Thursday, 30th November 2023

Labour accepts FG’s proposals, suspends strike for 30 days

By Gloria Nwafor (Lagos) Terhemba Daka and Adamu Abuh (Abuja)
03 October 2023   |   4:19 am
After exerting some concrete agreements to some of its demands, Organised Labour last night, sheathed its sword upturning its earlier advertised indefinite strike action to commence today.   

• Manufacturers commend 7.5% AGO waiver
• Salary top-up akin to abandoning 99% of Nigerians, says Middle Belt Forum
• Lukman: Nigeria so poor, can’t cope with high pay demands by workers

After exerting some concrete agreements to some of its demands, Organised Labour last night, sheathed its sword upturning its earlier advertised indefinite strike action to commence today.

The Labour organs agreed to suspend its strike action for 30 days to enable the government to fulfill terms of the agreement reached after hours of meeting last night.

Indications had earlier emerged that the planned nationwide strike would be suspended when officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) returned to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday evening to conclude negotiations with the Federal Government, especially after a shift in government position on Sunday night, resulting in the N35,000 wage top-up across all ranks for federal workers.

Owing to trust deficit between Labour and government, both parties had to lock themselves last night in another marathon meeting to fine-tune details of the agreements reached and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) binding on all parties.

The MoU, a copy of which was sighted by The Guardian last night, and which was signed by NLC President, Joe Ajaero and General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja; TUC President, Festus Osifo and Secretary-General, Nuhu Toro; and Federal Government delegation: Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Bako Lalong, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Dr. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, and Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, had 15-point agreements.

Top on the agreements reached were: Federal Government grants a wage award of N35,000 to all Federal Government workers beginning from September, pending when a new national minimum wage is expected to have been signed into law; a minimum wage committee to be inaugurated within one month from the date of the agreement; suspension of Value Added Tax (VAT) collection on diesel for six months beginning from October 2023; a vote by Federal Government of N100 billion for the provision of high capacity CNG buses for mass transit in Nigeria; and government plan to implement various tax incentive measures for private sector and the general public.

Also on the agreement reached were a resolution in line with relevant ILO Conventions and Nigerian Labour Acts on the leadership crises rocking the NURTW and purported proscription of RTEAN on or before October 13; outstanding Salaries and Wages of Tertiary Education workers in Federal-owned educational institutions referred to Ministry of Labour and Employment for further engagement; Federal Government’s commitment to pay N25,000 per month for three months starting from October 2023 to 15 million households, including vulnerable pensioners; increase in its initiatives on subsidized distribution of fertilizers to farmers across the country; and a call out to state government through the National Economic Council and Governors Forum to implement wage award for their workers, with similar consideration to be given to local government and private sector workers.

The last leg of the 15-point agreements also include: Federal Government’s commitment to the provision of funds as announced by the President on August 1 broadcast for Micro and Small Scale Enterprises (MSMEs); joint visitation to be made to the refineries to ascertain their rehabilitation status; all parties committing to abide by the dictates of social dialogue in all future engagements; and the NLC and TUC accepting to suspend for 30 days the planned indefinite nationwide strike earlier scheduled to begin today, while the MoU will be filed with the relevant Court of competent jurisdiction within one week as consent judgment by the Federal Government.

Earlier, as details of the agreement reached were still being awaited, NLC President, Ajaero, confirmed that in principle, the strike had been called off after Sunday’s resolutions were extensively agreed to by the National Executive Councils (NEC) of both NLC and TUC.

Ajaero, who noted that their demands were very clear, said labour has not moved away from their demands, even as the Federal Government has probably matched up in one or two areas.

“We have not moved away from what we have been asking for. It would be clear at the end of the meeting if a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) were eventually signed. This would be taken to the Congress’ NEC, which gave the directive for the strike. If satisfied, the strike may be suspended or given some time to decide given the backdrop of the situation.”

While the closed-door meeting was ongoing, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) released a statement that NLC and TUC have jointly suspended the indefinite strike.

The statement signed by Head of Media, MWUN, John Ikemefuna, recalled that NLC had directed its affiliate member unions across the country to mobilise and shut down the country, following the refusal of government to adhere to the seven-points demand made by Labour to ameliorate the suffering of the teeming Nigerian workers and the impoverished masses of the country.

This, he said, made the President-General of MWUN, Adewale Adeyanju, order that all the nation’s seaports, jetties, oil and gas platforms and terminals be shut down accordingly for operations.

However, he said after the outcome of an emergency meeting summoned between the Federal Government and labour leaders, NLC and TUC had jointly agreed to suspend the strike to allow for the implementation of Labour’s demands.

Consequently, he said the NEC of the NLC had directed that all its affiliate members should direct their members to return to work tomorrow (today) as the planned indefinite strike has been suspended.

