While the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was meeting with Federal Government representatives to find a middle ground to halt tomorrow’s planned action, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Abuja division, restrained NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) from embarking on the strike.
The NLC, led by its President, Joe Ajaero, had arrived at the Presidential Villa around 5:45 p.m. for another round of negotiations after staying away from Sunday’s meeting with the organised labour. Last Friday, NLC issued a five-day ultimatum to the government to revert to the old price of petrol or face a nationwide protest.
But the meeting was still underway when the industrial court gave the order. Justice O.Y. Anuwe issued the order while ruling on an ex-parte motion in the suit marked: NCIN/ABJ/158/2023, filed by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), which was moved by Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, Director of Civil Litigation, Federal Ministry of Justice.
Justice Anuwe said the order shall remain in force pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice dated June 5, which was filed by the Federal Government through the office of the AGF.
The judge said her action was informed by the argument by the Federal Government’s lawyer that the strike, if allowed, will occasion incalculable damage to the nation and fixed for hearing the motion on notice for June 19.
She said by Section 7(b) of the National Industrial Court (NIC) Act 2006, her court is empowered and indeed clothed with exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to the grant of any order to restrain any person or body from taking part in any strike, lockout or any industrial action or conduct in contemplation or in furtherance of strike, lockout or any industrial action.
She said: “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; tertiary institutions that have only just resumed after a long ASUU strike will also be affected, not leaving the health sector, among other sectors; and above all, the economy of the nation. In my view, this is a situation of extreme urgency that will require the intervention of this court.” Earlier, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) had asked its members to join NLC in its planned strike beginning tomorrow in compliance with other workers’ unions, including the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Giving the directive yesterday, JUSUN’s general secretary, M.J. Akwashiki, in a statement, directed all zonal vice-presidents to ensure total compliance with NLC’s directive, which would have meant a shutdown of all the courts across the country.
But in a phone interview with an NLC top official on condition of anonymity, he said the Congress was fully mobilised and nothing would stop it unless the government goes back to the status quo.
On the joint meeting with Federal Government and the sister union, TUC, slated for today (Tuesday), he said: “The meeting is because we are still holding on to our position. If they go back to the status quo then we will call off the strike and negotiate with them.”
Meanwhile, the TUC, in a statement signed by its president, Festus Osifo, and Secretary General, Nuhu Toro, yesterday, demanded immediate implementation that minimum wage should be increased from the current N30,000 to N200,000 before the end of June 2023 with consequential adjustment on Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), like feeding, transport, and housing, among others.
It demanded that the status quo ante of Petrol Motor Spirit (PMS) pump price should be maintained while the discussion continues.
Among the 14 items, it said a representative of state governors would be a party to the communiqué and all the governors must commit to implementing the new minimum wage.
It demanded tax holiday for employees both in the government and private sector that earn less than N200,000 or $500 monthly. It insisted that PMS allowance should be introduced for those earning between N200,000 to N500,000 or $500 to $1,200, whichever is higher.
It demanded that the Federal Government should provide mass transit vehicles for all categories of the populace. It also demanded that government should put in place an immediate review of the National Health Insurance Scheme to cover more Nigerians and prevent stock of drugs.
For the medium term, the labour centre demanded the deployment of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) across the country, in line with the earlier promise made by the government. It said the framework and timeline would be developed and agreed by both parties.
It added that labour and government would design a framework that will be geared towards the reduction of cost of governance by 15 per cent in 2024 and 30 per cent by 2025.
ALREADY, more than 50 of the NLC affiliates, including its 36 state councils and Abuja are expected to begin an indefinite strike at midnight today if there is no truce between the organised labour and the Federal Government.
The Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), National Union of Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW), Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Senior Staff Union in Colleges of Education, Nigeria (SSUCOEN) are among several labour unions that have directed their members to give effect to the decision of the NLC until otherwise stated.
