The organized labor has announced the suspension of the planned nationwide indefinite strike on Monday night,
The decision came up after a tripartite meeting involving the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, the Trade Union Congress, TUC, and the Federal Government.
The reports said that the action was suspended for 30 days to allow the government to implement some of the promises contained in a memorandum of understanding signed after the meeting.
However, there seems to be no definite plan for all state and local government workers who constitute many of the civil service population.
Recall that the federal government and labor unions have recently been engaged in a running dispute over the removal of fuel subsidy led by President Bola Tinubu’s administration.
President Tinubu announced the removal of fuel subsidy during his inaugural speech on May 29.
The outcome of the policy has brought untold hardships and a high cost of living followed by increased inflation.
However, the Federal Government announced N5 billion palliative to each state of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as a way to caution the effect of the subsidy removal.
The organized labor said the palliatives are far below their expectation from the government towards ameliorating the suffering of the poor masses.
Recently, there was a 2-day warning strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress. But the Trade Union Congress disagreed, both groups later agreed and were set for an indefinite strike after the outcome of the Monday meeting.
The Monday meeting eventually led to the suspension of the planned strike for one month, to give the government time to implement the agreements reached.
However, Comrade Joe Ajaero signed the memorandum of understanding, President NLC, Comrade (Engr) Festus Osifo, TUC President, Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, General Secretary NLC and Comrade Nuhu A. Toro, Secretary General, TUC.
On the part of the government were Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment H.E. Simon Bako Lalong, Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Employment Dr Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, and Honourable Minister of Information and National Orientation Mallam Mohammed Idris.
According to the memorandum, the Federal Government agreed to grant a wage award of N35,000 (thirty-five thousand Naira) only to all Federal Government workers starting from September, pending when the government signs a new national minimum wage.
It was also stated that a minimum wage committee would be inaugurated within said one month from the date of the agreement the Federal Government would suspend collection of Value Added Tax on Diesel for six months starting from October 2023, and the Federal Government accepted to vote N100 billion to provide high-capacity CNG buses for mass transit in Nigeria, among others.
Notwithstanding, the memorandum only outlined that the Federal Government should urge State Governments through the National Economic Council and Governors Forum to implement wage awards for their workers, urging that similar consideration should also be given to local government and private sector workers.
The worry became more tensed on Tuesday as the NLC asked the State Councils to initiate engagement with their State Governments on the need for wage awards and other reliefs for workers in the states of the federation.
The union in a letter signed by its President, Comrade Joe Ajero, urged affiliates of the NLC to immediately start negotiations with their employers on the need to grant wage awards and other reliefs to members to cushion the effect of the price hike in petrol.
Ajero acknowledged that the union’s struggles were not yet complete as consequential struggle awaited them, without which their victory would not be complete.
“Congress wants to appreciate the contributions of all our Affiliates and State Councils for their great efforts in mobilizing their members towards our proposed indefinite nationwide strike that would have begun today. It was your determination and commitment that enabled the signing of the Agreement with the federal government late yesterday the 2nd of October”.
“While we congratulate all of you, we wish to remind you of the consequential struggle that awaits all of us without which our victory will not be complete”.
Our attention should be focused on the need to initiate the following actions:
“All Affiliates to immediately commence negotiations with their employers on the need to grant Wage Award and other reliefs to members to cushion the effect of the Petrol price hike”.
“All State Councils to initiate engagement with their State Governments on the need for Wage Award and other Reliefs to workers in the states of the federation”.
Reacting to the new development, the chairman of NLC Enugu State, Comrade Barrister Fabian Nwigbo expressed fear over the fate of state workers.
He said in an interview that some states may go into a new negotiation as they may not afford to pay the N35,000.00 wage award.
Nwigbo lamented that some states have been unable to pay the N30,000.00 minimum wage since its introduction let alone #35,000.
He reinstated that the national leadership of organized labor should write a strongly-worded letter to all the state councils to be forwarded to the governors.
“My fear is as good as every chairman of the state council that another war will start with the decision of the federal government that N35,000.00 should be added as wage award for the federal workers”.
