Barring any last minute breakthrough in discussions between the federal government and labour over relief measures following government’s removal of fuel subsidy, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) may declare an indefinite strike by midnight Tuesday.
NLC President, Joe Ajaero, gave the indication while speaking on ARISE News Channel on Sunday.
Ajaero said the federal government had more than enough time to resolve the dispute and address the concerns of the labour movement, but chose not to do so.
But members of the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria (OPSN) expressed worry over the looming strike and warned that incessant industrial action was de-marketing Nigeria, worsening the ailing economy, and diminishing the livelihood of citizens.
Though, there were indications at the weekend that the federal government was making frantic efforts, through informal channels, to prevent the labour centre from embarking on the industrial action.
In line with the resolutions reached at its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on August 31, NLC had threatened to embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the country within 14 working days or 21 days, unless steps were taken by the government to address the mass suffering and impoverishment being experienced across the country owing to petrol subsidy removal.
The union first observed a two-day nationwide warning strike on September 5 and 6 to show its readiness for the indefinite strike later in the month.
From all indications, NLC appears set to declare a national strike by tomorrow if the federal government fails to roll out palliatives for workers in the form of wage award or other measures.
The congress convened an emergency meeting of its NEC on Tuesday to take final decisions on the strike.
In a notice for a virtual NEC meeting signed by General Secretary of NLC, Emma Ugboaja, the labour movement said it would commence deliberations by noon on Tuesday.
Apart from demanding reasonable palliatives to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal, NLC also demanded that the Nigeria Police should vacate the illegally occupied national headquarters of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and free its detained leaders.
A conciliatory meeting convened by Minister of Labour and Employment, Hon. Simon Lalong, last week to try to resolve the dispute did not make any headway.
Trade Union Congress (TUC) also threatened, last week, to shut down economic activities in Lagos State on Monday over alleged interference of the state government in the activities of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria.
However, speaking on ARISE News Channel’s “THISDAYLIVE”, on Sunday, Ajaero said ordinarily, every Nigerian would have expected by now a concrete result on the federal government-labour negotiations on palliatives.
When asked if he was confident that the planned indefinite strike would be successful, Ajaero said the earlier warning strike achieved about 80 per cent success, despite efforts to sabotage it.
“For the total, indefinite strike, Nigerians should expect total impact,” he added.
Ajaero stated, “First, the basis for asking for palliatives and even wage award should have been there if the government were able to do the first things first.
“But for it to take steps to remove subsidy, every normal human being should have known that there will be effects and we should have equally discussed the effects.
“But within some minutes, subsidy was removed and we say, no, return it back to status quo so that we can discuss. They said, no, ask for palliatives, ask for wage increase. And here, the same thing they had asked us to ask were things we asked for but they can’t provide them and they have vacated the negotiating table.
“We don’t know what to do again. We gave a notice for protest, we did protest and they promised to get back to us. After that time, nothing happened. We gave notice for warning strike, and the warning strike came and nothing happened.
“We gave another 21 days’ notice, it expired on Friday. I don’t know how much time the minister of labour is asking for. We honoured a meeting summoned by the Minister Labour and Employment last week.”
Ajaero accused the federal government of trying to undermine the strike, demonise the NLC leadership, and create division among the trade unions. He added that if such time and effort were used to seek solution, it would have been found and the problem would have been solved.
NLC said the mission of the labour movement was to help the poor.
The NLC president also reacted to the concerns of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) and Manufacturers Association (MAN) over the negative effect of the strike on businesses and national economy
He said, “NECA is our social partner but, unfortunately, the current leadership talks to us through a third party. NECA has not written us, they have asked us to explain issues, so NECA can’t be playing to the gallery.
“NECA can’t at this point continue to play with all the workers in the private sector.”
Ajaero said NECA should not be saying that the strike would affect the economy when the economy had already been destroyed.
He stated, “Workers are not going to work, even all the state governments are now reducing the number of days workers are coming to work. So if a state government can say workers should not come to work for two days and labour goes on strike for two days, what is the difference? Is it not the same man-hours that are being lost?”
Ajaero accused NECA of ignoring the channels of discussion with labour whenever a dispute arose.
He said, “Unless what is happening is not affecting them, unless NECA wants to continue to play the slave way because the implication is that if we get a wage now, NECA is bound to implement it. Probably, they are not ready to do that, but I don’t think that the statement came from NECA.”
With regard to the concern expressed by MAN, Ajaero, said, “I don’t know if anything is still being manufactured with the situation of things in the country. With the energy cost going up, I don’t know what is being manufactured and what is being sold.
“This is the worry we must all embark on, and address the issue, including the energy cost, to enable them to manufacture very well, because if you manufacture at a higher cost without recourse to the impact on consumers, who are mainly workers that will no longer buy these products due lack of purchasing power…
“I don’t think that MAN has equally made effort to find out how to solve this problem, they have not complained about the high energy cost, they don’t even know how workers struggle to come to work, which is very important.
“For instance, if I have been going to work with N20 and now I go to work with N100, but you, as an employer, have not increased my transport allowance and then you say I must to work, that amounts to slavery.”
Speaking on the alleged plot by government to divide organised labour, Ajaero said government could not create division among the trade unions. He said if the move to divide the ranks of organised labour was a strategy by government such plan was dead on arrival.
“What unites us is the people, our wage and poverty in the land,” he said.
Ajaero said TUC might have adopted a strategy of waiting for some more time, but NLC, which is the union of the least paid workers experiencing the hardship the most, would want that problem be solved now.
