The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, will today begin a two-day warning strike after shunning a meeting with the Federal Government over increasing hardship and suffering across the country caused by the removal of fuel subsidies.
This came as the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, yesterday warned that the strike will worsen the plights of ordinary Nigerians and urged NLC to shelve the action.
The NLC had on Friday, given notice of a two-day warning strike to protest the excruciating mass suffering and impoverishment experienced around the country, threatening a total and indefinite shutdown of the economy within 14 working days or 21 days after the warning strike, if government did not take steps to address the hardship experienced across the country.
While briefing on Friday after its NEC’s meeting, NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said: “NEC in session of NLC resolved to embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the nation within 14 working days or 21 days from today until steps are taken by the government to address the excruciating mass suffering and the impoverishment experienced around the country.”
Why NLC shunned meeting with FG
Though sources in the NLC leadership told Vanguard that the strike will go ahead, despite yesterday’s scheduled meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, it was gathered that a media briefing by the minister allegedly castigating labour leaders, ahead of the meeting, forced NLC leaders to shun the meeting that would have been held at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Federal Secretariat.
The minister was said to have threatened the NLC leaders at his briefing, foreclosing any chance that NLC would honour the meeting.
One of the visibly angry NLC leaders told Vanguard that the minister’s alleged outburst a few hours before the scheduled meeting put the final nail to NLC’s resolve to proceed with the strike as resolved by members of its National Executive Council, NEC, last Friday.
His words: “We were scheduled to meet the Minister of Labour and Employment later today (yesterday), precisely by 3 pm but a few hours to the meeting, the minister called a media briefing where he castigated us and threatened us among other uncomplimentary words.
“Not that the meeting would have stopped the strike, but we intended to attend the meeting in the spirit of social dialogue. But as you are aware, the Minister of Labour, before the scheduled meeting, held a media briefing castigating and threatening us.
‘’You do not expect us to attend a meeting when we had been warned of a possible arrest.
In fact, we thank the minister for putting us on notice of their plan. So, the right thing to do is to keep away from such meetings and avoid any possible arrest.
“What the minister had done was nothing short of industrial dictatorship and naked blackmail. The Federal Government had already taken decision on the proposed meeting, the minister was kind enough to hold a briefing ahead of the meeting to disclose part of the government’s decision.
‘’Well, like I said earlier, the strike goes ahead as planned. After Wednesday, we will determine what next steps to follow. The NEC’s communiqué was loud enough. We cannot continue as if we are living in a different country from our political leaders and their cronies.
‘’You cannot continue to beat us and say we should not cry. Everywhere you go in every part of the country; people are complaining of hardship and suffering without concrete efforts by government to lessen our pains. Instead, the government is unleashing more policies to send us to untimely death.”
Minister waits for NLC delegation
Expectedly, the Federal Government said it waited for the NLC to attend a negotiation meeting at the Ministry of Labour and Employment headquarters, but the Congress refused to attend.
Labour and Employment Minister, Lalong disclosed this at the meeting attended by the delegation of the Trade Union Congress, TUC of Nigeria.
The minister also said that the ministry was yet to receive any formal communication from the NLC on the proposed two-day warning strike.
He said the strike notice came when he was receiving briefing from the various departments in the ministry, adding that he had to suspend the briefings to convene the meeting with the NLC because of the urgency of the issue at hand.
His words: “In the last two or three days, while we were receiving our briefing from the ministry to set the ball rolling, we were confronted few days ago with the strike notice.
“Because of the urgency of that strike notice, we quickly summoned a meeting today (yesterday) and we conveyed a notice of this meeting to the NLC and I must apologize too that your own meeting came this morning and all of you attended because in the course of some of the issues that were raise,d we needed to sort them out and we believe that it was within our capacity to see if we can sort out some of these problems, even today.
“Because we raised our own point in our press conference earlier today that we just came on board, receiving our briefing to set the ball rolling but suddenly we are confronted with strike notice so we suspended the briefing to carry on with this headlong because some of the issues are issues that we are already getting briefing from our department.
“So we thought that by commencing this briefing we will have a headway in solving some of the problems . So just yesterday we also got information that the TUC also met but when we got the information, we said if that’s the case we will combine the TUC and the NLC so that we see all the issues and if possible treat those issues holistically.
“So that’s the purpose for this emergency meeting which we convened and I fixed the time for 3 pm so we kept on waiting for the NLC from three o’clock till this time we have not received any information about their attending the meeting but I am happy that the TUC is here.
“So, the purpose of this meeting like I said is to quickly address those issues that were raised and see the possibility of averting this strike action that is scheduled to be embarked upon by tomorrow.
“Although, I am sure up to today, we have not received any communication of any strike from the NLC.”
Strike will worsen plight of Nigerians, says Lalong
Earlier, the Federal Government had appealed to NLC to call off the planned strike, saying it would worsen the plights of Nigerians
Briefing journalists, Lalong pleaded with NLC leadership to allow all stakeholders to work towards amicable resolution of the contending issues on ground.
The Labour Minister said: “ I would like to reiterate my appeal to the leadership of the NLC to suspend their planned 2-day warning strike, and subsequent future actions, and to allow us to work together to amicably resolve these issues rather than embark on actions that would further worsen the conditions of the citizens of Nigeria.”
