FG, Labour adamant as court stops strike

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Cross River: Tension heightens as workers begin indefinite strike
Ayuba Wabba

…Labour insists FG must reverse hikes in petrol price, electricity tariff

…Time for deregulation’s now – FG

…Wabba asks private sector unions to shut down

…Nigeria belongs to few politicians, says TUC boss

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

Despite an order by the National Industrial Court, NIC, on the Nigeria Labour Congress , NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, not to embark on the nationwide strike scheduled for Monday, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice, the two unions insisted on the action  yesterday, saying they were not aware of any order

The court, according to online portal, TheCable,  also restrained the unions, their officers, affiliates, privies or howsoever described from disrupting, restraining, picketing or preventing the workers or its affiliates or ordinary Nigerians from accessing their offices to carry out their legitimate duties on September 28, 2020, or any other subsequent date pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

Trial vacation judge, Justice Ibrahim Galadima made the order sequel to an ex-parte application filed by the Incorported Trustees of Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association through their counsel, Sunusi Musa.

The Court also granted an order compelling the Inspector General of Police and the Director General Department of State Services to provide protection for the claimants and other Nigerian worker engaged in their legitimate duties from any form of harassment, intimidation and bullying by the officers, agents or privies of the unions, pending the hearing and determination of the case.

FG, Labour adamant

Nevertheless, Organized Labour and the Federal Government yesterday held on to their positions on the recent increase in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff at the meeting convened by government to find a way out of the strike scheduled to start on Monday.

While Labour insisted that government must reverse the increments to stave off strike, Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, justified deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, which gave rise to the fuel price increase and why it should stand, insisting that deregulation of the petroleum sector was long overdue.

He also stressed the need for Nigerians to cooperate with government on the increase in electricity tariff, explaining that the decision was not to inflict pains on them.

Labour’s insistence on reversal of the increments came as the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and President of Trade Union Congress, TUC, Comrade  Quadri Olaleye, were locked in hot verbal exchanges over the letter the union addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the prices of petrol and electricity tariff.

However, the TUC President maintained the union’s previous position that government should revert to the old prices before any discussion could continue.

The meeting, which took place at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, had in attendance the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, the Minister of Power, the Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, SAN, and some relevant agencies and parastatals.

Sources at the technical session which was behind closed doors told Vanguard that labour did not changed its previous position that government should go back to the old prices of petrol and electricity tariff.

Also, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, yesterday asked the private sector unions to ensure total compliance once the nationwide strike commences by shutting down all production activities.

Withdraw your statement, TUC tells Ngige

In his presentation, the TUC President, Olaleye, told Senator Ngige to withdraw the statement that his union was not right to write direct to President Muhammadu Buhari, arguing that as the President of the country, all the economic decisions end on his table.

Besides, Comrade Olaleye during his presentation insisted that the TUC stood on its earlier submission that the government should reverse the increases before there could be any discussion.

He said: “The most important thing to us today (yesterday) is that we are here, we are engaging with you. Like I mentioned in the last meeting we had here that if we have been having constructive engagement in the past, maybe we would have been able to solve some of these problems.

“But the government turned a deaf ear to us, even before the arrival of the world enemy, COVID-19. We have written to government suggesting alternative way to run the economy, but nobody ever listened.

“I can send to you many communications from the Labour movement suggesting solutions and now we have found ourselves in this situation but the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are suffering and it is our responsibility as Labour centres to fight for their rights, to protect their interests.

“N30,000 minimum wage was agreed last year and now there is increase in PMS price, increase in tariff of electricity, introduction of stamp duty and some other hardship on workers and their families . We live in a country where a worker is responsible for more than 12 people.

“At least eight from his family and the other four from the in-laws’ house. I wonder how N30,000 will be able to cater for all these but instead of government to look at a better way to increase our lot, we are the sacrificial animal to make the economy better for few people.

 ‘Nigeria belongs to few politicians’

“I heard when the minister mentioned that the country belongs to all of us, I as a person except you change my impression, I believe the country belongs to the few politicians that take decisions and make policies that are very hard for us to live in this country.

“If the country belongs to all of us, the question is why are people running out of this country, our youths are running out of this country despite all the dangerous obstacles on the road, many have lost their lives.”

“Can somebody runs out of his father’s house when nothing is pursuing him? So definitely the answer is not. Let’s make the country to belong to all of us so that we can be bona fide owners of our country.

“Democracy is all about the people, we voted a few people to represent us at the government level and when decisions and policies are to be formed, we are the first to be considered.

“The politicians have scrapped the middle class that we used to have, they have taken away our hope, it’s either you are rich in this country now or you are poor. No more middle class and these are the things we need people to look into if we actually want peace in the country.”

I’m not withdrawing my statement, says Ngige

But reacting to the call for withdrawal of his statement, Senator Ngige said: “I have been the Minister of Labour and Employment for five years plus. I have attended all International Labour Organisation, ILO, sessions, Governing Board and General Assembly, I have not missed any.

“I am also a member of the Governing Board of ILO. The statue of ILO is very clear to me and the Labour laws of the country is very clear to me. In the ILO, Presidents and head of states are invited as honourary members to come and address.

“The competent authority of every country is the Minister of Labour. In many climes, it’s Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Minister of Labour and Public Civil Service Affairs and Minister of Labour and Social Investment.

“The Minister of Labour is the competent authority of any country. In those countries too, labour matters are first addressed to the Minister of Labour.

“We have not tried to enforce this rigidly as it should be but in other climes, all labour and industrial matters and social security are channelled to government to Head of State through the Minister of Labour.

