Friday , June 21 2024

FG pleads for time as indefinite strike begins Monday

The Federal Government has pleaded with Organised Labour to reconsider its decision to embark on an indefinite strike from Monday, June 3, 2024, in protest against the government’s refusal to raise the proposed minimum wage from N60,000.

The interest of the masses should be the top priority of Organised Labour, the Federal Government stressed.

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Idris Mohammed, disclosed this in an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH.

While describing the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress as partners in Project Nigeria, Mohammed noted that industrial action was not the solution to the ongoing negotiation for a new minimum wage for workers.

This came hours after Organised Labour declared a nationwide strike, which would begin on Monday, June 3, 2024, over the Federal Government’s refusal to raise the proposed minimum wage from N60,000.The President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, stated that the indefinite strike would begin by midnight on Monday.

The NLC leader, who read from a jointly prepared speech alongside his TUC counterpart, Festus Osifo, expressed what he described as “grave concern and disappointment” over the Federal Government’s failure to conclude and pass into law a new National Minimum Wage Act, and reverse the hike in electricity tariff to N65/kWh.

Ajaero noted that the Friday meeting between the government and Labour further demonstrated the lack of seriousness and apparent contempt with which the Nigerian state held the demands of Nigerian workers and people.

“No governor was present and ministers were absent, except the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, who doubles as a conciliator.

“There was none present on the side of the government with appropriate authority to commit them to any outcome. In essence, the government abandoned the meeting.

“We consider this disdainful and shows a lack of commitment to a successful National Minimum Wage negotiation exercise.”

Ajaero further noted that during the last May Day celebration, Organised Labour issued an ultimatum to the Federal Government, demanding the conclusion of the minimum wage negotiation exercise by the end of the month.

“However, there has been no significant progress or commitment from the government towards meeting this demand.

“We also demanded a reversal of the last hike in electricity tariff from N225/kWh back to N65/kWh, and stoppage of the apartheid categorisation of consumers into bands.

“We carried out a nationwide one-day protest on May 13, 2024, giving the government until the last day of this month to take action; but the government has not entirely shown any positive response, despite the national outrage at the insensitive hike.

“Nigerian workers, who are the backbone of our nation’s economy, deserve fair and decent wages that reflect the current economic realities,” Ajaero added.

The labour leader further stated that it was disheartening that despite the repeated calls and the clear ultimatum issued, the government continued to neglect its responsibility to its workforce.

He noted that the government, rather than engage in a dialogue, persistently raised its attack dogs to seek to denigrate and intimidate trade union leaders.

“It continues to remain our belief that the people ought to be the only reason for governance and nothing else. The government must therefore seek the welfare of the people at all times. The refusal to put the people first compels all patriots to take the right step in assisting the government to govern well.

“The hike in electricity tariff further impoverishes the already suffering people, and denies them the right to decent living. Instead of taking remedial action or engaging in meaningful dialogue, Nigerians were visited with a barrage of the usual propaganda.”

On the next step, Ajaero said, “In light of this persistent inaction, we— the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress— hereby issue a notice of commencement of an indefinite nationwide strike to the Federal Government.

“We reiterate that since the National Minimum Wage negotiation exercise has not been concluded and the agreed wage passed into law; the hike in electricity tariff not reversed and categorisation of consumers into bands not stopped as demanded; Nigerian workers are compelled by these failures to embark on an indefinite nationwide industrial action, beginning on Monday, June 3, 2024, to press home our demands.

“The NLC and TUC are united in this cause, and we call on all our affiliates and state councils, civil society organisations, market men and women and the general populace to prepare for decisive action. We cannot and will not accept any further delays or excuses. The welfare of Nigerian workers and people is non-negotiable, and we are ready to take all necessary steps to ensure that their rights are protected and their voices heard.”

Back-and-forths

Friday’s talks on the minimum wage between the Federal Government and Organised Labour hit a brick wall when the government failed to shift grounds on the N60,000 it proposed during the last meeting.

This is not the first time this has happened.

On Tuesday, talks between the Federal Government and organised Labour broke down after the government and Organised Private Sector raised their offer to N60,000.

The government added N3,000 to its initial offer of N57,000 proposed last week, taking the total figure to N60,000.

However, it was dismissed by labour at the meeting.

At the meeting, labour again lowered its demand by removing N3,000 from the N497,000 it proposed last week, pegging the new proposal at N494,000.

To fast-track the negotiation process, the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria on May Day gave the committee till the end of the month to wrap up talks on a new national minimum wage.

That ultimatum expired on Friday night.

In a similar vein, Osifo stated that the ultimatum issued by labour remained, following the breakdown of talks on Tuesday.