He said on the issue of wage and other items on the table, TUC and NLC were on the same page.
“We are agreed on it, no matter the modes of arriving at the destination, whether by vehicle or through an aircraft.”
THISDAY gathered that the labour minister had tried to use informal means to reach out to the leadership of organised labour to try to prevent the strike.
A reliable source told THISDAY at the weekend that the minister was employing all options, including holding informal talks with the NLC president and other labour leaders, in a bid to persuade them to wait for government’s pronouncement on their demands, which was expected this week.
“Although, the ministry was yet to fix any formal meeting with NLC, indications emerged that the minister was engaging informally with the labour leaders to persuade them give government more time to sort out issues relating to the demands,” the source said.
At the weekend, also, THISDAY learnt that the federal government might be considering the option of dragging NLC to the industrial court to prevent the colossal damage an indefinite nationwide strike could cause the economy.
Business Operators to FG, Labour: Incessant Strike Bad for Ailing Economy, De-marketing Nigeria
OPSN expressed deep concern over the looming workers’ strike and warned that incessant stoppage was de-marketing Nigeria’s ailing economy and diminishing the livelihood of the average Nigerian.
In a statement at the weekend issued on its behalf by Director General of MAN, Mr. Segun Ajayi-Kadir, OPSN called on the federal government and the labour unions to work towards averting the looming disruption of socioeconomic activities in the country because Nigeria’s “economic indicators are not good and simply put: the economy cannot afford a nationwide strike at this time”.
Members of OPSN include MAN; Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA); NECA; Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME); and Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI).
The statement said, “The government and labour unions need to understand that our economy is being de-marketed and the livelihood of the average Nigerian is being diminished by these incessant bickering. One is beginning to wonder if the wellbeing of more than 200 million Nigerians is being factored into their negotiations.”
OPSN further stated that its members “have keenly watched the back and forth consultations between the government, on the one hand, and the NLC and TUC, on the other,” and concluded that “it is evident that the series of consultations have not yielded positive results and the latter (the unions) have resolved one way or the other to go ahead with the protest/strike.
“We are worried that adequate consideration is not given to the dire situation of the economy and the devastating/disruptive impact that a nationwide strike will have on the country at this time.”
OPSN said while it recognised the rights of the labour unions to pursue the welfare of its members, “We continue to implore the government to employ its best endeavours to reengage the leadership of the (labour) unions and find an amicable ground to avert the imminent disruption in business activities that will attend the protest and nationwide strike.
“We opine that adequate consideration should be given to the grim state of the economy and the possible unintended consequences of social unrest that may result from the protests.
“In the same vein, while appreciating the deep concern of our members about the imminent strike, we urge them to be circumspect in their business operations, as we continue to intervene in last minute attempts to avert the strike.
“Adequate measures should be taken to protect company assets and contingency plans be made to keep business afloat.”
OPSN stressed the need to begin to have a conversation around how the labour unions and the government could resolve their issues without jeopardising the livelihood of the average Nigerian and truncating companies’ business projections and activities.
It said, “There should be some innovation around how the conversation between the government and labour will not always end up in holding the economy hostage. The unintended consequence on the fortune of the average business and people of Nigeria is unwarranted and becoming too high.”
OPSN also tasked the government to demonstrate good faith in keeping to its promises during the negotiations with labour and abstain from making promises it could not or did not intend to keep.
“On the other hand, labour should do a realistic assessment of its demands, within the context of prevailing economic realities and possibilities, while going the extra mile to indicate how its demands could be met,” OPSN stated.
It added, “We look forward to a time that labour will extend the scope of its demands to include recommendations on how government could meet those demands, with implementation strategies and realistic timelines.
“There appears to be a general consensus by government and labour, and the generality of Nigerians on the need to assuage the hardship occasioned by recent government economic measures. It behoves the government to advance the frontiers of this consensus to chart an agreeable roadmap and enable concrete programmes that will bring relief to the workers and Nigerians.”
OPSN further noted that governance was a collective effort and all the segments of the society should work with government to create conducive atmosphere for businesses to thrive and realistically hold government accountable for the improvement of the wellbeing of Nigerians.
Speaking in a similar vein, Director General of NACCIMA, Mr. Olusola Obadimu, told THISDAY that in consonance with the views of OPSN, NACCIMA was in support of discouraging any activity that might disrupt productive activities at this time.
Obadimu said, “This is a difficult time for productive businesses as it is. The situation is better not compounded with disruptions. We urge the government to find ways to address this situation; discuss fruitfully with labour and avert possible strikes.
“There must be assuring signals from government to address the current situation. The fact is that wage levels in real terms are actually declining due to the continual falling value of the naira and rising fuel prices.
“There is even a need for stability in cost indices as regards foreign exchange rates and fuel costs for business planning purposes. A continual instability for both cannot be good for business sustainability. All these are additional problems to infrastructural deficits that businesses are already grappling with.”
Similarly, Director General of NECA, Mr. Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, told said NECA’s strong believe was that social dialogue should continue and both government and labour unions should continue to demonstrate maturity in resolving the issues.
Oyerinde said, “In our view, the strike will not serve any positive purpose. Rather, it will further put pressure on citizens, escalate the cost of doing business and, in the long run, further impoverish workers.
“Organised businesses are already faced with multidimensional challenges and negative onslaught from different ad-hoc committees of the National Assembly. Any form of work disruption will deepen the despair of businesses, which might lead to more job losses and outright closure of many more businesses.
“We urge the government to do the needful and save organised businesses and, in fact, the economy the needless strike by addressing core workers’ demands as regards welfare and cost of living.”
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos