By Festus Okormadu and Michael Oche
Despite pressure from the federal government, the organised labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and United Labour Congress (ULC), yesterday insisted on commencing a nationwide strike to demand a quick implementation of a new minimum wage for workers in the country.
There is palpable fear in the land that baring any last minute change of plan, the industrial action may ground government and other business activities across the country. As at last night, motorists and other consumers of petroleum products across the country involved themselves in panic buying of the products for fear of the strike action by organised labour.
Fueling the apprehension, President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, told journalists at a press briefing yesterday that public offices, schools, banks and other places of work are expected to comply with the strike action, which is bound to shutdown the economy. According to Wabba, it became obvious that the government did not intend to keep its promise of implementing a new minimum wage for workers.
He pointed out that the industrial action became the last resort following federal government’s refusal to reconvene the meeting of the tripartite national minimum wage committee to enable it conclude its work.
He said, ” The action is in compliance with the decision of the various organs of the organised labour which endorsed the 14-day ultimatum served on the federal government by members of the Organised Labour who are members of the Tripartite Committee on the new National Minimum Wage. “The Labour organs further mandated their leadership to take all necessary steps, including a warning strike in the first instance to compel the government to reconvene the meeting of the Committee in order to bring it to a logical conclusion. In compliance with this mandate, all workers in the public and private sectors at all levels across the country have been directed to comply”. Noting that economic activities, both in the private and public sectors, will be grounded today, Wabba said, “Industrial unions, state councils, all worker organistions and our civil society allies have been directed to step up mobilization of their members.
“All public and private institutions, offices, banks, schools, public and private business premises including filling stations are to remain shut till further notice.
“All those who mean well for this country are to see to the success of this action. Further more, this action is to remain in force until further directives are given”.
Newsmen recalls that the national minimum wage committee, which was inaugurated in November 2017, had commenced work in March 2018 with timelines to deliver on its mandate of arriving at a new national minimum wage between August and September 2018.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, had in February this year during the 40th anniversary celebration of the NLC, assured workers that they would have a new minimum wage in September. The NLC president said the claims by state governors that they cannot pay salary is due to high level of corruption, excessive cost of governance, indulgence in obscene lifestyle, white elephant projects and not lack of funds. He said, “Indeed, government ought to have commended workers and their unions for waiting patiently for two years before commencing negotiations for a new National Minimum Wage. We advise that our disposition should not be taken for granted.
Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday said the tripartite committee on the new national minimum wage will reconvene its meeting on October 4 to conclude its negotiation process.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige said this while addressing journalists after a closed meeting with the leadership of organised labour.
The minister earlier met with organised labour leaders who were also part of the Tripartite Committee on the new National Minimum Wage to update them on government decision.
“One of the ways that we going to show it is by implementing the new national minimum wage and this we need to fix a base for the lowest paid worker in Nigeria. We are resuming next week, precisely on Thursday, October 4, and the meeting may spillover to October 5, as we normally use two days for the meeting. So, we are reconvening the meeting on the October 4, and all the process have being put in place”, he said.
The minister noted that the Labour leaders have been informed about it and are expected to communicate to their members that there is no need to embark on the strike action.
He assured organised labour that before the meeting on the October 4, the necessary demands by organised labour would have being factored in.
The minister said, “Part of our consultation means that the Economic Management Team, which is managing the entire economy of the country, would have something to work on.
“Already, they are working on it together with the National Salaries and Wages Commission and it is expected that before that meeting on October 4, they would have been through with the work. Everything is subject to negotiation. So, on Thursday October 4, we are going back to the negotiating table”.
Ngige added that the 14-day ultimatum issued the federal government did not get to him otherwise he would have addressed it scientifically the way it should be done.
He also said that federal government was optimistic that the committee would wrap up in October and all other processes pertaining the new national minimum wage for workers in the country.
NNPC Cautions Against Panic Buying Of Fuel
Meanwhile, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) yesterday appealed to motorists and other consumers of petroleum products across the country not to engage in panic buying of the products for fear of the planned industrial action by organised labour.
The group managing director of the Corporation, Dr Maikanti Baru, said the federal government is seriously engaging the NLC and other labour unions on the issues raised.
In a statement he issued in Abuja yesterday, NNPC group general manager, group public affairs division, Ndu Ughamadu, quoted the NNPC GMD as affirming that the nation has 37-day self-sufficiency in petroleum premium motor spirit (PMS), otherwise called petrol.
According to the statement, Baru assured that all the NNPC depots across the country, including the private ones engaged by the corporation on throughput basis, have an abundance of petroleum products to meet the needs of Nigerians.
He said all NNPC depot managers have been instructed to intensify products loading and other activities in their depots to avert any fallout of developments in respect of the NLC’s proposed strike.
Baru explained that the NNPC would continue to meet the products consumption needs of all Nigerians wherever they may be within the shores of the country.