Despite the ruling of the National Industrial Court (NIC) restraining the organised labour from embarking on industrial action to demand reversal of pump price of premium motor spirit (PMS) also known as petrol from N86 to N145, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) said it was going ahead with its planned indefinite strike.
The strike is effective from today. NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, last night led other labour leaders to walk out of the negotiation meeting at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Wabba said the Federal Government was not ready to shift ground on the pump price. His words: “On this specific issue of the increase in the pump price which has resulted to about 67.8 per cent increase, it is an issue that we have issued an ultimatum since last week. We were invited to the meeting by government. On Monday we had to take time to discuss at our National Executive Council (NEC) meeting and today we still came back.
“The issue and the mandate that we have is to the effect that the pump price at the rate of N145 is too outrageous. Therefore, even the attempt to see how it can be mitigated was not made possible at the meeting. ”
However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joe Ajaero’s faction of the NLC have pulled out of the industrial action. But, the SGF, Engr. Babachir Lawal, who presided over the meeting noted that the Federal Government was able to extract commitment with the other faction of NLC to work on the agreement reached. He noted that the TUC had backed out of the strike even as he remarked that any strike embarked upon against the injunction of the Industrial Court earlier on Tuesday is illegal. The SGF warned that no worker should be compelled to join strike even as he said that the notice given by the NLC to the federal government to reverse the pump price was short.
Also, the Federal Government said it would invoke the provision of “no work no pay” in respect of workers who participate in the strike. Lawal gave the directive yesterday after the labour leaders gave notice of the industrial action.
The SGF advised workers to shun the exercise in their own interest. Lawal also called on security agencies to ensure that protesters do not prevent workers from gaining access to their offices. “The attention of all public officers is drawn to the notice issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to embark on an indefinite strike from Wednesday, 18th May, 2016. “This notice is regrettably given in spite of an order by the industrial court against the strike action. Government, therefore, calls upon and advises all workers to respect the laws of the land and to desist from participating in an illegal strike action. “Government undertakes to guarantee the safety of workers and their work places, and expects that normal work will continue in the interest of the nation. Accordingly, security agencies have been directed to ensure unimpeded access to offices, work places and markets.
“Acts of intimidation, harassment, including barricading of gates, locking up of offices, blocking abof roads and preventing workers from carrying out their lawful duties will be met with appropriate response by the law enforcement agencies.
“ All workers, whether in public or private sector are further reminded of the Trade Dispute Act, 2004, which provides that ‘where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or remuneration for the period of the strike and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly. “
Accordingly, all ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies are hereby directed to invoke the provision of ‘no work no pay’ in respect of any staff who absents him or herself from work to join the strike action. Attendance registers are required to be opened in all Ministries, Departments and Agencies.”
The decision to commence an indefinite strike to force government to review the pump price was arrived at after another emergency of the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the NLC presided over by its President, Wabba. Though Wabba declined comments on the outcome of the NEC meeting, top members of the NEC confided in New Telegraph that they resolved to embark on the strike in view of Federal Government’s action of going to the Industrial Court despite an existing negotiation which was at the instance of the government.
The source said that the NEC also resolved that it was not aware of any court injunction by the government restraining them from proceeding with the strike. According to him, the Congress had no option than to disregard it, since the Federal Government was in the habit of disregarding court injunctions. He alleged that the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had consistently defied court order restraining him from arbitrary increase in electricity tariff, hence the Labour will also not obey any court order. The NLC NEC meeting ended at 4:46p.m.
A truce meeting between the Federal Government and key players in the labour sector, that would have averted the strike ended on a stalemate by 12:30a.m. on Tuesday. Meanwhile, at the resumed negotiation meeting at the office of the SGF, the Federal Government’s team entered into a truce with the Joe Ajaero’s faction of the NLC.
At the end of the meeting, which lasted about an hour, Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, who spoke on behalf of the Federal Government’s team, said the two parties have agreed to set up a committee to review the minimum wage, setting up of board of Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPRA) as well as implementation of N500 billion social investment in the 2016 budget and review the N145 pump price.
Oshiomhole said the two parties agreed to work on the issues for two weeks and return to negotiation table. His words: “We have listened to one another, we have had further conversations and we have all agreed, that’s the Labour and representatives of the Federal Government under the SGF. We agreed on the following; that we will work towards setting up a framework for the review of the national minimum wage. We have all agreed that it shall be a tripartite body.
“We have agreed that the Labour appreciates the decision of Federal Government to set up half a trillion naira in 2016 budget to cover for what the Minister of Budget described as social investment. Now based on this social investment and its various components, the two parties agreed that Labour should be involved in this process and come up with suggestions.”
Responding, Ajaero, who was accompanied by the President of NUPENG, Igwe Achese, said that his team does not believe in strike when it has no enough time to mobilise Nigerians. He also confirmed that his team agreed with the Federal Government to set up a committee to review the minimum wage, the setting up of PPRA board, the social investment and review of the pump price. Ajaero said his faction of the NLC would mobilise Nigerians if after their agreement government reneges. “There’s no enough time to mobilise for strike and rather would negotiate after which we can mobilise if government failed to honour our agreements.
“It is on the basis of that we agreed that a committee be set up to look at the issue of minimum wage, look at the issue of N500 billion social investment, look at the setting up of PPRA board and review the N145 pump price of fuel. The committee is to report back in two weeks,” he said.
At Monday’s meeting, the Federal Government had exploited the cracks within the Labour circle to plead for the strike to be shelved. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. Babachir Lawal, had invited both factional leaders of the NLC, Wabba and Joe Ajaero to separate meetings that lasted several hours, but produced no result. The SGF used the opportunity to explain to the unions that the constraints of meeting regular subsidy payments that runs into trillions of naira, necessitated government’s decision to deregulate the industry.
But the meeting was adjourned midnight to continue 3p.m. yesterday with the two labour factions to be in attendance. As at the time of filing this report, the federal government’s negotiating team was still in a closed door meeting with the Wabba faction of the NLC which it was gathered had stood its grounds on the indefinite strike.