The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), yesterday, cancelled the planned indefinite nationwide strike action called for tomorrow by both unions to protest last week’s withdrawal of fuel subsidy by the federal government. This was one of the seven-point resolutions reached last night, at the end of a negotiation meeting between the federal government, TUC, and NLC, held at the conference room of the Chief of Staff’s office, at State House, Abuja.
Prior to the resolution, Justice O. Y. Anuwe of the National Industrial Court in Abuja, had earlier yesterday stopped the planned nationwide strike, pending the hearing and determination of the suit challenging the legality of the industrial action.
TUC, also yesterday, made public its 19-point demands presented to the federal government for implementation to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal. Among the 14 demands TUC listed for immediate implementation were the return to status quo ante of petrol pump price and an increase in the national minimum wage from the current N30,000 per month to N200,000 before the end of June 2023, with consequential adjustment on Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), like feeding, transport, housing, etc.
Reading out the one-page communiqué issued at the end of the over six-hour meeting between labour and federal government’s representatives, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who led the government side, said seven resolutions were reached in the effort to address the fuel situation.
Gbajabiamila, who was recently appointed Chief of State to the President, said three agreements were reached, including the suspension of the planned nationwide strike, scheduled to take off tomorrow, and the need for the negotiation teams to reconvene on June 19 to agree on the implementation of the frameworks.
The communiqué was signed by six members of the negotiating team, including President of NLC, Joe Ajaero; President of TUC, Festus Osifo; Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ms. Kachollom S. Daju; and Gbajabiamila.
The communiqué detailed the agreements to include, “The NLC to suspend the notice of strike forthwith to enable further consultations.
“The TUC and the NLC to continue the on-going engagements with the federal government and secure closure on the resolutions above.
“The labour centres and the federal government to meet on June 19, 2023, to agree on an implementation framework.”
The communiqué further read, “Following the engagements between the federal government, the TUC and the NLC, with the intervention of the Speaker, House of Representatives, to resolve the disputes that arose from the withdrawal of subsidy on PMS, the following resolutions were reached:
“The federal government, the TUC and the NLC to establish a joint committee to review the proposal for any wage increase or award and establish a framework and timeline for implementation.
“The federal government, the TUC and the NLC to review World Bank Financed Cash Transfer Scheme and propose inclusion of low-income earners in the programme.
“The federal government, the TUC and the NLC to revive the CNG conversion programme earlier agreed with labour centres in 2021 and work out detailed implementation and timing.
“The labour centres and the federal government to review issues hindering effective delivery in the education sector and propose solutions for implementation.
“The labour centres and the federal government to review and establish the framework for completion of the rehabilitation of the nation’s refineries.
“The federal government to provide a framework for the maintenance of roads and expansion of rail networks across the country.
“All other demands submitted by the TUC to the federal government will be assessed by the joint committee.”
President Bola Tinubu had on May 29, while giving his inaugural at Eagles Square, Abuja, declared that fuel subsidy regime was gone for good. The announcement led to increase in petrol price by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited.
The president’s pronouncement also elicited immediate reaction from both NLC and TUC, which alleged that necessary consultations were not made by government before removing the fuel subsidy.
A meeting called last Wednesday by the federal government to try to resolve the issue with the two unions was stalemated, leading to the meeting being adjourned to last Sunday, which the NLC, however, refused to attend.
It was yesterday’s meeting that was able to bring all the parties together again, leading to the resolutions reached after the stormy session.
Meanwhile, Anuwe had earlier stopped the planned nationwide strike. The order was sequel to an application by the federal government, which was hinged on the heavy impact the strike scheduled to commence on Wednesday, June 7, would have on all aspects of the economy.
The suit marked: NCIN/ABJ/158/2023 had as defendants NLC and TUC, while the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) were listed as the claimants.
Anuwe stated, “This is a situation of extreme urgency that will require the intervention of this court.
“Having therefore considered the totality of this application, I make the following orders: the defendants/respondents are hereby restrained from embarking on the planned industrial action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice dated June 5, 2023.
“It is ordered that the defendant/respondents be immediately served with the originating processes in this suit, the Motion on Notice and the order of this court hereby made.”
Anuwe, subsequently, fixed June 19, 2023 for hearing and directed the applicant to serve the order of the court as well as hearing notices on the defendants/respondents along with the other processes.
