By Eric Elezuo
“Our demand is clear; transmit the N30, 000 recommended by the National Minimum Wage Committee to the National Assembly for action, and we will wait for the lawmakers to take their decision.”
First, it was November 6, and now, January 8. The Labour Unions comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have been locked up in a dicey struggle with the Federal Government over what is the acceptable minimum wage for the highly impoverished Nigerian worker.
Having managed 18, 000 in as many years, the Unions have deemed it fit to make demands for the upgrade of the take home pay. After much back and forth, the Unions arrived at N30, 000 while the state governments settled for N22, 500; a situation none of the parties have refused to shift ground. This is even as the Federal government has kept mum, playing the uncanny role of the Devil’s Advocate. Consequently, the labour unions have set January 8 for a total strike to press for the payment of N30, 000 minimum wage for its members. This is even as the earlier proposed strike for December 6 did not see the light of the day owing to the so called decision of the leaders to further channels of negotiation with the government. These channels have since proved unworkable and situation remains as per status quo.
As usual, the Union has wowed Nigerians with their regular catch phrase, or rather, cliche of ‘prepare for a prolonged strike’. Not a few Nigerians believe that this is another scam; except of course the Unions are able to prove that it is not. In whatever way they know possible.
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 buckled from its original demand of N56, 000, the Federal Government are making an offer of N24, 000. Both parties have rejected each others proposition. And the stalemate rages on.
Consequent upon the disagreement and loggerhead, Labour had called out its over 40 member associations to embark on an indefinite strike pending when the government agrees to toe their line. The strike was called for Tuesday, November 6, 2018, and was intended to be total. But alas, it was called off midnight of November 5, returning the despondent worker to despondency.
This was partly because the government obtained a court injunction restraining Labour from embarking on the said strike, a move which clearly shows they are ready to accede to labour’s demand, otherwise why a court injucntion when you can easily grant a request.
The National Industrial Court of Nigeria had ordered Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress not to embark on the said 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, 2018 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, Mr. 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 is common knowledge that government never fulfilled its part and Labour still went ahead and called the strike, making many Nigerians to cry foul, alleging that there has been a sell out.
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, and hinted that 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.
Describing 2018 as one of the most traumatic years for workers, especially given the failure of government to enact and implement the new national minimum wage of N30, 000, Wabba said:
“This is in spite of the unimpeachable tripartite process leading to the agreement by the social partners on the new national minimum wage. It is unfortunate that the Federal Government is yet to transmit to the National Assembly an executive bill for the enactment of N30,000 as the new national minimum wage. “Government’s dillydallying on the issue has strained Government-Labour relations with a potential for a major national strike which could just be days away.
“Accordingly, we would use this opportunity to appeal to the government to do the needful by urgently transmitting the bill on the new national minimum wage to the National Assembly. We also would like to use this same opportunity to urge workers to fully mobilize for a prolonged national strike and enforce their right.
“This strike action becomes the inevitable last option for us and we crave the understanding and support of all Nigerians and businesses. We would want to assure workers that their labour, patience and diligence will not be in vain and that this leadership remains committed to giving all that it takes to ensure that they get just and fair wages due to them in a decent work environment appropriate to their well-being.”
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 has come and gone, and January draws dangerously close, Nigerians are skeptical about Labour’s seriousness in fighting for its course, and wondered if the January 8 deadline is not another bluff which the Unions have been known for in recent years. Like before, waiting on Labour to fight to actualise the N30, 000 minimum may be another episode in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.