Why you can’t go on your planned strike, FG tells NLC, TUC

ABUJA— The Federal Government yesterday asked the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and its Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, counterpart, to shelve their planned nationwide indefinite strike from October 3, saying going ahead with the proposed industrial action will amount to a gross violation of a subsisting court injunction.

The National Economic Council, NEC, also yesterday appealed to the labour unions not to embark on the indefinite strike, asking both the Federal Government and labour to continue negotiations at the state level.

These positions came on a day the NLC insisted that the strike would go ahead, even as the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, directed members, including the Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, Petrol Stations Workers, PSW, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers, LPGAR, and all other allied workers in the value chain of petroleum products distribution to comply with the strike directive.

Recall that the NLC had earlier yesterday, denied entering into any agreement with the Federal Government to suspend the proposed indefinite strike, even as it said it had no scheduled meeting with the government.

However, the government said issues bordering on fuel subsidy removal, which informed the decision of the NLC and the TUC to declare the strike, are pending before the National Industrial Court, NIC.

FG writes unions through their lawyer

Speaking through the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, the government wrote to the head of the legal team of the two unions, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, urging him to persuade his clients to abort the planned strike.

The letter, dated September 26, read: “The attention of the Ministry has been drawn to media reports on the proposed nationwide strike action by the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, scheduled to commence on October 3, 2023.

“You are kindly invited to recall the antecedence of previous steps/actions on this matter, particularly the exchange of correspondence between this office and your firm, before and after the nationwide “action/protest” declared by the NLC on August 2, 2023.

“Whilst your clients had maintained that the nationwide protest by NLC is in furtherance of its constitutional right to embark on protests, the ministry has repeatedly advised on the need to advise your clients to refrain from resorting to self-help and taking actions capable of undermining subsisting orders of a court of competent jurisdiction.

“It is also to be recalled that based on the conduct of the said nationwide action/protest, this office instituted contempt proceedings against the labour leaders.
“However, upon the intervention of the President and National Assembly, coupled with the decision of the labour unions to discontinue their action/protest, the contempt proceedings were not prosecuted further.

“This was advisedly done to enable the government and labour unions engage in further negotiations without any form of encumbrances.

“However, in its communiqué issued at the end of its National Executive Council, NEC, meeting on August 31, 2023, NLC resolved to embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the nation within 14 working days or 21 days from 31st August 2023.

“Also on September 26, 2023, the Presidents of NLC and TUC, jointly issued a communiqué stating that organised labour had resolved, ‘to embark on an indefinite and total shutdown of the nation beginning on zero hours Tuesday, the 3rd day of October, 2023.’

“From a review of the contents of the above communiqués and available media reports, the proposed strike action is premised principally in furtherance of issues connected with the removal of fuel subsidy, hike in fuel price and consequential matters of making provisions for palliatives and workers welfare.

“These are undoubtedly issues that have been submitted to the National Industrial Court for adjudication.

‘’Therefore, the proposed strike is in clear violation of the pending interim injunctive order granted on June 5, 2023, restraining both Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress from embarking on any industrial action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the pending Motion on Notice.

“We wish to reiterate that a court order, regardless of the opinion of any party on it, remains binding and enforceable until set aside.

“It is the expectation of the public that the labour unions would lead in obedience and observance of court orders and not in its breach.

“It is therefore the earnest expectation of this Office that your distinguished law firm will advise the labour unions on the need to protect the integrity of courts and observe the sanctity of court orders.

“Consequently, you are kindly requested to impress it upon the organized labour unions to note the fact that their proposed strike action is in gross breach of the subsisting court order, as well as the appropriateness of addressing their grievances/demands within the ambit of the law.

“Hence, the need for them to be more accommodating and show greater appreciation of the effect of the order of the court, by shelving the strike action.

“The foregoing will afford parties more room for further mutual engagements, for a holistic and sustainable resolution of all outstanding issues on this matter in the overall national interest.”

Among those the letter was copied include the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chief Of Staff to the President, National Security Adviser, Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General, State Security Services.

