By Eric Elezuo
As is always the case when organised labour engages the Federal Government, back and forth is the order of the day. The case is not different with the demand for a new minimum wage, which has been in the public domain for as long as anyone can remember.
While labour comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress, on one hand battle to achieve at least N30, 000 minimum wage, having bulded from its original demand of N56, 000, the Federal Government are making an offer of N24, 000. Both parties have rejected each others proposition.
Consequent upon the disagreement and loggerhead, Labour has called out its over 40 member associations to embark on an indefinite strike pending when the government agrees to toe their line. The strike is called for Tuesday, November 6, 2018, and is intended to be total.
However, in taking a proactive measure, the government has obtained a court injunction restraining Labour from embarking on the said strike.
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria ordered Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress not to embark on its indefinite strike scheduled to commence on November 6.
Justice Sanusi Kado gave the order in a ruling on an ex parte application moved on behalf of the Federal Government by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata.
Agreeing with Apata, Justice Kado ruled that if the strike is allowed it would lead to huge economic loss to both public and private institutions and could jeopardise the health of many Nigerians who would not be able to access health facilities during the period.
Justice Kado adjourned the matter till November 8 for the hearing of the motion on notice seeking the interlocutory injunction to stop the strike.
The judge ordered that the court order and other papers be filed on all the defendants.
He ruled, “In view of all that I have been saying above, it is the overall interest of justice and stability of the society to grant the order of interim injunction against the 1st and 2nd defendants (NLC and TUC), their members, privies, agents, proxies, workmen, or servants from embarking on or taking part in the planned strike or industrial action scheduled to commence on November 6, 2018, in whatever form pending the hearing or determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction which is pending before the court.
“It is also necessary to grant an order of interim injunction restraining the 1st and 2nd defendants (NLC and TUC), their members, privies, agents, proxies, employees, workmen, or servants from engaging or taking part in any conduct or act in contemplation or furtherance of the strike or industrial action scheduled to commence on November 6, 2018, pending the hearing and determination5 of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
The suit marked, NICN/ABJ/287/2018, was filed on November 1, 2018 in the name of the Federal Government and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, as the 1st and 2nd claimants, respectively.
In a swift reaction however, the organised labour said that there was no going back on the November 6 proposed strike over the non-implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage. This was confirmed in a joint communique issued by the trio of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress of Nigeria ( TUC) and the United Labour Congress ( ULC) – after a meeting of their joint central working committee in Lagos.
The NLC President, Mtr. Ayuba Wabba urged the members to be steadfast and dedicated to achieve their objective as workers would never receive improved welfare except through struggle. He also said that the ‘no work no pay’ rule by the government was wrong as it negates the labour law and international convention to which Nigeria was a signatory.
On his part, Mr Joe Ajaero, ULC President, reiterated that labour would not hesitate to stop the strike if the government fulfilled its N30,000 minimum wage demand. Ajaero said that labour would continue to meet and negotiate with the government until midnight of the expiration of the strike.
It would be recalled that the Nigeria Governors Forum on Oct. 30 announced that states would only pay N22,500 minimum wage, a move that was swiftly rejected by the organised labour. They called for the implementation of the tripartite committee report concluded on Oct. 5 or it would go on a nationwide strike. Workers were advised to commence preparation to ensure the strike was effective.
The three labour body maintained that they are opened to further negotiations before the November 6 date, it had not received any court injunction to stop the strike contrary to any report.
”We are not aware of any court injunction. we will not discuss it because it is speculative. We advise that the minimum wage committee be allowed to submit its report,” Ajaero said.
In his own remark, TUC’s president, Mr Bobboi Kaigama, said the door of the organise labour remained open for discussion and advised that the report reached by the committee be submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari.
With the flexing of muscles by the Federal Government and the organised labour, the regular Nigerian could only wish that something happens to prevent the strike in order not to plunge families into perpetual suffering as the court has rightly said.
But as November 6 draws dangerously close, everyone stands on William Shakespeare’s ‘to be or not to be’.