NLC insists on August 2 nationwide protests over rising hardship, anti-poor policies
• Tinubu seeks more time to address Labour grievances
• Economy struggling, strike not in nation’s best interest, says NECA
• Oshinowo kicks against Naira floating, cautions labour against strike
Hours after the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) declared a total and indefinite strike action, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday, issued a seven-day nationwide strike notice, beginning with a protest on August 2, if the Federal Government does not reverse what it called anti-poor and anti-workers policies.
In the communiqué issued at the end of the Congress’ Central Working Committee (CWC) in Abuja, and signed by NLC President, Joe Ajaero and General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, Labour lamented the crippling economic situation facing Nigerians and its attendant consequences of mass suffering, poverty and angst pervading workers, adding that they were clear results of the insensitive policies and actions of the present administration.
President Bola Tinubu, during his inaugural speech on May 29, removed fuel subsidy, which raised the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) from N185 to N500.
The action, The Guardian gathered, was strongly condemned by organised labour. However, with last week’s hike from N500 to over N600 per litre, indications have emerged that despite a court order which barred Labour from going on strike in June, the congress is activating its organs nationwide to mobilise for another round of protests, insisting that it could not fold its arms while Nigerians continue to suffer the effects of subsidy removal, which have led to untold hardship.
Last night, representatives of the Federal Government, led by the Special Adviser on Energy, Ms. Olu Verheijen, were locked in a fresh round of marathon meetings with labour leaders at the Presidential Villa.
PRESIDENT Tinubu, on Wednesday night, made a passionate appeal to the organised labour to give him more time to look into their grievances rather than embark on industrial action.
Abbas told State House correspondents that President Tinubu has pleaded that since he is new in office, he needs time to evaluate the issues that are being raised by workers, including doctors, over which he is yet to be briefed.
He said: “What he said is that he’s just coming on board. We should ask them and beg them to please give him a little more time. The things that they mentioned, he is completely unaware of them; he is yet to be briefed about all those issues. He also advised that we should channel those issues to the Chief of Staff to look at them one after the other. I believe in the next coming days, some concerted actions will be taken.”
The government’s team on palliatives and the NLC continued their talks on palliatives to cushion the effect of subsidy removal. The steering committee, which met briefly, focused on how stakeholders can fast track interventions that will bring relief, particularly around Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), mass transportation, cleaner energy, transportation, and reduce the impact of the cost of transportation.
Ajaero, while responding to questions, insisted that organised labour would go ahead with the planned protest on August 2nd.
Responding to the outcome of the meeting he said: “The outcome is very brief. We met based on the N520 increase and the committee that was set based on that and we agreed to work to realise the objectives that were set during that moment.”
Asked why the interventions were getting delayed, when Nigerians are facing excruciating pains, he said, “the two centres have made their position known and is before Nigerians, the TUC, the NLC, our position is known. And it’s public knowledge”
Also asked about how feasible was the proposed industrial action, he said: “I wouldn’t know, we are going ahead with the protest because we have to be emphatic on what we put in our communiqué, to say we’re commencing protests from August second.”
Despite the overtures, Ajaero said the Federal Government has refused to put in place safeguards to protect Nigerians from the harsh economic situation that its policies have inflicted on citizens, but rather decided to insult the sensibilities of Nigerians by offering N8,000 per family and offering lawmakers N70 billion.
He further alleged that the Federal Government has frustrated and abandoned its committee, which was a product of social dialogue between government and workers’ bodies.
The NLC chief said while the committee has not met, the government embarked on unilateral actions and programmes, which has destabilised the peace of mind of Nigerians.
According to him, “Since Mr. President’s ‘subsidy is gone forever’ speech on inauguration day, the peace of mind of Nigerians has gone; decent living has gone, increasing despair of unimaginable dimensions.
“The Federal Government has continued to treat Nigerians as slaves and a conquered people, which it treats with impunity without any concern on the consequences.”
“Government has continued to churn out without relenting policies designed to emasculate Nigerian workers and people via not just hike in PMS prices with its spiraling effect, but also increases in VAT, increases in school fees across all publicly-owned secondary and tertiary institutions of learning.”
The Congress resolved to lead and organise mass protest rallies across the nation to demonstrate outrage against the inhuman actions and policies of the government.
It consequently directed all affiliates and state councils to begin immediate mobilisation and closely work with associations, individuals and other entities, including the ones already on the streets to ensure that the government listens to the people.
MEANWHILE, the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), which has shown solidarity with organised labour, however, said that the strike action at a time when the economy and businesses are barely struggling was not in the best interest of the country.
Director-General of NECA, Adewale Smatt-Oyerinde, who affirmed that the removal of fuel subsidy has heaped intolerable levels of hardship on Nigerian workers and households, with businesses also feeling the heat, said citizens had witnessed an astronomical increase in the cost of living, with no relief in sight.
Stating that rising inflation has further exacerbated the nation’s woes, he said the agitation by NLC was expected.
He said: “While we understand the genuine concerns of labour, strike action at a time when the economy and businesses are barely struggling is not in the best interests of all and sundry. It will, also, not bring about any positive resolution.
“Conversely, we expect the government to, as a matter of urgency, be more transparent, communicate more and resume talks with labour to build consensus. We also expect that definitive conclusions should be reached and clear roadmaps communicated to stakeholders.
“In line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 131 on Minimum Wage Fixing, the tripartite discussions on national minimum wage negotiation should commence immediately.”
Also, a former Director General of NECA, Segun Oshinowo, also stated that though the policies introduced by the Tinubu administration are inflicting unmitigated pains on Nigerians, a resort to industrial action by Labour will exacerbate the economic hardship on Nigerians.
In a statement he issued, he admitted that though the policies introduced so far have made life difficult, they are necessary to resuscitate the near-collapsed economy.
“The ongoing economic reform exercise by the new government has indeed kicked in with terrible and fiery fangs that have delivered a deadly blow to the mass of the Nigerian people. The economic policies introduced this far are urgently required actions for repositioning the parlous Nigerian economy for a rebound.”
He kicked against free floating of the naira, noting that the step is wrong, especially for an economy that massively depends on importation and lacks the capacity in the short or medium term to locally substitute much-needed imported items.
He added: “Besides, it is unlikely that the non-oil export sector can immediately take advantage of the price surge that will come with the Naira devaluation. It is therefore debatable if the free float is the best option for managing our foreign exchange market given the current structure of the economy.”
He further noted that outside empty rhetorics, the government has failed woefully to take concrete steps to bring some comfort to the suffering masses.
He argued that the excuse that social palliatives that will address the pains of the people are not things that can be hastily implemented with immediate results is not correct, saying palliatives can immediately be rolled out by a thinking and well-prepared government.
Worryingly, he admitted that the snail-speed approach in tackling the consequences of its economic policies seems to suggest the shallowness of the ‘BATnomics’.
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