NEC appeals to Labour to suspend planned strike, urges patience

Also yesterday, the National Economic Council, NEC, presided over by Vice President Kashim Shettima, appealed to Organized Labour to put on hold the proposed indefinite nationwide strike from Tuesday, October 3, 2023.

Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the NEC meeting at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, the governor of Plateau State, Caleb Mutfwang, said Council asked labour leaders to resume negotiations at the state level.

Mutfwang said Council was of the opinion that continuing on the path of dialogue would be the best option for the economy, especially at the state level.

“Council noted the notice by the national leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress to proceed on an indefinite strike from October 3, 2023.

‘’The Council noted further the implication of this strike for the economy and the nation and thus urged members to continue to engage with the leadership of their respective states and to appeal to them to shelve the action and continue on the path of dialogue with the federal government. This is the appeal of Council,” the governor said.

Explaining the grounds for NEC’s appeal, the governor described the situation of most of the states when the various governors took off on May 29, noting that many of them were just coming out of prolonged industrial strikes.

According to him, enforcing a new strike at this time will further damage the economy.

He, however, appealed for more time for government to work on addressing the concerns of labour, even as he noted that there were feelers indicating that leadership at every level genuinely wanted the issues raised by labour addressed once and for all.

The governor said: “NEC actually expressed genuine concern on the situation in the country and appreciates the concern by Labour to have those issues addressed. That is why NEC is appealing for patience, appealing for time to be able to address the concerns of Labour. We also believe that Mr. President will be addressing the nation first of October and some of the concerns of Labour will be appropriately addressed in the President’s speech.

“It is, therefore, important that… it’s a federation, so whatever happens Labour is represented in all the 36 states and the FCT and NEC is appealing that discussions should continue at the state levels because there will be peculiarities as to the issues to be addressed concerning the demands of Labour, therefore dialogue is the way to go.

“The nation is at a very critical moment at this time, some of the states, when they took over on May 29, the workers were on strike, some of those issues have just been resolved for the workers to return to work. To ask them to go back immediately, it’s going to further damage the economy.

“Therefore, NEC, while expressing genuine concern about the situation in the country, appeals for calm and patience and I want to believe that the leadership across the nation at this point in time wants to truly address the issues that concern labour and the general populace and move the country forward.’’

No agreement to suspend strike

Nevertheless, the NLC yesterday dismissed reports credited to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, that it had an agreement to suspend the strike, discrediting also reports of any scheduled meeting with the Federal Government over the planned strike.

In a statement yesterday by its Head of Information and Public Affairs, Benson Upah, titled “We have no agreement with government to suspend strike”, NLC faulted the purported press statement by the Director of Press, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr Olajide Oshundun, on the proposed strike and illegal occupation of the secretariat of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, describing the statement as ladened with inconsistencies.

NLC said: “Accordingly, we find it necessary to make clarifications. Firstly, we do not have any agreement with government to suspend the planned strike, neither do we have any date for a meeting with government that may lead to the suspension of the proposed strike.

“While we do not intend to demean or minimise the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment, this matter is beyond the ministry. This should have been obvious to them during our most recent meeting.

“Secondly, while we appreciate the role played by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, in securing the release of executives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers from unlawful/illegal police detention, we take exception to the ministry describing these executives as factional leaders.

“They were lawfully elected into office. We still find it necessary to advise the Police and those elements behind their travails to desist from this despicable and shameful conduct.

‘’They are advised to retrace their steps. If democracy is to be of meaning to us, then we should resist the urge or temptation for impunity. Enough is enough.”

NUPENG directs tanker drivers, others to comply with strike

In the meantime, one of the unions in the critical sector of the nation’s economy, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, has directed members, to ensure full compliance with the strike as announced by Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC.

Specifically, NUPENG said the Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, Petrol Stations Workers, PSW, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers, LPGAR, and all other allied workers in the value chain of petroleum products distribution must comply with the strike from midnight of Tuesday, October 3, 2023.