Acknowledging workers constraints, Lalong said the President stated several times that he is not unaware that the implementations of the vital but difficult policies come along with a measure of hardship for all of us citizens of this country.
According to him, “While some of these policies are being planned and fine-tuned, others are being rolled out as palliative measures to bring temporary relief to Nigerians. In the long run, the government of President Tinubu will put in place measures that will empower the people as well as create jobs and prosperity.
“As we continue in this direction, therefore, we must ensure that there is a robust line of communication with Nigerians and in particular the organised labour to forestall a breakdown of industrial peace which would no doubt reverse some of the gains already made.
“In this context, it has become pertinent to appeal to the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), to suspend its intended 2-days warning strike, as such action would be detrimental to the gains already being recorded on our course to securing a greater future for Nigerian workers and citizens at large.
“Consequently, I use this opportunity to reassure Nigerian workers that this government would never take them for granted nor fail to appreciate their support and understanding. We shall continue to pursue policies aimed at massive employment generation in all sectors of the economy as well as look into immediate challenges that have emerged out of the policies of government.”
On Police, NURTW conflict
Commenting on the brewing conflict between the Nigeria Police and the leadership of National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, he said the matter would be looked into without delay because with the subsisting laws of the Federation and international conventions that Nigeria is party to, I do not believe that this conflict is insurmountable.
His words: “Without prejudice to the fact that the Nigeria Police as a frontline internal security agency has its role to play in civil and criminal matters, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment has its role to play in resolving industrial relations matters.
“Therefore, we shall engage both parties in dialogue to find the way forward on this problem. I believe that the NURTW which plays a very critical role in the economy will always work with not only the police but all other security agencies. This misunderstanding must therefore be dealt with immediately.”
“On the claims of violation of workers’ rights by some employers with regards to membership of unions in the Aviation sector, I am yet to receive a Trade Dispute Form properly submitted to my office on this matter as required by the Trade Disputes Act CAP 18, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
I wish to reiterate here that no one is above the law and as such, we shall do everything possible to ensure that all concerned act according to the dictates of existing legislation.”
On industrial crisis between Organised Labour with Imo and Abia State Governments, the minister said he had been informed that the NLC and these state governments had entered into collective agreements induced by industrial actions carried out by the leadership of the NLC in the states earlier in the year.
“I would also appeal for calm on this matter, to allow us follow the laid-down procedures of dispute resolution rather than confrontation, which has not yielded the desired results yet. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results,” he said.
Baptist Convention warns NLC against hijack by hoodlums
Reacting to the planned warning strike, President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, NBC, Reverend Israel Akanji, advised leaders of NLC not to allow hoodlums hijack its planned industrial action.
Speaking at the headquarters of the NBC in Ibadan, Oyo State, ahead of a special youth programme titled, “Arise Congress” fixed for the first week of September, Akanji said in as much as he was not against strike, care must be taken by the NLC leadership to prevent hoodlums from infiltrating their ranks.
“Strike can actually force government to adjust and do a proper thing. But what we always say is that if we are not careful, the strike will be hijacked by other people. It is because of the secondary effect of strike that we always say, as much as possible, that it should not take place.”
“Definitely, strike is not a condemnable thing in itself as long as it doesn’t lead to violence and destruction of life and property.
“Then, I will appeal to Federal Government to hasten the intervention it has in its plans because of the hardship people are going through. There is no nation that will grow without a measure of sacrifice. Short term pain will bring long term gain and every nation must endure some pains for things to be fixed properly.
“The government should hasten and do some things that will cushion the effects. I know President Tinubu that by virtue of what he did in Lagos as a governor, he has great plans but the plans are delayed and people are agitated.”
Rethink your stance on warning strike, 100 CSOs tell Labour
Also reacting, a coalition of 100 civil society groups called on NLC to call off its proposed strike.
The coalition, under the aegis of Project Nigeria, a statement by its President
Dr Kolawole Akinmosu, in Abuja, said it was in the best interest of the nation for organized labour to halt the planned industrial action.
While he conceded that labour’s grievances are legitimate, Akinmosu noted that President Tinubu had taken drastic steps to cushion the hardship of the fuel subsidy removal on the nation.
According to him, the appointment of Simon Lalong as Minister of Labour and Employment shows the President’s love for Nigerian workers.
Describing Lalong as labour-friendly, Akinmosu added that the former Plateau State governor understands the plight of the common man and will go to any length to meet the demands of labour.
Akinmosu, therefore, urged the NLC to rethink and instead embrace dialogue for the sake of the economy and the country’s survival.
“The Project Nigeria is a coalition of 100 pro-Nigerian civil society groups. We are non-partisan without religious or ethnic bias. Our interest is the nation.”
Judiciary workers to shut courts
Also, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, has ordered its members to shut down all courts in the country on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The association said the action was in line with the decision of the NLC, and TUC, to embark on a two-day warning strike over economic hardship that Nigerians are currently facing owing to the unplanned removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government.
JUSUN in a memo by its National Secretary, L. M. Adetola, directed all deputy president, zonal vice presidents, chairmen and secretary of all it’s branches and chapters, to ensure total lock down of all the courts as ordered “from Tuesday and Wednesday against the removal of subsidy without a palliative to cushion the effect or hardship resulting from the programme.
“To this end, you are advised to commence mobilization of your members in both the branches and chapters of our great union for the proposed action.”