from the antics of the government.

According to sources, the elders and civil society allies reached out to the presidents and executives of both labour centres on the need to work together as one if they hoped to achieve anything for the masses of the country, especially workers who they are leading.

Following the intervention, the president of NLC and his TUC counterpart reached out to each other and stated talking, it was gathered.

Vanguard learned that following the success of the interface between the presidents of both labour centres, a broader meeting of leaders of NLC and TUC was held on Monday, September 21 at night.

The marathon meeting, it was gathered, lasted for over five hours and leaders of both centres told themselves the truth.

They were told to forget ego, pride and frivolities and face the onerous task of making life and living conditions better for the suffering masses of Nigeria most especially workers.

TUC’s grouse

In fact, before the intervention, one of the leaders of TUC had confided in Vanguard that the leaders of NLC do not see TUC as partners but a labour centre they could always lord things over.

He complained that the NLC took a decision to embark on the August 2 protest alone without bothering to carry the TUC along.

According to the source, the TUC decided to join the protest at the last minute in the interest of the masses and workers.

The TUC source said what broke the camel’s back was NLC’s decision to declare the two-day warning strike without consulting or carrying TUC along.

The source said :“To the chagrin of TUC leaders, we read about the two-day warning strike notice on the pages of the newspapers like other Nigerians. The right thing to have been done was for the two Labour centres to either hold a joint NEC and decide on the warning strike or for NLC to reach out to TUC on its decision before making it public. Both NLC and us (TUC) would then meet and decide on the warning strike and jointly announce it. Alternatively, we could announce the warning strike separately but on same day. This was not done.

“When we looked at the content of the NLC’s communique announcing the warning strike, it appeared to be personal to NLC. The communique talked about the government interference in the leadership and occupation of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, headquarters in Abuja, without talking about Lagos State Government takeover of our affiliate, the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN office and seizure of two TUC buses parked at RTEAN secretariat in Lagos.

“The NLC communique also talked about some state governments’ interference in its state councils. So, essentially, we saw it as NLC’s affairs since we were not carried along and the things that concerned us were not included.”

NLC’s response

However, some leaders of NLC while dismissing the TUC’s claims, alleged that leaders of the TUC breached NLC’s trust and confidence from the onset.

One of the NLC leaders told Vanguard: “One of the TUC’s betrayals of trust was on September 4, a day to the two-day warning strike. On that day, the Minister of Labour and Employment invited us and TUC to a meeting. The meeting was supposed to hold around 3 p.m. But before the meeting, the minister held a press conference addressing the issues we were supposed to discuss and so on. We saw no reason to attend the meeting again. But our sister Labour centre attended.

“That was not the first time. There was another example before the ministers were appointed by the President. We had a scheduled meeting with the government team at the Villa. We were not only held back at the gate for quite some time but when we got to the venue, the Chief of Staff to the President, who was supposed to preside over the meeting was nowhere to be found.

About three low-ranking officials were left to hold the meeting with us. We left after waiting in vain for senior officials of government to turn up including the Chief of Staff to the President. But our sister labour centre stayed. Their utterances and body language before these examples were not convincing to us.”

NLC, TUC leaders meeting

Notwithstanding, sources at the reconciliation meeting informed Vanguard that leaders of NLC and TUC were made to understand that they needed to work together since both NLC and TUC were working for the masses and workers of Nigeria.

One of the sources said: “The leaders of both NLC and TUC were told and in fact, they agreed that both centres are working for the Nigerian masses, especially workers but with different approaches and methods. They were made to see reasons why a united force is a panacea to fighting a formidable enemy.

“They were also made to realize that the more they continue to work at cross purposes, the more the gap between them continues to widen and the more government will take advantage of it to unleash more anti-poor policies. They have also realized that the government will not address any of their demands if they continue to fight independently of each other.”

At the end of the meeting held at a hotel in Utako area of Abuja, Vanguard gathered that both NLC and TUC with over five representatives from each centre resolved to work as one to challenge the anti-poor policies of the government that have worsened poverty, unemployment, insecurity and other situations across Nigeria.

A source at the meeting said “They agreed that government has failed, that both NLC and TUC are the same family with common interests and must not allow the government to divide them.

“There was also the understanding that the NLC and TUC are the only hopes of Nigerian people and that they must do everything possible not to betray the Nigerian masses.

“There was equally an understanding that issues affecting them (NLC and TUC) should be discussed and addressed within them without allowing such issues to degenerate into wrangling or disputes, and so on.”

The product of the September 21 night meeting was the joint communique of Tuesday, September 22, by leaders of NLC and TUC declaration of an indefinite nationwide strike starting from October 3, 2023.

TUC moves to reconcile with ASSBIFI, other aggrieved affiliates

There are strong indications that peace that has eluded the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, for over a year and six months following the internal crisis hit it ahead of its 12th National Delegates Conference, NDC, may return to the second labour centre in the country.

The NDC was held between Tuesday, July 19 and Wednesday 20, 2022.

Vanguard gathered that the leadership of TUC has begun moves to reconcile aggrieved affiliates.

Recall that the National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting Lagos, presided over by Justice Rabiu Gwandu, had on July 6, 2022, stopped the TUC from holding or taking further steps to hold and conduct elections for the position of President and other National positions pending the hearing and determination of a suit filed by 10 aggrieved affiliates.

The aggrieved unions had gone to seek reprieve from the NIC following alleged moves by TUC leadership to throw open for contest the position of its President, ahead of the 12th NDC, slated for between Tuesday, July 19 and Wednesday 20, 2022, contrary to the resolution of its 11th NDC held on June 28, 2019, at NAF Centre, Abuja.

Not comfortable with the development, the 10 aggrieved affiliates approached the NIC to determine the legality of TUC moves to jettison the resolution of the 2019 NDC, part of which has been implemented.

They also, among others, prayed the court to retrain TUC “from publishing for election the position of the President of TUC for the year 2022 to 2025”; and any other orders that the court “may deem fit to make in the circumstance of this suit.”

Aggrieved affiliates

The affiliates are Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI, Pulp Paper and Paper Products Printing and Pthe ublishing Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PPAPPPAPSSAN, Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, NMNO/WTSSA, Senior Staff Association of Shipping Clearing and Forwarding Agencies, SSASCFA, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATTSSSAN, Precision, Electrical and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association, PERESSA, Shop and Distributive Trade Senior Staff Association, SHOPDIS, Textile Garment and Tailoring Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, TGTSSAN, Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions, SSAUTHRIAI, and Automobile, Boatyard, Transport, Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, AUTOBATE.

However, it was gathered that TGTSSAN has returned to the TUC.

Nevertheless, despite the court ruling, leaders of TUC went ahead to conduct the delegates conference in defiance of the court’s order, claiming another court sitting in Abuja had given it nod to hold the conference.

However, the presiding judge in the Lagos suit, which has not vacated her order, after hearings of the substantive suit, till today is yet to deliver her ruling.
The contention was alleged refusal or failure of TUC to implement part of 2019 TUC NDC resolution which among others, that in 2022 TUC NDC, ASSBIFI would produce the TUC president.

According to the aggrieved affiliates, part of the resolution was implemented paving way for Quadri Olaleye of the Food Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association FOBTOB to emerge as president of TUC was for a single term between 2019 and 2022 .