In a statement, titled “Mobilization for a nationwide industrial action”, NUPENG’s President and General Secretary, Prince Williams Akporeha and Afolabi Olawale, lamented that it appeared “the administration is arrogantly taking the goodwill and the tolerance level of the workers and Nigerians in general for granted.”

The union contended that “beyond any reasonable doubts, the government has demonstrated high insensitivity, lack of respect and regards to organized labour and the Nigerian masses.”

The statement read: “Consequent upon the joint resolution of the NEC of NLC and TUC as the outcome of the joint NEC meeting of the two labour federations, held on September 25, 2O23, we wish to inform all our members in the formal and informal sectors of the Nigeria oil and gas industry and alert the general public that the rank and file members of our union are hereby directed to commence full mobilization and ensure an unwavering compliance with the directive of the two labour centres to all affiliate industrial unions to embark on a nationwide industrial action from midnight of 3 October, 2023.

“The leadership of NUPENG finds it so disturbing and unfortunate that the federal government and other tiers of governments are so insensitive to the excruciating and debilitating socio-economic pains Nigerians are passing through as a result of very harsh and sudden economic policies taken by this administration without any accompanying socio-economic policies to ameliorate and cushion the immediate effects and impacts those difficult and harsh policies are having on the citizenry.

“Further worrisome to us is the apparent lack of regards and respect to cries and yearnings of Organised Labour, Civil Society Organisations and the general public by this administration.

‘’It appears the administration is arrogantly taking the goodwill and the tolerance level of the workers and Nigerians in general for granted.

“This arrogance is demonstrated clearly and loudly by the manner meetings with Organized Labour and outcomes of such meetings are taken with levity and disrespect.

“The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, is aware of the huge impact a 24-hour industrial action by labour can have on businesses and socio-economic lives of the nation.

“Unfortunately, the government’s actions and inactions are inextricably forcing Organized Labour to take this very hard and painful route of last resort to demand for needful socio-economic policies to ameliorate and cushion the debilitating and dehumanizing living conditions of Nigerians generally.

“Beyond any reasonable doubt, the government has demonstrated high insensitivity, lack of respect and regards to organized labour and the Nigerian masses.

“Therefore, it is in the light of the above, that NUPENG as a responsive and responsible affiliate Union of NLC, will fully comply with the resolution of the joint NEC meeting and we hereby direct the leaders in the four zonal councils of our great union to mobilize all our members in the formal and informal sectors to shut down services effective October 3, 2023.

“All NUPENG members, including the Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD, Petrol Stations Workers, PSW, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers, LPGAR, and all other allied workers in the value chain of petroleum products distribution must comply with this directive from midnight of Tuesday, October 3, 2023.

“All branches and units of our union are to take note and ensure full compliance by setting up compliance and monitoring teams in all operational locations.”

CSOs, rights activists to enforce sit-at-home

Lending support to the planned strike, the United Action Front of Civil Society, the organised platform of civil society groups and activists on matters of governance and democracy in Nigeria, yesterday endorsed the strike.

The group in a statement issued by the Head, National Coordinating Centre, United Action Front of Civil Society, Olawale Okunniyi, claimed that the the present government lacked the requisite wherewithal to fix the rots allegedly perpetrated by the immediate past government of the same party.

The statement read: “It is unfortunate that while the arbitrary fuel price hike in the name of subsidy removal on premium motor spirit, PMS, has pushed most Nigerians below poverty line, government continues to play the Ostrich, in spite of the promises made to labour leaders on the need for upward review of workers’ wages, including palliatives, to citizens, among others.

“The leadership of organised civil society, therefore, urges all Nigerians to rally behind NLC and TUC in protest against the insensitivity and dubious politics of the Nigerian government, which has, so far, demonstrated total lack of comprehension and sensitivity to the economic challenges facing the country.

“We wish to reiterate that the inhuman policy of arbitrary hike in fuel price has further impoverished and pauperised millions of households, who were hitherto merely coping with meagre wages and incomes for their livelihoods.

