Minimum Wage: Strike Begins As National Assembly’s Intervention Fails

The organised labour Sunday insisted that its indefinite strike would begin today as planned following the federal government’s refusal to increase the minimum wage above N60,000.

Labour, which is demanding N494,000, said this in Abuja last night after a three-hour meeting with the National Assembly leadership and top officials of the Executive arm of government.

The president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero and his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart, Festus Osifo, led members of their national executives to the meeting, which was presided over by Senate President Godswill Akpabio and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Abbas Tajudeen.

The meeting was attended by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume; the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila; the Minister of Finance, Wale Edun and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Atiku Bagudu.

Also in attendance were the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Nkiruka Onyejiocha; the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris; the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan.

Addressing journalists after the meeting, Osifo said despite the appeal by the Senate president, the strike would commence today while the labour discusses with its various organs.

Ajaero stated: “Yes, we had a conversation as regards the issues; on the part of government, we know what the issues are on the part of the organised labour and we also know what the issues are and the word of appeal from the Senate President for us to call off the industrial action tonight.

“But on our part, we said that we are happy, but it is not possible for us to sit here to call off the industrial action. There are conditions, we need to rub our heads. We would have all been happier if this evening we have a great misunderstanding that by tomorrow morning we will sign off issues bordering on the minimum wage because before at the last meeting, we got very close to signing on.

“But we have listened to them, we will take all your pleas to our organs and would have an organs’ meeting taking what you have promised by the plea made by our organs. For now, we don’t have the power to call off the industrial action.

“So, the industrial action will continue while we have the conversation with our respective organs as soon as possible to give them what we have put forward and what we have proposed”, he said.

Also speaking, Osifo, said: “The Senate President appealed to us to call off the strike. But we can’t sit here and call off the strike because we have other organs. We will take the appeals to our various organs”, he said.

Earlier, Akpabio had appealed that the strike be suspended and negotiations commence “in the interest of the Nigerian economy and in the interest of all Nigerians.

“The leadership of both chambers is aware that there was a tripartite committee in place to negotiate with labour on the new minimum wage for the country, taking cognisance of all the variables, including the removal of fuel subsidy, including the expiration of time since the last minimum wage was imputed.

“We are aware that those negotiations have taken quite a while. We are aware that the federal government, in its wisdom through President Bola Ahmed Tinubu decided to institute a wage award of N35,000 at the federal level for workers pending the outcome of negotiations of a new minimum wage.

“We are aware that some states have also followed suit in varying amounts. Aware that the NLC and TUC decided to call for a strike, commencing tomorrow (today), the leadership of both chambers took a decision to invite the NLC and the TUC and very high ranking officers of the government led by the SGF to find out why and what happened and how the negotiations could have broken down, and we believe strongly that strike should be a last resort.

“Without going into much details, I believe we have had a very positive meeting. We have heard from both sides and we are happy and satisfied that actions would be taken on both sides,” the Senate president said.

Similarly, Speaker Tajudeen said the meeting agreed to prevail on the government to continue the payment of the N35,000 wage award that was started in October last year and stopped in February.

“We agreed that the wage award should continue until such a time that the minimum wage is agreed. We also agreed that the NLC and TUC should go and consult with a view to suspending their strike as soon as possible to allow for negotiations to continue”, he said.

Meanwhile the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), in a statement dated Saturday, said the strike was a breach of an order of the National Industrial Court and ongoing mediators’ settlement efforts over issues connected with the subject matter of the order.

He warned that workers planning to embark on indefinite strike risked a six-month jail term.

Fagbemi said Section 18 of the Trade Disputes Act requires a worker employed in any essential services to give their employer 15 days’ notice before ceasing their services, and any who did not comply would be liable on conviction to a fine of N100 or to imprisonment for six months.

He said the fundamental importance of the 15-day notice is underscored by the fact that Sections 41 and 42(1)(b) of the Act criminalise non-compliance with the provision.

He noted that the federal government had been engaging stakeholders in the tripartite committee to determine a new national minimum wage and had not declared an end to negotiation.

“While the government assures that it would continue to adopt a conciliatory approach to resolving matters pertaining to workers and citizens welfare in the spirit of collective bargaining, I would like to urge you to kindly reconsider the declaration of strike action and return to the ongoing negotiation meetings, which has been adjourned to a date to be communicated to parties”, he said.

NUJ, JUSUN, NUT, others back strike

The leadership of various unions yesterday directed their members to comply with the labour’s directive on the strike.

They are the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN), the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnic (SSANIP), the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), the Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), among others.

Uncertainty over hajj pilgrims’ airlift

With the decision of the aviation unions to join labour’s strike today, it is not clear whether or not the ongoing airlift of Nigerian hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia will be affected.

The unions include the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE).

It was learnt that the aviation unions took the decision to join the strike after an emergency meeting held yesterday.

The unions, in a joint statement signed by Comrade Ocheme Aba, General Secretary of NUATE; Comrade Frances Akinjole, Deputy General Secretary ATSSSAN; Comrade Abdul Rasaq Saidu, Secretary General ANAP and Comrade Olayinka Abioye General Secretary NAAPE directed all branches to comply.

The notice read, “In compliance with the directive from our labour centers – Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria – we hereby inform the general public, aviation service providers, airline operators, aviation businesses and all aviation workers nationwide that starting from 0000hrs of June 3, 2024 all services at all Nigerian airports shall be fully withdrawn till further notice.

“Being not oblivious of the fact that many international flights to Nigeria are already airborne, the strike action will commence at international terminals on 4th of June, 2024.

“All aviation workers should recognise the seriousness of this struggle and comply unfailingly. All Branch officers of our unions shall ensure full compliance at all airports”, the statement.