“We gave an ultimatum on May Day that if by the end of May, we did not have a new minimum wage that would take a worker home, we would not be able to guarantee industrial peace.

“We are sticking to that ultimatum,” Osifo said.

President Tinubu had, on January 30, 2024, through Vice President Kashim Shettima, inaugurated a 37-member tripartite committee to come up with a new minimum wage.

With its membership cutting across the Federal, and state governments, the private sector, and Organised Labour, the panel is to recommend a new national minimum wage for the country.

Shettima, during the committee’s inauguration, urged the members to “speedily” arrive at a resolution and submit their reports early.

“This timely submission is crucial to ensure the emergence of a new minimum wage,” Shettima said.

He also urged collective bargaining in good faith, emphasising contract adherence and encouraging consultations outside the committee.

The 37-man committee is chaired by the former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Goni Aji.

FG begs Labour

Speaking, the Minister of Information, on behalf of the Federal Government, pleaded with Organised Labour to shelf its planned strike.

Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, he said, “The government is pleading with Labour to reconsider its position. The FG has already made an offer of N60,000, and whatever the government does is in the interest of Nigerians.

“We won’t like to do something that will throw the country into another problem.

“Even as we do that, we are pleading with Labour. They are partners in this project called ‘Nigeria’ and we expect them to join hands with the FG as it strives to look for solutions that will take Nigeria to the desired prosperity.”

Speaking further, the minister explained that the need to find common ground was the reason for setting up the tripartite committee in the first place.

He also pleaded that the unions should not allow the progress they had made so far to be eroded, adding that he was optimistic an agreement could still be reached with them.

“Our message is that of an appeal and the need for Labour to see reason with the government. That was even the basis for setting up the tripartite committee that was made up of Organised Labour, the sub-nationals and the FG. This was because the government just didn’t want to make unilateral decisions. In any case, the position on the wage regime is not a one-sided thing.

“We expect that they will see reason with the government. That is why we are calling on them to show understanding by not embarking on the strike because we don’t want that at this point. A strike is not the solution to our problem. We are continuing our negotiation with them. The minister and other stakeholders are still talking to them and we believe that we will find a common ground,” he stated.

Meanwhile, efforts to get the reactions of the Presidential Spokesperson, Ajuri Ngelale; and Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, were unsuccessful.

NUPENG, others vow to join strike

The power, oil and gas sectors are to be shut down from Monday, as all key unions in the sectors have vowed to join the strike action.

Officials of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, and National Union of Electricity Employers declared that they would join the strike.

NUPENG’s members largely control activities in the midstream and downstream arms of the oil sector, while those in PENGASSAN handle the bulk of the upstream activities in the oil and gas sector. Members of NUEE operate in the power sector.

Joining the strike on Monday may mean Nigeria would face another round of fuel scarcity and nationwide blackout.

The President of NUPENG, William Akporeha, said the union would fully participate in the strike, being an affiliate of the NLC.

“NUPENG is part of NLC and shall be fully involved,” he told our correspondent.

Similarly, the National Public Relations Officer, PENGASSAN, Kingsley Udoidua, said the petroleum union would join the strike.

“PENGASSAN is an affiliate of TUC. We are obligated to participate,” he stated.

Also, the acting Secretary-General, NUEE, Ogochukwu Igwebike, said electricity workers would begin strike from Monday.

Responding to a question on whether electricity workers would join the strike declared by Labour, he simply said, “Yes.”

Airport workers await letter

The National President of the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association, Ilitrus Ahmd, stated that the association had yet to receive a strike action communication from its mother union, the Trade Union Congress.

The president, in a terse response, refused to give further details as he consistently said, “We are yet to receive strike action communication which means we are not on strike. We are affiliated to the Trade Union Congress.

“If you check our trajectory, you will understand that TUC will always see every dialogue to its logical conclusion. When we receive any directive to join, we shall.”

Electricity workers yet to decide

The National Union of Electricity Employees said it was yet to decide on whether or not it would join the strike on Monday.

The National President of the union, Adebiyi Adeyeye, told our correspondent on Friday evening that he was at a crucial meeting.

“I won’t be able to tell you that now, I’m in a crucial meeting,” Adeyeye stated.

He, however, promised to revert to our correspondent, saying, “I will talk to you later.”

No plans to join strike – Customs agents

Also speaking, a former National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Kayode Farinto, said there were no plans by licensed customs agents to join the nationwide strike.

“We won’t join the strike. Labour does not go on strike like that. Besides, the country does not need the strike at this point, considering the economy. The government should try and listen to the demands of Labour and find a way out,” he said.