“It is evident that the present government lacks the requisite wherewithal to fix the rots perpetrated by the immediate past government of the same party and may eventually end up worsening the situation.

‘’It is regrettable that rather than prioritise reduction in the costs of governance, the Tinubu administration is deliberately indulging in over-bloated appointments as typified by the appointment of the highest number of ministers and the largest cabinet yet in Nigeria history.

“It is also regrettable that the National Assembly which only recently arbitrarily allocated public funds to its members who embarked on recess, has also increased the number of its standing committees, which would also translate into additional costs of governance in an economy where overwhelming majority of the masses could barely cope with the costs of living in Nigeria or afford one square meal.

“The leadership of the United Action Front of the Civil Society, therefore, urges Nigerians across public and private sectors to rally support for the NLC and TUC in demanding living wages for the working people and improvement in the living conditions of Nigerians, while decrying the insensitivity and deceitful ploy of the Nigerian government to pauperise and enslave them and ensure the reversal of the suffocating policies of economic slavery in the name fuel subsidy removal.

“Again, we wish to emphasise that the Tinubu administration cannot in good conscience insist on arbitrary fuel price hike while those who looted the national treasury in the name of subsidy are today being accorded red-carpet treatment all over the place.

“More disturbing is that the government appears determined to subject the citizens to more hardship with the prevailing abysmal exchange rate with consequences for higher inflation in the country.

“To this end, the indefinite strike declared by the NLC and TUC is inevitable to save the country from impending upheaval, as the harrowing economic situation may heighten self-help, insecurity and violent protests.

“It is deceitful for the government to have delayed the review of minimum wage, considering that the present N30,000 monthly can no longer support an average Nigerian worker who, under the prevailing economic situation, has more than three dependants, in addition to the immediate family.

“We call on the NLC and the TUC to remain resolute in defending the country against all forms of anti-masses policies that have foisted unmitigated poverty on millions of Nigerians and unprecedented unemployment and hardship in both the urban and rural communities.

“The leadership of the United Action Front of Civil Society wishes to enjoin all civil society leaders, activists, working people in the private and public sectors as well as all well meaning Nigerians in general to team up with us in rallying support for the success of the indefinite strike declared by labour.’’

Give dialogue a chance -Reps deputy spokesman

Reacting to the planned strike yesterday, deputy spokesman of the House of Representatives, Philip Agbese, pleaded with leaders of NLC and TUC to shelve the planned strike, assuring Nigerians that the removal of fuel subsidy by President Bola Tinubu was in the best interest of the country and would soon be celebrated.

According to the lawmaker, fuel subsidy has been a part of the nation since the 1970s, with the government routinely selling petrol to citizens at below cost to minimize the impact of rising global oil prices.

He said: “President Tinubu must be commended for taking the bold step to save the future of our nation. Fuel subsidy was no longer attainable. It is on record that about N40.1 billion is spent daily to subsidize every litre of petrol consumed in Nigeria by at least N600. It means the government spends about N1.24 trillion on fuel subsidies monthly.

“The country is in massive debt and would need more money to subsidize fuel. According to the World Bank, the government is projected to achieve fiscal savings of approximately two trillion naira ($2.6 billion) in 2023, equivalent to 0.9 percent of GDP. These savings are expected to reach over N11 trillion ($14.3bilion) by the end of 2025.

“This will be invested in healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Indeed, the advantages of the removal of subsidy would not just come up immediately. It is not possible because the economy is not strong. We don’t have money to start implementing measures that will ameliorate the removal of the subsidy.

“However, we must look beyond the present. The future of our great nation is at stake. I want to commend President Tinubu for this brave decision. In a matter of time, Nigerians will smile.

“Let me also use this opportunity to appeal to the organised labour not to succumb to agents of destabilization who want to pull us back. The issue of palliatives and better welfare for all citizens is paramount before the Asiwaju government.

“Our nation cannot withstand another mass action. We are trying to build not destroy. Labour should, therefore, give dialogue a chance and at least be patient with this administration. It is still early days.”


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