“Although they also encouraged the state governments to ensure that they pay, you know, as we speak, up to 18 states in the country have not complied with the N30,000.00 minimum wage”.
“We are lucky that in Enugu State, the previous administration started it immediately. We believe strongly that the present administration will not hesitate to key into this federal government approval”.
“But in those states where you have issues with the governors, we are afraid that another negotiation is going to start. So that is the major fear. And some states may decide not to pay completely. They may go into a negotiation or may afford to pay N25,000.00, or N30,000.00, and so on. They have the legal right to determine what they will pay because this is a wage award, not a minimum wage”.
“Even when we have a minimum wage, some refused to pay, and the House of Assembly allowed them. It was a breach of the law, which is one of the conditions for a chief executive can be impeached. But our system is terrible”.
“We fear that some of the States may try to go into negotiation again and try not to pay the complete N35,000.00 or even not pay at all as a result of disagreement. That is our fear”.
“We are expecting the national leadership of organized labor to write a strong-worded letter to all the state councils, which will be forwarded to the governors, ordering them to ensure that they comply with that national directive, without which, they should be ready for action that will come from all angles”.
“It is not going to be the state alone; the national body should support any state that would be denied such an opportunity”.
“Generally, one may not be completely satisfied, but considering what is currently going on in the economy, we may say, ‘Let’s take what we have gotten’. If not, what is N35,000.00 to an average worker, most of whom should have about five to ten dependents”.
“For me, that money is inadequate. But one may say, let’s use it as a stepping stone and see what the minimum wage next year will look like”.
“But when you talk about this thing, is it now N30,000.00 minimum wage plus N35,000.00 for those that may be lucky to get it? You may come to a point where fuel is sold at N600.00 to N700.00, and you know most of our economy depends on fuel price. But the wage award is better than nothing.”
“We wish to stress Congress’s steadfast commitment to the success of our collective objectives which hinges on our shared resolve to free our members and fellow Nigerians from the ongoing challenges imposed by negative policies of Government. The course of our destinies rests firmly within our grasp,” the statement partly read”.
While acknowledging the Affiliates and State Councils’ contribution so far, the statement said the union’s attention should focused on them.
The Anambra State NLC Chairman, Humphery Nwafor stated that all the states and even the private sectors were expected to queue in with the agreement labor reached with the federal government.
Nwafor said that although it will not be easy, the NLC at the center will be part of the struggle when the states begin to engage their various governments after meeting with the Governors’ Forum cum Economic Council.
He said, “The issue is that during our national executive council meeting yesterday, those of us from the state asked questions. The answer was that the negotiation was going to be a benchmark. All the states and even the private sectors will key in from there. And no state is expected to pay less than N35,000.00”.
“You know, it is not going to be easy, but the national secretariat of the NLC is going to be part of the struggle when we begin to engage our various state governments after they meet with the Governors’ Forum and the Economic Council. The state council will begin to engage with the governors”.
“You should bear in mind that some of the governors have made pronouncements. They have given some cash awards, some N10,000. Like Anambra State, we have N12,00,000. Whatever we should be talking about should be based on the disparities”.
“It is not as if the agreement did not cover the state and local government. In item number 10, you can see that they said the ‘states are urged’. So we are part of it”.
“You know minimum wage will be due for review next year, early next year. It is part of what we discussed in our meeting. So, I believe, even in that MoU, you can see that the minimum wage is there too. The committee is going to be formed within one month for the review of minimum wage”.
“And this N35,000.00 given to the federal workers as of today is going to last till the new minimum wage is passed into law. It is part of what we are going to engage our government because, you know, like Anambra State, our own is going to last for four months, starting from September”.
“The first payment has been made, remaining October, November and December. Although the government said, it is going to be reviewed after three months. But this agreement, as stipulated with labor, will last till a new minimum wage is passed into law”.
“I don’t think we are going to have that old system; maybe after negotiation, states will go back to start their struggle again. We are going to have an innovation because we have a new leadership”.
“I believe we, the leadership of organized labor at the national level, will see how they will integrate the governors into whatever negotiation we are going to do at the state level. Although they have not said it, I know Joe Ajaero’s leadership and administration have something to offer”.