Fuel Hike: Nationwide Strike Flops As Labour Splits | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Fuel Hike: Nationwide Strike Flops As Labour Splits

Posted: May 19, 2016 at 3:30 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ejikeme Omenazu

Lagos– The nationwide industrial action called by the Nigerian Labour Movement recorded a partial success on Wednesday as a cross section of the citizens participated in parts of the country. The strike was to protest the recent hike in price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) from N86.50k to N145. But, a large number of Nigerians went about their normal businesses, ignoring the industrial action called by the labour unions.

The transporters, who used to be the willing tool in the hands of the Labour could not shelve their business, as all sorts of vehicles were on the roads, even as shops and markets were thrown open by traders. Banks and other companies also had full operation, as well as government establishments both at local, states, and federal levels.

Analysts believe the poor turn-out might not be unconnected to the internal wrangling that had hit the NLC in the last one year, which divided it into two factions. One faction is headed by the Ayuba  Wabba,  while the other is under the control of Comrade Joe Ajaero.  The Ajero’s facton pulled out of the strike and took its group to meet with the government, while the Wabba’s group took to the streets. Also, several NLC affiliates like Petroleum and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG)  asked their members to shun the strike.

FG Threatens Workers

But the major crack started after a last minute statement issued by the federal government warning civil servants not to participate in the strike. The statement signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, warned that, any worker who participated in the strike would not be entitled to his or her wage. The statement read: “The attention of all Public Officers is drawn to the notice issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to embark on an indefinite strike from Wednesday, May 28, 2016. This notice is regrettably given, in spite of an Order by the Industrial Court against the strike action.

“Government, therefore, calls upon and advises all workers to respect the laws of the land and to desist from participating in an illegal strike action. Government undertakes to guarantee the safety of workers and their work places, and expects that normal work will continue in the interest of the nation. “Accordingly, Security agencies have been directed to ensure unimpeded access to offices, work places and markets. Acts of intimidation, harassment, including barricading of gates, locking up of offices, blocking of roads and preventing workers from carrying out their lawful duties will be met with appropriate response by the law enforcement agencies. “All workers, whether in public or private sector are further reminded of the Trade Dispute Act, 2004, which provides that “where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or remuneration for the period of the strike and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly.”

“Accordingly, all Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Government Agencies are hereby directed to invoke the provision of “no work no pay” in respect of any staff who absents him or herself from work to join the strike action. Attendance registers are required to be opened in all Ministries, Departments and Agencies.”

NIC Injunction

However, another setback was what Labour described as “Black Market Injunction”, which the government also obtained on late Tuesday. With it, the Federal Government found it easy to break the ranks of Labour. Justice Babatunde Adejumo of the National Industrial Court (NIC) had granted an exparte application by the Federal Government, brought by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who approached it while negotiation was still on between Labour leaders and top government officials.

In his ruling, Justice Adejumo asked the labour unions not to embark on the strike pending the hearing and determination of the motion. According to him, “The defendants are hereby restrained from carrying out the threat contained in their communiqué issued on May 14, 2016 pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed on May 16. It is the order of this court that status quo be maintained as at May 17.” The judge adjourned the case to May 24.
Pull Out By Ajero’s Faction

A major shocker for the Labour Movement was the last minute withdrawal of the Ajero’s faction of the NLC from the strike. While giving reasons for opting out of the strike, Ajaero told journalists in Abuja that his faction could not be part of the action because it was called at a wrong time and with wrong motives. He accused the Ayuba Wabba faction of asking the government to write off the N2 billion loan the group collected in 2012 to buy buses.Ajero took his faction to meet with the government for a compromise.

He later said: “When you are asking that the loan given to you in 2012, which had not been paid back, should be written off, we believe that the action has already been sold out before it takes off. So, we will wait for our group to meet. But definitely, it appears that by ideology and every other thing. We can no longer meet. We thought we should have managed this in the interest of Nigerians but from the look of things, if appear we have to go our different ways.

“We have condemned the increase and called for negotiation and reversal. It was on the basis of our calls that this meeting was summoned for us to meet and find the way forward. If we wanted to be serious about an action, you can’t call for an action on Wednesday. It is only an action that is sold out that is called for Wednesday so that by Friday, you say you have strike lethargy and call it off”.

Ajero added: “We have decided that we will rather negotiate and it is only when the negotiation might have collapsed that we will take the option of going into any action.”
Kaigama’s TUC Makes U-turn


Also,  Mr Bobboi Kaigama, the President, Trade Union Congress (TUC), abandoned the strike option at the 11th hour and instead pledged the union’s support for the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government. Kaigama said that TUC would no longer embark on the nationwide strike as earlier proposed, adding that the decision was taken at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the TUC. He pledged continued support for government policies that would benefit Nigerian workers. “We want to say that we have disengaged ourselves from this strike because we have been duly educated on the benefits of the fuel subsidy removal.”
Wabba’s NLC Resolute

But, the strike was indeed, not a total failure. In Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, the NLC leaders under the Wabba faction still drew a large number of workers out in a protest. The protests, which Labour said would continue until the government reverses the fuel price from its new price of N145 per litre to the N86 per litre which it was before the new price increase, was the first showdown with the All Progressives Congress (APC) government of President Muhammadu Buhari
Partial Protests In Lagos, Abuja

In the nation’s commercial capital, Lagos, many residents, students and workers went about their normal activities. Also commercial bus drivers and motorcycle operators had a field day, ignoring the strike.  Filling stations continued to dispense fuel to customers even as all the roads were busy. Banks and other commercial houses, as well as industries operated as if nothing was happening.

