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Labour shuns court order as strike begins today


Edo Youths Congress protesting against the increase in the pump price of petrol in Benin-City …yesterday. PHOTO: NAN

Edo Youths Congress protesting against the increase in the pump price of petrol in Benin-City …yesterday. PHOTO: NAN

• TUC opts out, ASUU urges members to protest
• Buhari had no option outside new price regime, says VP
• Govt sets six months to present new minimum wage
• Senate seeks speedy provision of palliatives

Despite the order yesterday of the National Industrial Court sitting in Abuja stopping‎ the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) from embarking on the planned strike over the increase in fuel price, the labour unions have insisted on going ahead with the action beginning today.

The Federal Government last week increased the price of fuel from N86.50 to N145 per litre. Consequently, organised labour unions threatened to commence a nationwide strike from today unless the situation is reversed.

Efforts at a resolution of the crisis between the leadership of the NLC and the government , including a special ad hoc committee set up by the House of Representatives to avert the strike ended in a deadlock.

There were indications that the insistence of government on selling petrol at N145 per litre and taking labour unions before the NIC may have hardened Labour’s resolve to go ahead with the strike.

Indeed, as the NLC was holding its emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at the Labour House, around 2:00p.m. yesterday, information filtered in that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had approached the court to declare the strike illegal.

This jolted the members of the NEC who expressed dismay at the turn of events and resolved to proceed on the industrial action.

Not only did they move a motion stopping the President of Congress, Ayuba Wabba and his team from attending a scheduled meeting with the House of Representatives, but suggested that Labour should also boycott a meeting slated with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Lawal, which was scheduled to hold at 3:00p.m.

Indeed, the NEC meeting of the NLC ended around 5:00p.m. and they headed for the House of Representatives meeting after which they planned to attend the one with the SGF and his team.

Also yesterday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, declared that even though President Muhammadu Buhari did not believe that the prices of petroleum products should go up, he had no option in the recent increase in the price of the petrol just announced.

Osinbajo, who spoke at the at the public presentation of Anatomy of Corruption in Nigeria: Issues, Challenges & Solutions, a collection of essays edited by Yusuf O. Ali, SAN, asserted that “a lot of the problems associated with the refineries are corruption-related.”

The Senate rose from a one-hour closed-door meeting over the fuel issue, calling on the Executive to speedily provide palliatives to cushion the effects of the price increase.

The closed-door session which was presided over by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, also called on organised labour and other stakeholders to show commitment to resolving the issues in order not to jeopardise the economy . He said that the Senate sympathised with ordinary people over the hardships they are going through.

Also, former Minister of Petroleum, Chief Philip Asiodu, has called for ‘structured dialogue.’ He urged the Nigerian workers union to exercise patience and allow room for proper education and enlightenment of Nigerians on the issue.

According to Asiodu, the reason the country continues to battle with the subsidy crisis over the years is that Nigerians have not been adequately educated on the issue and unfortunately at every opportunity when the issue could have been resolved, it has always ended up being politicised.

Asiodu who spoke with The Guardian on phone said: “There is no point adding more pains to Nigerians by calling for strike but more dialogue should be done to enable Nigerians to see reason why the oil sector should be deregulated to break the cartels of those benefiting from the subsidy.”

Similarly, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) have urged the Federal Government to engage with stakeholders in the oil and gas sector and work out a clear direction on how to reinvest the gains of fuel price regulation in the economy.

In a statement issued at the end of the joint National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Calabar, and made available to The Guardian, yesterday, PENGASSAN and NUPENG are of the view that price deregulation has its benefits in the immediate and near future with an urgent need for a paradigm shift and a new direction in the management of new investment and income in the oil and gas industry.

But the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi has mobilised members of the union for strike to force the Federal Government to revert the pump price from N145 to N86.50k

In a letter sent to members of the congress nationwide and read at the University of Ibadan ( UI) Chapter by its branch Chairman, Dr. Deji Omole, the university teachers expressed their readiness to join in the protest against government’s policy.

