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Labour gives condition for ending strike

By Collins Olayinka, Mathias Okwe and Terhemba Daka (Abuja) with agency report
28 September 2018   |   4:25 am
The warning strike declared by the organised labour was observed in part across the country yesterday. Labour is demanding N65,000 as a national minimum wage, up from the current N18,000.

Main gate of the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa under lock and key, as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) began nationwide strike in Lagos…yesterday

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The warning strike declared by the organised labour was observed in part across the country yesterday. Labour is demanding N65,000 as a national minimum wage, up from the current N18,000.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had issued the Federal Government a 14-day ultimatum to resume negotiation or face an industrial action. This was as Minister of Labour Chris Ngige said the tripartite committee saddled with the negotiation would reconvene October 4, 2018, assuring that the current administration is labour-friendly and would pay the minimum wage once it is agreed upon.

But labour yesterday disclosed that the Federal Government must do more than just restart the talks. The strike would not be called off, it said, until government makes its minimum wage figures known.

The Deputy President of the NLC, Peters Adeyemi, stated this in Abuja at the ongoing National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Non-Academic Staff of Universities and Associated Institutions (NASU).

“As a member of the committee, I can authoritatively say that the committee had concluded its work except for the figures from the Federal Government’s team. So, reconvening the meeting is contingent on the figure that would be made available by the Federal Government’s team.

“It is not just about reconvening. Reconvening for what? The meeting can only be reconvened when the figures that are missing for the committee to conclude its assignment are made available. That is the figure the Federal Government said the Economic Management Team is yet to finalise. They are also saying that the Governors’ Forum is likely to come with its figure. Calling any meeting without those figures would only aggravate the strike,” he said.

He criticised the Federal Government for not doing enough to ensure the success of the negotiation, more than a year after President Buhari inaugurated the committee. “It shows clearly that this government is only paying lip service to workers’ welfare. We insist that the workers that create the wealth of the nation benefit from the wealth. It should not be that the elected officers of the country eat in billions and when it gets to the turn of workers, they are paid peanuts,” Adeyemi said.

He added: “Calculation shows that N18,000 minimum wage is about $38? This is far worse than what it was in 2011 when the present minimum wage was negotiated. Is it not appalling that some of the governors, as we speak today, are unwilling to support a new minimum wage because they have not paid the N18,000? They are busy going about in hired jets that cost billions when workers are suffering.”

The accountant general of the federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris, meanwhile expressed worry that the strike could cripple government’s efforts at the speedy payment of September salaries.

According to him, payment involves a number of processes and input from several stakeholders. He said Buhari is committed to the timely dispatch of salaries, but regretted: “On coming to the office, we met the gates locked and wondered how we can keep this promise if we are being locked out.” He appealed to labour to “open our gates so that we can have unhindered access to meet their need.”

He enumerated some of government’s moves to improve workers’ welfare such as the payment of over N50 billion as promotion arrears from 2012 and approval of N60 billion for the payment of salary arrears with effect from 2011-2016. He also mentioned the president’s approval of N20 billion to meet ASSU’s demand among others.

He urged labour to trust the president and return to the negotiation table. “We are all working for the same system and we should do nothing that could threaten the economy and lead to the collapse of the same system,” he said.

But the Federal Government yesterday summoned the leadership of the organised labour to the Presidential Villa Abuja to find out what stalled the negotiation and ways to resolve the impasse.

The Chief of Staff to the President Abba Kyari chaired the meeting.

NLC President Ayuba Wabba, who led the labour delegation, however declined to say when the strike would be called off. He said labour would meet again immediately to decide the next step. He said labour used the opportunity to acquaint government with how a solution could be reached.

“The strike, as you are aware, is called by a larger organ. It is until we get their mandate before we can make any pronouncement on the strike,” he said. “All the discussion we have had, we will communicate to our members and therefore it is the outcome of our meeting with our members that we will also communicate to government,” he added.

Government offices, banks and public schools were closed in Lagos. Labour’s enforcement teams were at the State Secretariat in Ikeja as early as 7:20 a.m., turning workers back.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) correspondents who went round the metropolis reported that the United Bank for Africa (UBA) on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Wema Bank in Alimosho were closed.

The enforcement team of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), led by its president, Oyinkan Olasanoye, prevented workers from gaining access to the Ikeja branch of Stanbic IBTC Bank. The team also stormed Polaris Bank (former Skye Bank) on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, and locked the gate.

Olasanoye said the action was in compliance with the directive of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which ASSBIFI is affiliated to. She had on Wednesday at a news conference told journalists that ASSBIFI dispatched letters to all its members in banks across the country, charging them to join the strike.

Access Bank in Dopemu and First Bank in Iyana-Ipaja however opened for business. Fuel stations also attended to customers, while major roads, including Iyana-Ipaja to Ikeja and Ikorodu Road, were busy with the usual heavy traffic.

The two gates to the premises of Ikeja High Court were closed, as security men turned back lawyers, litigants and members of the public.

Public and civil servants in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) stayed away from their offices, which remained under lock and key. The gate of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, the Court of Appeal, Ministries and agencies within the FCT were also locked. The Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Environment were closed. Union members used their vehicles to block the entrance to some of the buildings. Some school children were seen returning homes.

The strike however had little impact on social and commercial activities in satellite towns like Kubwa, Mararaba, Karu and Gwagwalada. Mr. Chukwu Nworgu, a meat seller at Kubwa market, said: “I am in full support of the strike but I have to do my business to earn a living as a private man to feed my family.”

Kubwa, Gwagwalada and airport express roads remained a beehive of activities. Business continued as usual at Wuse market. This was also the case at UTC, Area 10. Buses bearing the names of ministries, departments and agencies of government were off the roads.

Normal activities continued at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. The general secretary, Air Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSAN), Mr. Francis Akinjole, however said all aviation unions in the country were currently attending a national delegates conference in Asaba, Delta State. “We shall enforce compliance in the aviation sector as soon as we finish from here,” he said.

In Gombe State, some bank customers expressed anger over the strike, accusing labour unions of being insensitive to the plight of Nigerians. They said the strike was unnecessary since government has not called off negotiations with the unions.

One Abubakar Mohammed, a farmer, said NLC should be more concerned with implementation rather than fighting for a new minimum wage.