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Labour rebuffs govt’s last ditch effort, begins nationwide strike

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JUST IN: Labour suspends strike for five days

Organised labour today, Monday, began its nationwide industrial action after a meeting on Sunday between representatives of the federal government, leadership of the National Assembly and officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) over the proposed national minimum wage ended in deadlock.

With the strike proceeding, there will be total shutdown across offices, banks, airports, and other key places in the country today.

Meanwhile, the Sunday meeting which began around 5:50 p.m. and ended at 8:45 p.m. was held behind closed-door at the National Assembly complex, Abuja.

Earlier on Friday, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) declared a total indefinite strike.

The unions expect numerous other workers’ unions, including those of doctors, university lecturers, airport workers, and electricity workers to join in.

Amid the uncertainties, the nation may experience widespread power outages, fuel shortages, and transportation disruptions as essential services will be disrupted.

In a notice issued on Saturday regarding the indefinite nationwide strike, the General Secretary of NLC, Emmanuel Ugboaja, urged all affiliated bodies to mobilise their members for full compliance with the industrial action directive.

Mr Ugboaja emphasised the importance of ensuring a comprehensive closure of all workplaces, noting that the success of the strike hinged on the collective determination and resolve of their members.

The nationwide strike was declared by the unions to compel the government to agree on a new minimum wage for workers, and review the increase in the price of electricity for some consumers.

The NLC and the TUC have been in negotiation with the federal government over a new minimum wage since the government policies announced last year by President Bola Tinubu led to an increase in the cost of goods and services.

In his inauguration speech on May 29, 2023, the president announced the removal of the petrol subsidy, which has led to widespread hardship due to the resulting increase in the prices of goods and services.

Shortly afterwards, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) announced a new price regime ranging from N537 to N600 per litre of petrol.

The NLC had 26 July 2023 gave a nationwide strike notice beginning on 2 August 2023, to protest the removal of fuel subsidy but later dropped the plan at the last minute after a series of meetings with the federal government.

While negotiations with the labour leaders were ongoing, the federal government approached the National Industrial Court in Abuja and, on 5 June, 2023, obtained a court order to stop the strike.

The labour leaders called off the strike in compliance with the court order and the promises by the government to implement a number of palliative measures.

The labour again on 5 September, 2023, announced it would embark on a two-day nationwide warning strike from over the hardship faced by the masses due to the removal of fuel subsidy.

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It later declared an indefinite strike on the same issue on 3 October 2023 but suspended the planned strike after a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the representatives of the labour unions and the federal government.

According to the MoU, the unions would suspend their strike by 30 days, with parties to the agreement committing “to henceforth abide by the dictates of Social dialogue in all our future engagements.”

The MoU stipulated that the document shall be filed in “relevant court of competent jurisdiction within one (1) week as consent judgment by the Federal Government.”

The document was signed by NLC representatives, including its president, Joe Ajaero, and the secretary, Emmanuel Ughoaja, as well as Festus Usifo, TUC president.

Officials who signed the agreement on behalf of the federal government are the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Bako Lalong; the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha; and the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris.

The MoU contains terms and conditions that both sides had previously agreed upon.

Among the terms, the agreement includes a wage award of N35,000 to all federal government employees starting from September, until a new national minimum wage is officially enacted.

Another stipulation is the inauguration of a minimum wage committee within one month from the date of the agreement.

Additionally, the federal government agreed to suspend the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) on diesel for six months, beginning in October 2023.

After the implementations were not met, the organised labour in February issued a two-week ultimatum to the federal government to commence the implementation of policies that will reduce the impact of the government’s economic policies on citizens.

“These agreements which were reached with the federal government were focused on addressing the massive suffering and the general harsh socioeconomic consequences of the ill-conceived and ill-executed IMF/World Bank induced hike in the price of PMS and the Devaluation of the Naira.

“Constrained by this development and recognizing the urgency of the situation and the imperative of ensuring the protection and defence of the rights and dignity of Nigerian workers and citizens, the NLC and TUC hereby issue a stern ultimatum to the Federal Government, to honour their part of the understanding within 14 Days from tomorrow, the 9th day of February, 2024,” the NLC said in a joint statement at the time.

The unions later extended the ultimatum to 14 days.

But despite the government’s introduction of various palliatives intended to mitigate the adverse impacts of this policy, many Nigerians continue to face significant difficulties.

In addition to removing the fuel subsidy, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also unified all segments of the foreign exchange (FX) market to enhance market transparency and boost investor confidence.

Although these policies have received praise in some quarters, they have also exerted pressure on the local currency and manufacturers, contributing to elevated prices.

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While Nigerians were grappling with the ripple effects of the policies, the regulatory authorities in April announced an increase in electricity tariffs for some categories of consumers.

On April 3, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) approved an increase in electricity tariffs for customers in the Band A category, raising the rate from N66 to N225 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). However, following public outcry, the tariff was later reduced to N206.80 per kWh.

The move, said to be part of the government’s efforts to reduce subsidies and ease pressure on public finances, had further weakened the purchasing power of the average Nigerian amid elevated domestic prices, Premium Times reported.

To address the concerns, the Organised Labour initially proposed N615,000 as the new minimum wage, but later revised its demand to N497,000 last week and then further lowered it to N494,000 on Tuesday. However, it rejected the federal government’s offer of N60,000.

Festus Osifo, President of the TUC, speaking on behalf of the Organised Labour in Abuja on Friday, stated that the decision to embark on a strike action stemmed from the breakdown of negotiations for a new national minimum wage.

He revealed that the government had shown reluctance to address concerns raised by the organised labour, particularly regarding the recent increase in electricity tariffs and the call for a living wage.

“Since we undertook the nationwide protest against the recent hike in electricity tariffs, no government official has called us for discussion. Even the Minister of Power has not thought it fit to invite us for discussion,” he said.

To prevent the looming strike, the National Assembly met with leadership of organised labour unions and several ministers on Sunday. But the meetings ended in a deadlock as the unions threatened to go ahead with the strike Monday.

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