On Monday night, the organised labour announced the suspension of its planned nationwide indefinite strike.
The decision came after a tripartite meeting involving the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, the Trade Union Congress, TUC, and the Federal Government.
The action was suspended for 30 days to allow the government to implement some of its promises contained in a memorandum of understanding signed after the meeting.
However, there appears to be no definite plan for state and local government workers who constitute the bulk of the civil service population.
Recall that the labour unions and the federal government have been engaged in a running dispute over the removal of fuel subsidy by the President Bola Tinubu administration.
Tinubu, during his inaugural speech on May 29, announced the removal of fuel subsidy.
The aftermath of the policy has brought untold hardships and a high cost of living driven by increased inflation.
However, in the wake of the after effect, the Federal Government announced a N5 billion palliative to each state of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
But the organised labour saw the palliatives as far below their expectation from the government towards ameliorating the suffering of the masses.
Earlier, there was a 2-day warning strike by the NLC. Although the TUC opted out, both groups later reconciled and were set for an indefinite strike but the outcome of the Monday meeting.
The Monday meeting eventually led to the suspension of the planned strike for a period of one month, in order to allow the government time to implement the agreements reached.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by Comrade Joe Ajaero, President NLC, Comrade (Engr) Festus Osifo, TUC President, Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, General Secretary NLC and Comrade Nuhu A. Toro, Secretary General, TUC.
On the side of the government were H.E. Simon Bako Lalong, Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Hon. Dr Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Employment and Mallam Mohammed Idris, Honourable Minister of Information and National Orientation.
According to the memorandum, the Federal Government will grant a wage award of N35,000 (thirty-five thousand Naira) only to all Federal Government workers beginning in September, pending when the government signs a new national minimum wage.
It also stated that a minimum wage committee would be inaugurated within one month from the date of the agreement; the Federal Government would suspend collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) on Diesel for six months beginning from October 2023, and the Federal Government accepted to vote N100 billion for providing high-capacity CNG buses for mass transit in Nigeria, among others.
However, the memorandum only mentioned that the Federal Government should urge the State Governments through the National Economic Council and Governors Forum to implement wage awards for their workers, asking that similar consideration should also be given to local government and private sector workers.
The worry heightened on Tuesday as the NLC asked the State Councils to initiate engagement with their State Governments on the need for wage award and other reliefs to workers in the states of the federation.
The union in a letter signed by its President, Comrade Joe Ajero, urged affiliates of the NLC to immediately commence negotiations with their employers on the need to grant wage award and other reliefs to members to cushion the effect of the petrol price hike.
Ajero acknowledged that the union’s struggles weren’t complete as consequential struggle awaits them, without which their victory would not be complete.
While acknowledging the Affiliates and State Councils’ efforts, the statement said the union’s attention should be focused on them.
“Congress wants to appreciate the contributions of all our Affiliates and State Councils for their great efforts in mobilising their members towards our proposed indefinite nationwide strike that would have begun today. It was your determination and commitment that enabled the signing of the Agreement with the federal government late yesterday the 2nd of October.
“While we congratulate all of you, we wish to remind you of the consequential struggle that awaits all of us without which our victory will not be complete.
“Our attention should be focused on the need to initiate the following actions:
“All Affiliates to immediately commence negotiations with their employers on the need to grant Wage Award and other reliefs to members to cushion the effect of the Petrol price hike.
“All State Councils to initiate engagement with their State Governments on the need for Wage Award and other Reliefs to workers in the states of the federation.
“We wish to stress Congress’s steadfast commitment to the success of our collective objectives which hinges on our shared resolve to free our members and fellow Nigerians from the ongoing challenges imposed by negative policies of Government. The course of our destinies rests firmly within our grasp,” the statement partly read.
Reacting to the development, the chairman of the NLC in Enugu State, Comrade Barrister Fabian Nwigbo expressed fear over the fate of state workers.
In an interview. He said, that some states may go into a new negotiation as they may not afford to pay the N35,000.00 wage award.
Nwigbo lamented that some states have been unable to pay the N30,000.00 minimum wage since its introduction.
He suggested that the national leadership of organised labour should write a strongly-worded letter to all the state councils to be forwarded to the governors.
”My fear is as good as every chairman of the state council that another war will start with the decision of the federal government that N35,000.00 should be added as wage award for the federal workers.
“Although they also encouraged the state governments to ensure that they pay, you know, as we speak, up to 18 states in the country have not complied with the N30,000.00 minimum wage.
”We are lucky that in Enugu State, the previous administration started it immediately. We believe strongly that the present administration will not hesitate to key into this federal government approval.
”But in those states where you have issues with the governors, we are afraid that another negotiation is going to start. So that is the major fear. And some states may decide not to pay completely. They may go into a negotiation or may afford to pay N25,000.00, or N30,000.00, and so on. They have the legal right to determine what they will pay because this is a wage award, not a minimum wage.