Besides, the court held that its documents be served on the defendants through substituted means by pasting same on the wall or entrance of the last known addresses of the defendants, by publishing same in two national newspapers in Nigeria and on the national television authority or by any other electronic medium.
The office of the AGF had dragged the two umbrella bodies of Nigerian workers to court over the industrial action billed to commence on Wednesday.
The federal government’s lawyer, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, who is also Director Civil Litigation, Federal Ministry of Justice, in arguing the ex parte application prayed the court for an order “restraining the defendants/respondents, their members, agents, employees, workmen, servants, proxies or affiliates from embarking on the planned Industrial action and/or strike pending the determination of the Motion on Notice, which was filed along with this application.”
Shiru told the court that the proposed strike action was capable of disrupting economic activities, the health sector, and the education sector.
She tendered documents before the court showing that notices from the first defendant and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NU) to their respective members to withdraw their services with effect from Wednesday June 7, 2023.
After listening to the applicant, the court stated that Section 7(b) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006, empowered and, indeed, clothed it with exclusive jurisdiction on matters relating to the grant of any order to restrain any person or body from taking part in any strike, lock out or any industrial action or any conduct in contemplation or in furtherance of strike, lock out or any industrial action.
The court said, “Sections 16 and 19(a) of the NIC Act 2006 also empower this court to make orders or grant urgent interim reliefs.
“The urgency enumerated in the affidavit of urgency and in counsel’s submission reveals a scenario that may gravely affect the larger society and, indeed, the well-being of the nation at large.
“Counsel has pointed out that students of Secondary Schools nationwide, especially those writing WAEC exams, will be affected; the tertiary institutions who have only just resumed after a long Academic Staff Union of Universities’ strike will also be affected, not leaving the health sector, amongst other sectors; and above all, the economy of the nation.”
TUC Demands N200,000 Minimum Wage, Lists 19-point Demands
A statement containing the demands, jointly signed by TUC president, Festus Osifoh, and General Secretary, Nuhu Toro, stated that the representative of state governors would be party to the communiqué to be signed, adding that all governors must commit to implementing the new minimum wage.
In addition, TUC demanded a tax holiday for employees, both in government and private sector, that earn less than N200, 000 or $500 monthly, whichever is higher.
Other immediate demands by TUC included requests for “PMS Allowance to be introduced for those earning between N200, 000 and N500, 000 or $500 and $1,200, whichever is higher.
“The exchange rate for retailing PMS in the country must be kept within a limit of +- two per cent for the next 10 years where the fluctuation is more than two per cent, the minimum wage will automatically increase at the same rate.
“Setting up of intervention fund where government will be paying N10 per litre on all locally consumed PMS.”
TUC stated that the primary purpose of the intervention fund was to solve perennial and protracted national issues in education, health, and housing.
The union noted that a governance structure that would include labour, civil society, and government would be put in place to manage the implementation.
It further asked that the federal government should provide mass transit vehicles for all categories of the populace, while state governments should immediately set up subsidised transportation systems to reduce the pressure on workers and students.
TUC also demanded immediate review of the National Health Insurance Scheme to cover more Nigerians and prevent out of stock of drugs.
It urged government to arrange for a visit to the refineries currently undergoing rehabilitation to ascertain the state of work, and set up timeline for completion of work.
The labour centre said the president should direct who ever would be the labour minister in the new administration to immediately constitute the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC). It suggested the provision of subsidy directly for food items, using the government’s proposed $800 million World Bank loan.
According to TUC, the existing National Housing Fund (NHF) should be made accessible to genuine workers; and the framework on this must be discussed and agreed.
TUC medium term demands included deployment of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) across the country in line with the earlier promise made by government, but on a framework and agreed timeline to be agreed by both parties.
As part of its medium term demands, TUC stated that both labour and the government should design a framework that would be geared towards the reduction of cost of governance by 15 per cent in 2024 and 30 per cent by 2025.
It said a framework should be immediately put in place to maintain the roads and expand the rail network across the country.
TUC demanded, “Government must design a framework for social housing policy for workers through Rent to Own System.
“The state of electricity in the country must be appraised and an action plan should be defined with timelines on how to get this.”