UPDATED: After meeting FG delegation, NLC insists on total strike

Ngige addressing journalist in his office
Ngige addressing journalist in his office

A meeting between the federal government and Nigeria’s organised labour unions failed to hold back the indefinite warning strike called by the unions.

As a result of the deadlock, the workers said the strike will start at 12:01 a.m on Thursday as scheduled.

PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, declared a total strike at a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday.

Mr Wabba said the strike will be total and comprehensive.

“In compliance with this mandate, all workers and private sector at all levels across the country have been directed to comply.

“All public and private institutions, offices, banks, schools, public and private business premises including filling station are to remain shut till further noticed,” he said.

After the declaration, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, Wednesday afternoon called a meeting with the union leaders.

But the outcome was that the two sides will meet again on October 4, with organised labour announcing after the meeting the schedule for the warning strike stands.

“We just had a meeting where the Minister of Labour, Ngige tried to update us. This is the first meeting and he tried to update us on what they are trying to do. The briefing needs to be communicated to our membership,” Mr Wabba said.

According to him, “our demand is that the tripartite negotiating council should be called back to conclude its assignment on minimum wage.”

The National Minimum Wage Committee was inaugurated November 2017 but commenced work March this year and drew timelines to deliver a new national minimum wage by August/ September.

Mr Ngige had in February at the 40th anniversary celebration of the NLC, assured workers they would have a new minimum wage by September.

The workers are demanding between N50,000 and 65,000 as the new minimum wage. The current national minimum wage is N18,000.

Despite the insistence of organised labour, however, there is no consensus in Nigeria over a national minimum wage.

Most state governors as well as proponents of true federalism have argued that states should be allowed to set their own minimum wage, especially as many states are barely able to pay the current one.

Before the meeting with the minister, Mr Wabba Wednesday morning had issued a statement that there were clear signs government was not ready for a new national minimum wage, accusing it of taking workers for a ride.

“Given this circumstance, this warning strike is absolutely necessary. It is a precursor to the main strike which will be the mother of all strikes!”

Mr Wabba said the justification for a new national minimum wage cannot be over argued and is not about salary-earning Nigerians only.

“May we remind all Nigerians that before this government increased the pump price of petroleum products by over 80 percent and devalued the Naira by over a 100 percent, commodity prices were considerably cheaper, tariffs were more friendly, rents and transportation charges were bearable, while wages of workers have remained static,” he said in the statement.

After the meeting with the federal government on Wednesday, the deputy President of United Labour Congress(ULC), Achese Igwe, stressed that the strike will begin Wednesday midnight.

Mr Igwe said that the meeting called by the minister was to brief the organised labour on the update of the Federal Government activities as it concern the new national minimum wage.

“I want to say that our demand still stands until government comply,’’ he said

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the second largest labour union, TUC, had also asked its members to commence the strike.

But, the minister, Mr Ngige, said the tripartite committee on the new national minimum wage will reconvene its meeting on October 4, to conclude its negotiation process.

Mr Ngige, who is also the deputy chairman of the tripartite committee, said one of the ways to show that the government is labour-friendly is by implementing the new national minimum wage.

“We are resuming next week, precisely on Thursday, October 4 and the meeting may split over to October 5, as we normally use two days for the meeting.

“The labour leaders have been informed about it and are expected to communicate to their members. We do not need to have any strike in the country,” he said.

According to Mr Ngige, before the meeting on October 4, all necessary demands by organised labour would have been factored in.

“Part of our consultation, means that the Economic Management Team which is managing the entire economy of the country would have something to work on. Already they are working on it and the National Salaries and Wages Commission and it is expected that before that meeting on October 4. They would have been through with the work”, Mr Ngige said.

The minister said everything was subject to negotiation, while noting that the federal government will go back to the negotiating table October 4.

“The 14-day ultimatum issued to the Federal Government did not get to me, otherwise we would have addressed it scientifically the way it should be done. We are optimistic that the committee would wrap up in October and all other processes as it concern the new national minimum wage for workers in the country,” he said.

Mr Ngige agreed there was a breach in communication between the federal government and the unions.

“I am in touch with the government and the committee. I can tell you that a lot of work has been going on. What we had is a breach in communication. There was communication from your office which didn’t get to me and so the expected reply didn’t come,” he concluded.

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Bassey Udo is PREMIUM TIMES’ Business & Economy Editor. He has covered finance, energy, oil, gas & extractive industries for over a decade. He is a winner of the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation (Wealth of Nations) Award for Business Reporting. Bassey is an alumnus of the U.S. International Visitors Leadership Programme. Twitter: @ba_udo


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