“So my friend, the new President of TUC, I don’t want to start altercation before we start our technical session but I want to put the record straight for you so that in case your Secretary General has not educated you properly, then let him do so.

“You have no business with the President of Nigeria. Your place of business is with Ministry of Labour and Employment of Federal Republic of Nigeria.  The issue is not labour dispute such as wage negotiation but in the same vein, you have talked about your earnings as workers being eroded.

“If you want to address social and socio-economic issues, the civil societies and political parties are there. You can belong to those ones and then you can write to Mr. President and castigate him but when you talk about the working class in Nigeria and their welfare, erosion of their wages and anything that has to do with them and their families concomitantly, you address it through the Ministry of Labour.

“So, there is nothing to withdraw from my earlier statement and I still stand by it and also say by a correspondent of communiqué sent to me by Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, they have affirmed to me that they are doing this with their sister organisation. You don’t address Minister of Labour on the social media. I needy my letter.

“You must respect my office and I will also respect your own too but if you don’t respect my office, I will not respect your own, simple.

“I don’t want this to continue. I have raised it with the TUC President before. The TUC President after being elected, did not see his Minister of Labour, he did not correspond to his Minister of Labour about the election, he went ahead to book an appointment to see the President and the Vice President.

“I will not sit and allow this to continue. All correspondence to government, President should come to Ministry of Labour, that is the channel. If I don’t react, you can report me by doing a reportage to higher authority but as far as Nigeria is concern, I’m the competent authority here on labour matters.”

We had a fruitful meeting—Ngige

Speaking after the meeting, Ngige said: “Fruitful meeting. They are going back to their organs. When they consult their organs tomorrow,   next tomorrow maybe they will take a new decision.

We have requested them to shelve the strike. We have appealed to them to shelve the strike.

The government side agreed proposals with them on the palliative to cushion the effect of the rise in petroleum products and electricity. The meeting agreed to adjourn to Monday, 3pm we had a fruitful discussion.

Govt’s palliatives

Vanguard gathered that among government proposals to labour include provision of affordable houses for workers, that Ministry of Petroleum Resources to will purchase buses to ease workers’ transportation, that CBN/Ministry of Agriculture will liaise with labour  to secure loans for workers for farming, that Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to release 2.5billion as palliatives for very poor civil servants between grade level 1 to 4 and the N30,000 new minimum wage will not be taxed.

Deregulation long overdue — SGF

Speaking earlier in his opening remarks, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha,said the deregulation of the petroleum sector was long overdue.

He said the policy was not to inflict hardship on the masses, adding that at the end of the day, the people will be better for it.

He said: “The President has said that no government decision taken is intended to cause any pain or harm. Decisions that have been taken are of utmost interest to all people and working class.

“I have the privilege of working in Presidential transition committee set up by President Buhari and I remember the decisions that were presented to him.

“One of the decisions by the team considered as low hanging fruit in 2015 was deregulation, and I think President Buhari objected to it.  Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report. There was the need to consider seriously issues relating to deregulation of the petroleum sector, and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency, within the power sector on what needed to be done.

“When the report was submitted to Buhari   his reaction was that the Nigerian people elected him not to inflict pain on them. He said though he considers that economically as a low hanging fruit, he felt that the time was not yet ripe for it, that the important thing is to manage before such decision will ever be taken.

“Five years down the line, that decision has become imperative and cannot be changed, it is a decision that must have been painfully considered.

“I am just sharing this  in order to put in perceptive the fact that the decision was never intended to cause great pain and erode the well being of our people.”

We’ve been on same issue for 30 years — Wabba

President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba said that Labour was the only organization that is pan Nigeria and that the best way to address challenges, whether social economy or labour issues was to try to proactively engage Labour and have its perspective.

He said:  “We are here to continue with the dialogue that started last week. As you are aware, after the dialogue, we were able to update all our members.

“We are here to find a lasting solution to perennial issue of the twin challenge of increase in pump price in the name of deregulation and also the issue electricity tariff increase, which we have explained the impact on Nigerian workers, but importantly the larger Nigerian society

“The last time we were here, we also had a lot of discussion about what we expect tht should have been done. If we have been on the same issue for over 30 years. All of us could recall that in the analogy we gave in the last meeting, this particular issue started in 1988 under Babangida under the name of deregulation or subsidy removal.

“I think the argument has been the same – people want to see reduction in those prices which will then improve the lives of nigerians, particularly workers.”

Ensure total strike compliance — Wabba

Meanwhile, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, yesterday asked the private sector unions to ensure total compliance once the nationwide strike commences by shutting down all production activities.

The NLC president gave the order in Ibadan Oyo State, in a speech he delivered at the 12 Delegates Conference of the National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees, NUCFRLANMPE,

Represented by one of the Vice Presidents of NLC and President of the National Union of Nigeria Nurses Midwives, AbdulRafiu Adeniji, Wabba said: “You understand more than most Nigerians the critical place of electricity in boosting production and making the price of goods and services cheaper. “Unfortunately, the recent increase in electricity tariff has presented Nigerians with the double jeopardy of dealing with astronomical increases in the price of goods and services and COVID-19.

“Well, Organized Labour says “NO WAY”. Enough is Enough. For over thirty years now, we have given government the chance and benefit of the doubt to fix our refineries but successive governments have failed to repay our faith with necessary actions.

“This time, the Nigeria Labour Congress would lead workers all over country on an indefinite strike action. This time, the strike action will be total. We are also mobilizing Nigerians and patriotic civil society groups for peaceful protests.

“Nigerian workers and people have had enough already. As we did in 2016, on September 28, 2020 we will be withdrawing our services if government fails to reverse the recent price increases on petrol and electricity.”

Vanguard

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