Labour to resume minimum wage talks with FG on Friday

Banks, courts, hospitals, airports, others

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Economic activities across Nigeria will be shut down by 12 a.m. on Monday morning as workers in the banking, oil and gas, medical and health, electricity, aviation, judiciary, and university sectors, among others, have been directed by the leadership of their unions to join the nationwide strike declared by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC).

The duo declared an indefinite strike on Friday following a breakdown on the new minimum wage negotiation with government.

Following the declaration of the industrial action by two labour centres and a directive that all affiliates should mobilize for the commencement of the action beginning on Monday, virtually all the unions have sent out letters directive their members to join the strike.

The unions whose letter were obtained by our reporter are; the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN). Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Nigeria Union of Railway Workers (NURW), National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU), National Union of Civil Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW), Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation, Civil Service Technical and Recreation Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC).

PENGASSAN letter to members titled: “Directive to Embark on a Nationwide Strike” reads, “Following the directive from our umbrella body, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), on the above subject, you are hereby directed to withdraw your services from all work locations effective Monday, June 3rd, 2024. The withdrawal of members includes offices, logistics bases, field operations, terminal operations, loading points, etc. The only exception are personnel manning for safety.

The NUEE directive to members across the country in part reads, “With reference to the circular from the NLC dated May 31, 2024, we are to mobilise and embark on an indefinite nationwide strike starting Monday, June 3, 2024, by 0:00. All national, state, and chapter executives are requested to start the mobilisation of our members in total compliance with this directive.”

To its members nationwide, the Banks Union tells them, “This is to inform all NUBIFIE organs that the Nigeria Labour Congress has directed all affiliates to commence an indefinite strike beginning on Monday, June 3, 2024. In total compliance with the directive from the NLC, you are hereby directed to mobilise for effective participation in your respective zonal councils and domestic committees.”

A judicial worker said to its members, “Following the declaration of industrial action by NLC and TUC, beginning on Monday, June 3, 2024, due to the inability of the government to conclude the negotiation of the new minimum wage and refusal to reverse the increase in electricity tariff, you are directed to commence mobilisation to commence the industrial action.

The Medical and Health Workers Union said, “Sequel to the declaration of a nationwide indefinite strike by the Organised Labour over the Federal Government’s apparent unseriousness and failure to reverse the satanic increment of the electricity tariff and conclude negotiations for a living wage for Nigerian workers, you are requested to immediately commence intense mobilisation of our members for a total shutdown of all the healthcare facilities in the country, commencing from 00:01 hours on June 3, 2024, in compliance with the directive of the NLC.”

But the Federal Government has appealed to the NLC and TUC to prevail on their members to shelve the planned strike, saying it was not in the interest of the nation. The Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, noted that the government had consistently demonstrated commitment and goodwill throughout the negotiations with organised labour.

On Friday, the tripartite committee negotiating the new national minimum wage failed to reach an agreement with organised labour. Both the government and the organised private sector refused to shift grounds on the N60,000 offer it presented at Tuesday’s meeting.

The government raised its offer from an initial N48,000 to N57,000. The offers were dismissed by labour, who were asking for N615, 000. After a series of horse-trading, the government and OPS added N3,000 to the N57,000, taking the total offer from both sides to N60, 000, while labour lowered its demands to N497,000 and then to N494,000.

The minister cautioned that declaring a strike in the middle of ongoing negotiations would not only compound the economic woes but also exacerbate the suffering of millions of Nigerians who are already struggling to eke out a living from their daily endeavours.

In a statement by her media adviser, Emameh Gabriel, she explained that the government’s proposals were carefully crafted, taking into account the country’s economic realities and incorporating innovative solutions.

“These proposals include a comprehensive package featuring a wage increase to N60,000 for federal workers, the introduction of CNG-fueled buses, and enhanced financial access for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Additionally, the government has pledged investments in strategic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, education, healthcare, and many others that are already in the pipeline,” the statement said.

The minister warned that any new minimum wage must not lead to widespread job losses, particularly in the Organised Private Sector, which employs the bulk of the nation’s workforce

The statement said: “This sector is crucial to the country’s economic growth and stability. The government’s stance is rooted in a deep understanding of the negotiations, demonstrating its dedication to finding a balance between the needs of workers and the economic realities of the country. The goal is to establish a minimum wage that is not only realistic but also sustainable, avoiding any potentially detrimental consequences for the economy.

“By adopting this approach, the government aims to safeguard the interests of both workers and employers, ensuring that any agreement reached is mutually beneficial and does not jeopardise the country’s economic progress. This balanced stance is crucial for maintaining harmony in the workforce and driving national growth.”

She said she was disappointed in the manner in which organised labour abruptly exited the negotiations on Friday, despite the government’s flexibility in rescheduling the meeting from Monday to Friday, May 31st, to accelerate the talks.

“Labour unions remained adamant in their demand for a staggering 1,547% wage increase after the government’s proposed 100% increase, accompanied by various incentives for workers.

“It is widely acknowledged that the labour unions’ demands are unrealistic, given the country’s current economic position. The government takes into account the nation’s fiscal constraints and the need for sustainable economic growth. In contrast, labour’s demands seem disconnected from the economic realities, potentially jeopardising the very gains they seek to achieve,” the statement said.

The statement added: “The government’s willingness to engage in dialogue and its demonstrated flexibility in the negotiations underscore its commitment to finding a mutually beneficial solution. However, labour’s inflexibility and unrealistic expectations may hinder the progress made thus far, ultimately harming the workers they represent and the nation as a whole.”

She urged the unions to reconsider their decision and continue engaging in constructive dialogue to find a solution that benefits all, as strikes will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable segments of society.

The minister urged organised labour to continue to respect the principles of social dialogue and engage in good-faith negotiations.

President Tinubu, on May Day, promised to pay workers a living wage. Tinubu, through Vice President, Kashim Shettima, inaugurated the 37-member tripartite committee to come up with a new minimum wage on January 30, 2024.

With its membership cutting across federal and state governments, the private sector, and organised labour, the panel is to recommend a new national minimum wage for the country.

Shettima, during the committee’s inauguration, urged the members to “speedily” arrive at a resolution and submit their reports early.

“This timely submission is crucial to ensuring the emergence of a new minimum wage,” Shettima said.

He also urged collective bargaining in good faith, emphasising contract adherence and encouraging consultations outside the committee.

The 37-man committee is chaired by the former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Goni Aji.

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