To this end, he added that Adeyanju, who is also NLC Deputy President, had equally directed that all workers in the maritime sector should resume work tomorrow (today) as instructed by NLC.

MEANWHILE, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has commended Federal Government’s announcement of 7.5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) waiver on Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), commonly called diesel. Mr Segun Ajayi-Kadir, Director General, MAN, on Monday in Lagos, via a statement, described the development as a positive outcome for the real sector.

President Tinubu during his Independence Day broadcast on Sunday earmarked several reforms to reinvigorate the Nigerian economy. To make the economy more robust and impact citizens’ standards of living, Tinubu promised the deployment of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses and increased investments in Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME).

He said provisional cash transfer to 15 million households, food relief packages, and 7.5 per cent AGO tax waiver, among other measures would be provided to Nigerians.

The MAN DG noted that the tax waiver had formed part of the reconciliation that the association and other members of the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria had sought. According to him, they had earlier called on the government and the Labour unions to use their best endeavours to find common grounds to avoid plunging the economy into crisis.

“We already have enough challenges and the manufacturing sector in particular, is operating on the brink of a recession. You would also recall that MAN had stridently advocated for the removal of the VAT on diesel, especially because it has actually become a major ‘input’ into our production process.

“We rely on diesel to power our machines and meet our energy needs in the face of abysmal power supply from the national grid.

“You are also aware that the price has gone above N1,000 per litre. Meanwhile, it is said that diesel is used to fuel about 90 per cent of the haulage trucks that transports petrol from the depots to retail outlets nationwide.

“So, removing the VAT will help reduce the cost as a production input and cost of transportation for logistics and movement of people generally. It should bring relief to workers and the economy,” he said.

Ajayi-Kadir, however, expressed concerns over the six months’ time frame scheduled for the tax waiver, querying if there would likely be a more permanent and impactful remedy to the problem.

“We also hope that government and labour will, this time, adhere to the terms of the agreement, so that we do not have to come close to the edge, before we find solutions. The anxieties and apprehensions are inimical to business and disrupts production plans,” he said.

HOWEVER, National President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Bitrus Pogu, said the N35,000 salary increase to workers was akin to abandoning 99 per cent of Nigerians going through poverty and deprivation.

Pogu, while reacting to the Independence Day speech by President Tinubu argued that the speech was uninspiring and deceptive.

He accused the Tinubu-led administration of worsening the socio economic and security challenges in the country.

“Civil servants don’t constitute up to one per cent of the population of the country. What does that mean to the remaining 99 per cent of Nigerians languishing because of this situation.

“I don’t blame him because he inherited this terrible situation, but it is his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) that mismanaged the economy. They came in saying all manner of things you can think of about former President Jonathan. They promised to fix our refineries, where are we today? They promised heavens and earth and today Nigerians are practically going through the worst experience you can think of.”

Also, for former director general of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr Salihu Lukman, Nigeria cannot muster the resources required to meet the demands by NLC.

Lukman in a piece titled ‘Opening Door to Renew the Hope of Workers,’ argued that if revenue indices are anything to go by, the truth is that Nigeria is poor.

He said with a federal budget of about N20 trillion, which is about $30 billion, Nigeria is operating at about a 10 per cent deficit of its spending capacity compared to countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and even South Africa operating budgets of more than $200 billion.

He said the situation was further compounded by the fact that at state level, except for Lagos, none of the 36 states of the federation has a N1 trillion budget.

“In fact, most states’ budgets are below N250 billion. With reference to personnel cost, average monthly costs for state governments are more than N2 billion. Many states generate less than N1 billion monthly. Average receipt from the federation account is between N3 and N4 billion.

“With such a reality, capacity therefore to make additional payments to workers to cushion the effects of high prices of goods and services because of withdrawal of petroleum subsidy will be expecting too much.”

Lukman, who was the APC National Vice Chairman (Northwest) until recently, applauded President Tinubu and NLC leadership for the upward review of the proposed additional payment to Federal Government employees from N25,000 to N35,000.

“While commending both the Federal Government and NLC leadership for the landmark resolutions reached, which would have removed the threat of the October 3 strike action, it is important that the negotiation between government and organised labour is expanded to include all employers, inclusive of organised private sector and state governments.

“The negotiations should be oriented to produce agreements to improve productivity and produce higher revenue in all sectors of the Nigerian economy based on which necessary frameworks of partnership agreements between all employers and organised labour in the country should be achieved.

“This will give life to President Tinubu’s commitment as contained in Renewed Hope 2023, when he categorically affirmed that ‘Show us a door, we shall open it. Show us a road, we shall travel it. Show us a problem, we shall find a way to fix it.’

“Putting in place frameworks for negotiation between employers and organised labour is what is required to correct injustice in the workplace in all sectors and in every section of the country. More than anything, this will open the door to renew the hope of Nigerian workers,” he concluded.