ASUU president in the letter entitled “Increase in pump price of Premium Motor Spirit to N145 per litre: Proposal for Joint Action with NLC” said members are called upon to join in the protest against the fuel price increase called by the Nigeria Labour Congress ( NLC).

Ogunyemi anchored the position on “delayed, partially paid and in most cases unpaid salaries for a number of months by state, federal and local governments, disguised retrenchment of workers, especially by state governments, in the name of verification exercise and endless hunt for ghost workers and heavy taxation.”

At a meeting between the NLC, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) Babachir Lawal, and Governor Adams Oshiomole with leadership of NUPENG, Electricity Workers Union and their own allies, Edo State Governor Oshiomole appealed to the union leaders to see reasons with government’s decisions to increase the price of petrol.

When the meeting ended, the SGF told reporters that the deliberations were fruitful even though the meeting was also adjourned.

But the Executive Secretary of the Electricity Workers Union, Joe Ajaero, speaking on behalf of the leadership of the unions, disassociated themselves from the proposed strike.

Speaking after the NLC team staged a walkout on the meeting, the President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said the discussions did not meet the mandate given to the NLC negotiation team by the congress’ relevant organs.

He said: “The discussions did not meet the mandate given to us by our organs. The minimum wage issue is an auxiliary issue which cannot be tied to the price hike. Certainly, the strike action is going to take effect from 12:00a.m. Wednesday morning.”

But Lawal said the TUC had agreed with government proposal and had suspended its proposed strike . He added that agreement was reached with TUC on three items which include: revisit of the palliatives as contained in the 2016 budget; revisit of the minimum wage with a 15-man technical committee to report back to the main committee within six months and the reconstitution of the board of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) within two weeks.

He hinted that the 15-man technical committee which draws its membership from labour and government would be chaired by the government representative and that the secretariat would be hosted by the government.

Lawal also said government had similar agreements with the Joe Ajaero faction of the NLC.

On the position of the NLC, the SGF explained that the Wabba-led group insisted on reduction of the N145 per litre petrol price before negotiating with government which led to the breakdown of negotiation.

He declared that owing to the pullout of the TUC and Ajaero’s group from the strike, workers are expected to be at their duty posts today.

Malami (SAN) had through a motion ex-parte, approached the NIC asking it to stop the planned strike by the respondents, NLC and TUC which was granted by the President of the Court, Justice Babatunde Adejumo.

“The defendants are hereby restrained from carrying out the threat contained in their communique issued on May 14, pending the hearing and determination of the ‎motion on notice filed on May 16.

“It is the order of this court that status quo be maintained as at May 17‎”, the judge ruled.

Justice Adejumo also ordered that the processes in the case be served on the respondents within 24 hours and that proof of service be filed in the court.

The court further held that none of the parties shall engage in any act, conduct, overtly, covertly on the matter pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

Justice Adejumo however, transferred the hearing of the substantive case to another judge of the court on the ground that he would be engaged at the National Judicial Council when the matter would be due for hearing.

He noted that he would prefer that the dispute be resolved amicably and as such, he was constrained to issue the ex parte order because the respondents were not yet before him.

He added that he granted the order to make sure that people were not subjected to avoidable hardship.

“I decided to take this case this morning because it is on an issue that will affect everybody. I don’t want people to be subjected to hardship. There will be scarcity of foods, people may die, students will engage in all sorts of activities. This is why I have to grant this order”, he held.

Earlier, while moving the application, the AGF submitted that it was in the nation’s interest to stop NLC from shutting down the economy over the increase in price of fuel.

He cited Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution as amended to justify his application to stop the strike.

He further argued that ‎no amount of damages could serve as compensation if NLC was allowed to shut down the economy and that the balance of convenience was in favour of the government.

He however, asked the court to determine whether the respondents have complied with the laid down conditions precedent for embarking on strike‎ and whether indeed and in fact, the basis for which the respondents’ total closure of the economy can be justified.

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