Also speaking, the Vice President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Ugochumwu Nnadi, said, “We don’t have plans to join them.”

N60,000 offer by FG reasonable – OPS

Following the third walkout by Organised Labour during the National Minimum Wage Negotiation Committee meeting, the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria, has expressed its concern as the National Minimum Wage Committee, after its seventh meeting, could not achieve a consensus.

A statement issued on Friday by Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, the Director General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, stated, “The Organised Private Sector of Nigeria had approached the Minimum Wage negotiation committee hoping that current economic realities as it concerned the need to protect jobs and ensure sustained growth would play a paramount role.”

However, Oyerinde stated this was not the case.

“The Committee was set up to negotiate a new national minimum wage and not a living wage. Neither was it inaugurated to adjust salaries. The minimum wage is what no employer should pay below, either in the private or public sector,” he added.

He also stated that the association’s position was informed by the need to arrest the ongoing job losses and continuous shut-down of businesses in Nigeria, adding that jobs could only be guaranteed when businesses were alive and sustainable.

Speaking further on the walkout and declaration of a strike by organised labour, the NECA Director-General noted that, while it was within the right of Organised Labour to embark on any action it deemed fit to achieve its objectives, organised businesses will also, within extant legislation do all that is necessary to protect enterprise sustainability and jobs.

Meanwhile, the NECA boss stated that it was no secret that businesses were currently faced with multidimensional challenges ranging from multiple taxes, levies and fees, recent astronomical power costs, rising interest rates, and exchange rates, among many others.

He further explained that the offer of N60,000, which was a 100 per cent increase in the National Minimum Wage, was sacrificial on the part of the Organised Private Sector.

“While it is important to note that socio-economic conditions over the years have rendered the N30,000 minimum wage inadequate, the same conditions have incapacitated many businesses, fatally affecting their sustainability and ability to pay,” Oyerinde noted.

He mentioned that the demand of organised labour at this period had the potential to cripple small and medium enterprises, and push many other businesses into comatose.

The NECA DG added, “It is important to strike a balance between workers’ needs, the current economic situation, ability to pay, and productivity. At N30,000 per month, many State Governments and Local Government Areas are unable to pay.

“An astronomical increase as being demanded will make compliance practically impossible. We urge the Government to fast-track the implementation of its interventions to make life more bearable for workers, businesses, and Nigerians in general.”

“Any disruption of rganized businesses’ activities could have serious consequences on job security and the sustainability of businesses.

FG defends minimum wage

Meanwhile, the tripartite committee on minimum wage has defended the proposal of N60,000 by the Federal Government.

The committee in a statement made available to our correspondent on Friday night said the offer of N60,000 was a 100 per cent increase in the existing national minimum wage of 2019.

Defending the government’s stand, the committee said, “At the meeting, when Organised Labour was called upon to make their concession, or new offers outside of the last N494,000 per month when requested, they insisted on the employers to first shift grounds.

“Both sides stated that their offers of N60,000.00 per month, which is a 100 per cent increase in the existing National Minimum Wage of 2019, were based on prevailing economic considerations and government non-monetary incentives.

“Thereafter, members of Organised Labour walked out of the meeting. As the meeting continued, the government further defended its offer of N60,000 per month, which was based on economic considerations and non-monetary incentives, which include N35,000 wage award for all treasury-paid Federal workers.

“One hundred billion naira for the procurement of CNG-fuelled busses and CNG conversion kits. 125-billion-naira conditional grant and financial inclusion to MSMEs; N25,000 each to be shared with 15 million households for three months. 185 billion palliatives (loans to States) to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal. 200 billion naira to support the cultivation of hectares of land to boost food production. 75 billion naira to strengthen the manufacturing sector.

“One trillion naira for student loans for higher education. Release of 42,000 metric tons of grains from strategic reserves. Purchase and onward distribution of 60,000 metric tons of Rice from the rice millers association.

Recent salary increase of 25-35 per cent on all consolidated Salary structures for federal workers.

“Ninety per cent subsidy on health costs for Federal Civil Servants registered on NHIS. Light rail was commissioned in Abuja to relieve transportation costs till the end of the year. Lagos State had already commenced the same initiative with their Blue and Red lines.

In addition to the freedom of civil servants to engage in agriculture, the Federal Government has approved the inclusion of ICT services for alternate sources of income.

“The meeting agreed that even where major and small businesses are closing down with a consequent loss of jobs, the outcome of a new National Minimum Wage should be such that it will not trigger further massive job losses.

“It further noted that linking the strike to electricity hikes with the NMW determination was unfair to the negotiating parties.”

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