”Even when we have a minimum wage, some refused to pay, and the House of Assembly allowed them. It was a breach of the law, which is one of the conditions a chief executive can be impeached. But our system is terrible.
“Our fear is that some of the States may try to go into negotiation again and try not to pay the complete N35,000.00 or even not pay at all as a result of disagreement. That is our fear.
”We are expecting the national leadership of organised labour to write a strong-worded letter to all the state councils, which will be forwarded to the governors, ordering them to ensure that they comply with that national directive, without which, they should be ready for action that will come from all angles.
“It is not going to be the state alone; the national body should support any state that would be denied such an opportunity.
”Generally, one may not be completely satisfied, but considering what is currently going on in the economy, we may say, ‘Let’s take what we have gotten’. If not, what is N35,000.00 to an average worker, most of whom should have about five to ten dependents?
“For me, that money is inadequate. But one may say, let’s use it as a stepping stone and see what the minimum wage next year will look like.
”But when you talk about this thing, is it now N30,000.00 minimum wage plus N35,000.00 for those that may be lucky to get it? You may come to a point where fuel is sold at N600.00 to N700.00, and you know most of our economy depends on fuel price. But the wage award is better than nothing.”
On his part, the Anambra State NLC Chairman, Humphery Nwafor stated that all the states and even the private sectors were expected to key in with the agreement labour reached with the federal government.
Nwafor said, although it will not be easy, the NLC at the centre will be part of the struggle when the states begin to engage their various governments after meeting with the Governors’ Forum and the Economic Council.
He said, ”The issue is that during our national executive council meeting yesterday, those of us from the state asked questions. The answer was that the negotiation was going to be a benchmark. All the states and even the private sectors will key in from there. And no state is expected to pay less than N35,000.00.
”You know, it is not going to be easy, but the national secretariat of the NLC is going to be part of the struggle when we begin to engage our various state governments after their meeting with the Governors’ Forum and the Economic Council. The state council will begin to engage with the governors.
”You should bear in mind that some of the governors have made pronouncements. They have given some cash awards, some N10,000. Like Anambra State, we have N12,00,000. Whatever we should be talking about should be based on the disparities.
”It is not as if the agreement did not cover the state and local government. In item number 10, you can see that they said the ‘states are urged’. So we are part of it.
”You know minimum wage will be due for review next year, early next year. It is part of what we discussed in our meeting. So, I believe, even in that MoU, you can see that the minimum wage is there too. The committee is going to be formed within one month for the review of minimum wage.
”And this N35,000.00 given to the federal workers as of today is going to last till the new minimum wage is passed into law. It is part of what we are going to engage our government because, you know, like Anambra State, our own is going to last for four months, starting from September.
“The first payment has been made, remaining October, November and December. Although the government said, it is going to be reviewed after three months. But this agreement, as stipulated with labour, will last till a new minimum wage is passed into law.
”I don’t think we are going to have that old system; maybe after negotiation, states will go back to start their struggle again. We are going to have a new innovation because we have a new leadership.
“I believe we, the leadership of organised labour at the national level, will see how they will integrate the governors into whatever negotiation we are going to do at the state level. Although they have not said it, I know Joe Ajaero’s leadership and administration have something to offer”.
The NLC chairman of the Edo State chapter, Comrade Odion Olaye said he was satisfied with the agreement labour reached with the federal government.
Olaye said his state governor was waiting to see what the federal government could offer.
He said, “I am satisfied. We were in a zoom meeting for almost three hours yesterday before Congress asked the president to go and hold a meeting with the federal government. We are fully satisfied, that is why we asked them to go and sign.
”I cannot speak on behalf of other states. I can only speak on behalf of my state, and I know that the state governor is even waiting for what the federal government will do,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Mr Wale Oyerinde, while also expressing concern, said the challenge lies in how the states and local governments will respond to the agreement labour reached with the federal government.
Oyerinde spoke on Tuesday while featuring on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme.
He noted that the private sector had shown the way, the direction and the innovation in supporting employees across board amidst the economic downturn in the country.
The NECA DG said, “For us in the private sector, it is quite unfortunate that labour didn’t find it necessary to commend the private sector for the role it has played.
“The president even noted the role of the private sector in his August broadcast of taking the initiatives. Since July, immediately after the president announced the removal of subsidies and the consequential effect of the increase in the cost of living, the private sector has actually taken the bull by the horns.
“Private sector organisations have either increased wages or adjusted wages, increased allowances or adjusted allowances, and come up with different schemes to assist their employees. Some have come up with a new model of working space.
“The private sector has taken the lead. We have shown the way, the direction and the innovation in supporting employees across the board.
“The challenge will be how the states will respond and how the local governments will respond. And we also hope they will respond appropriately.”