Between El-Rufai and Labour: Who blinks first?
While labour insisted it was defending the rights of the sacked workers, the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai argued that the government was not convinced that devoting about 70 per cent of the revenue accruing to the state to the payment of workers’ salaries who constitute less than five per cent of the total population was not right.
The unwillingness of both Labour and Kaduna State government to arrive at a consensus led to the declaration of a five-day warning strike by the NLC.
The National Administrative Council (NAC) headed by the President of Congress, Ayuba Wabba, had tabled the administrative action to the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC), seeking its approval to embark on industrial action, if the mass sack was not reversed.
Having received the approval of the relevant council to proceed with the action, the NLC stormed the ancient city.
According to NLC, some of their grievances included the sack of 7,310 local council workers in the state, a sack of 3,000 civil servants, withholding of April salaries of about 20,000 workers, non-remittance of statutory check-off dues to trade unions, unlawful reversal of minimum wage for local council employees, non-implementation of promotions, as well as intimidation and harassment of workers to opt-out of the union, among others.
Despite declaring Wabba ‘wanted’ by the Kaduna State government, the NLC President led the protest in the city without any threat to his safety.
Speaking at the protest ground, Wabba said: “We are aware that 1,700 workers were sacked in the Primary Health Care Development Agency (PHCDA). All these are happening in the face of exorbitant increment in tuition fees, high cost of living and other uncalled-for actions in MDAs in the state.”
In a move to broker peace, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, intervened in the crisis.
A statement issued by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the ministry, Charles Akpan, said: “We are not unaware of what is going on in Kaduna. It is a labour issue, which has snowballed into a national strike. We hope and pray the state government does not escalate matters to such a level, where it becomes uncontrollable. We also appeal to the labour union leaders to step down the action and make way for discussion.”
Also, other country federations like the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) condemned the attack and joined in solidarity with Nigerian workers, saying a refusal to address the basic demands as workers’ fear could only result in the exacerbation of pockets of poverty.
Similarly, a staunch critic of the governor, Senator Shehu Sani, also lamented the use of armed thugs to disrupt workers peaceful protest in Kaduna, saying the action stands condemnable.
He recalled that the ruling party had enjoyed the freedom and rights to protest when they were in opposition, advising the All Progressives Congress (APC) to be tolerant of dissent voices and criticism.
On his part, the Director-General, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Timothy Olawale, said what happened during the period was an infringement on workers’ rights.
While he commended workers’ resilience and maturity by not participating in physical violence, he said it was within their right to protest and drive home their demand, even though it was almost hijacked by the wrong elements.
He said it was right for the Ministry of Labour to have intervened earlier and not wait until the crisis snowballed into industrial action, stating that notices were served before labour embarked on the protest.
Also, a lawyer and expert on labour, Paul Omoijiade, said even as the governor mentioned that the civil service was over-bloated, he noted that there were procedures for downsizing.
Citing Section 20 of the Labour Act, which makes provision for redundancy, he said it behoves on the Kaduna State government to invite the unions or workers representatives and inform them on the essence of the redundancy, and thereafter negotiate the redundancy benefits, “but the governor did not do all these.
He unilaterally went on his own to sack workers. To that extent, he did not follow due process in the downsizing. He needs to go back and give those in his employment statutory favour because those people he sacked in the eyes of the law are still employees; they are still working. He should go back and negotiate the redundancy benefits.”
He said what el-Rufai did was not just an of the global body infringement but illegality because it does not conform to the law, which is stated in Section 20 of the Labour Act on redundancy.
To ensure the ceasefire masterminded by Ngige heralds industrial harmony in Kaduna, a 10-man bi-partite committee was set up to midwife the peace process.
Ngige noted that the dispute fell within the ambit of redundancy, which necessitated that the principle of redundancy as stated in Section 20 of Labour Act, Cap L, 1 Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) should apply.
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