But, the NLC leaders, who had assembled some workers at its Lagos office in Yaba area, came out as early as 8.am for the protesters. At Fadeyi, some hoodlums blocked the highway, setting expired tyres on fire on the main highway leading to the commercial centre of the metropolis. Police and armed soldiers however turned up to disperse the NLC officials and supporters. At the Murtala Mohammed Airport, NLC supporters also attempted to block travellers from accessing the airport. At the Alausa Secretariat in Lagos, workers reported as usual for work, after government on Tuesday reminded them of the order by the Industrial Court, restraining the unions from embarking on strike.
NLC Strike Flops In Port Harcourt

The strike reportedly witnessed a failure in Port Harcourt, the nation’s centre of oil business. Indeed, there was little or no impact as people went about their normal businesses.

Government Sets Up A Tripartite Committee On Minimum Wage

The Edo State governor and past NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, however, announced the governments’ stand on the crisis although representatives of the organised labour reportedly pulled out of the negotiation. Addressing newsmen in Abuja, Oshiomhole, said: “We have agreed on the following: We will work toward setting up a framework for the review of the national minimum wage because we all agree that this has to be a tripartite body. “Labour appreciates the decision of the Federal government to set up half a trillion Naira in 2016 budget to cover what the Budget Minister described as social investment. With respect to the management of this social investment and the components of the social investment, the two parties agreed that Labour should be involved in this process and come up with suggestions. “To be able to deal with these and other matters, a committee made up of Organised Labour and Federal Government representatives under the chairmanship of a nominee of the Federal Government will meet and within two weeks resolve these and other relevant issues. The final report of this committee will be submitted to the Federal Government. “The comrades will rather await the outcome of these efforts before any further action or inaction on their part.”
Dennis Adikwuru, a public policy analyst and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain in Imo State, while reacting to the current Labour crisis and the call for a new minimum wage, stated that it is unfortunate that the economy is going beyond control and the inflationary rate has gone high up to an unprecedented level. He stressed that the current increase of price of PMS has rather consolidated the fall in naira and high cost of commodities, transportation and services. He stressed: “It is expected that the Nigerian Labour Congress will make a demand for salary increase; but I think the government should approach this demand with caution. While I support a salary increase as a way of cushioning the hardship inherent in the system, I do not subscribe to the N56, 000 demands. This is because it will cause a further dip in the inflation. “Again, this demand does not cover the entire Labour force. It can only benefit a section or segment of the labour force. We have a large junk of employers and enabling employees who are victims of the current economic hardship. I advise an increase to N30, 000-N35, 000, but with more emphasis on a holistic approach to cushion the effects. “There are the self employed, the small and medium scale businesses who strive to survive and who cannot afford no more than N15,000 monthly salary. These people serve the higher volatile group, youth aged between 15-25 years. Even the fuel stations cannot afford the present minimum wage, not to talk about the present demand. “So, the government should think more of measures that will bring down the cost of goods and services, measures that will raise the naira value. Increase in minimum wage would rather skyrocket transport fares, cost of foodstuffs, goods and services. “The government should do a rethink and boost the productive and manufacturing sector. Our economy should be export driven and not import dependant. There should be an inflow of foreign currency and not an outflow. The nation’s refineries should be put to productivity, the steel industries, the indigenous assembly plants and car manufacturing industries should be given government backups. We need real economic engineering and not a politico economic patronage.” Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), in his reaction, backed the labour protest. His words: “We are making this appeal in the aftermath of the 2012 Occupy Nigeria Protest against the same practice by the ousted PDP government in which labour conscienceless disappointed all its allies and Nigerians”. He maintained that it was agonising that a pump price of petrol sells for N15 equivalent in war torn Libya, Nigeria, Africa’s second largest producer of oil is selling at the unacceptable and criminal price of N145 per litre. Comrade Ayodele Akele, the National Secretary of the National Conscience Party (NCP), former Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Civil Service Workers Union of Nigeria (CSWUN) in his reaction, lamented the condition of the Nigerian workers, stressing that the current N18,000 minimum wage was no longer enough to take of the lowest paid workers in the country. He supported the demand of Labour for a minimum wage to be raised to N56,000, even as he supported Labour on the nationwide strike against the fuel price increase. He said the Federal Government should listen to the demand of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for the minimum wage to be increased to N56,000, which he said, was not even enough considering the current economic realities, inflation  and the high cost of living in the country.