But the Director-General of the Centre for the Promotion of Public Enterprise (CPPE), Muda Yusuf, said there is an urgent need for the Federal Government to put interventions in place that can assuage the suffering of the masses, especially the lower-level workers.
“Government needs to urgently put immediate and short-term measures in place to mitigate the pains of the sharp increases in transportation costs on the citizens. Food and transportation account for over 50 per cent of the household budget of the poor. Something urgent needs to be done,” he added.
He stressed that such measures should focus on reducing the cost of food, provision of cheaper public transportation options, improving power supply to reduce demand for fuel for electricity generators, incentives to promote the use of autogas, reduction in import tariffs for intermediate products for food processing companies, eliminating taxes and levies on all agricultural inputs to boost food production and reduction in import tariffs on mass transit buses.
Yusuf insisted that the NNPCL retail outlets should sell petrol 15 less than the amount it goes for in other filling stations, saying, “this is necessary to signal social sensitivity by government.”
Looking into the future, Yusuf said things will get really difficult before getting better.
“Admittedly, the increase was quite high. And the shocks on citizens were enormous as well. But these are some of the inevitable costs of reforms. We need reforms to prevent the collapse of the economy. Apparently, things have to get worse before it gets better. It would be painful initially but it would progressively get better. As the supply side response improves, the prices will moderate,” he said.
ALREADY, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) yesterday paralysed operations of shipping companies, terminals, as well as oil and gas platforms nationwide. The workers, who gathered at the ports as early as 7:00 a.m. yesterday to disrupt operational activities in the ports, protested over lingering unresolved issues with shipping companies in Nigeria.
This is just as the former President of Shippers Association Lagos State (SALS), Jonathan Nicol, has bemoaned the maritime workers’ union strike action, saying they are causing more harm to the shippers, importers and the entire maritime industry.
Nicol, who is also the Vice Chairman of Business Action Against Corruption (BAAC) Integrity Alliance, Lagos, said the union is denting the industry because of their large numbers, without considering the implications to other players in the industry who pay demurrage in billions of naira due to the shutdown of port operations.
The President-General of MWUN, Adewale Adeyanju, at the protest lamented the nonchalant attitude of shipping firms’ management to discussing and negotiating the welfare and condition of service of members in the shipping sector.
He alleged that the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), the parent body of shipping lines in Nigeria for disregarding the directives of the Federal Government and failing to increase workers’ welfare for the past six years.
The union said the strike would be indefinite, especially as it has the backing of its other branches.
The MWUN chief recalled that the former Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, in a bid to ensure a peaceful industrial climate in the shipping sector, had directed the management of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) to superintend a collective bargaining meeting between the union and shipping companies in Nigeria.
Adeyanju lamented that despite several meetings called at the instance of the NSC, the shipping firms’ representatives deliberately forestalled the negotiation process, alleging a lack of mandate from their respective principals, and insisting on maintaining the status quo.
Alleged that the NSC has lost its control and regulatory powers over the shipping companies, who have refused to obey the federal government’s interventions on the matter.
According to him, “The matter has been dragging for the past six years, and the shipping companies have refused to implement a minimum standard for shipping companies’ workers.
“Several ultimatum has been issued to the shipping companies, the union is requesting a minimum standard for shipping workers.
“The former Minister of Transportation had directed the NSC to midwife the process between MWUN and SAN. There have been several meetings at the instance of the Executive Secretary of the NSC but nothing has been done.”
Nicol warned that if this continues the shippers and other industry players will take the union and whoever initiates strike action to court and demand the pay for demurrage incurred for their actions.
BUT following the intervention of NSC between MWUN and companies in the shipping sector, the union has suspended its ongoing industrial action. At an emergency meeting convened by the NSC, involving the union and stakeholders in the shipping sector, a resolution was reached.
In the communiqué, both parties agreed to establish an acceptable minimum standard on the condition of service in the shipping sector, specifically focusing on gratuity, among others.