In a race to beat the deadline for the planned commencement of an indefinite strike that may lead to the shutdown of the economy, the Federal Government on Monday held a meeting with labour unions on post-subsidy removal palliatives for workers.
The parley, hosted by the Minister of Labour, Simon Lalong, in Abuja, however, failed to reach a consensus as the Nigerian Labour Congress insisted that the FG must meet its demands ahead of the 21-day ultimatum issued on September 1 by the congress.
On September 1, the union handed down the 21-day ultimatum to the FG over the delay in sharing palliatives, saying it might be compelled to declare an indefinite labor action if its demands were not met.
In furtherance of its demands, the NLC mobilized workers for a two-day warning strike on September 5 and 6, partially grounding social and economic activities in several states, with banks, ministries, agencies, and departments closed to the public in some states.
The NLC leadership had said the action was in preparation for a total shutdown of the economy, which would start at the expiration of the ultimatum on Friday.
Among other demands, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress were asking for wage awards, the implementation of palliatives, tax exemptions and allowances for public sector workers, and a review of the minimum wage.
Though the FG made a commitment to restructure the framework for engagement with organized labor on palliatives, the eight-week timeframe set for the conclusion of the process expired in August with no action whatsoever.
Briefing journalists at the end of the meeting on Monday, both parties pledged to find solutions to the key demands tabled before the government by organized labor before the deadline.
Lalong said many of the items presented by Labor were still under consideration before the final agreement.
The minister stated, “Our meeting was very robust. It was a fruitful meeting. Many of the items presented by labor are still under consideration before the final agreement or discussions.
“It was a fruitful meeting. I thank the NLC for coming to the meeting and for their very useful contributions.”
The President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, also described the meeting as fruitful but said only the Presidency could take decisions on the demands presented to the government
Ajaero said organized labor was ready to meet with the government any time of the day to find solutions to its demands and avert the planned strike.
The NLC president said, “Like the minister said, we had a fruitful deliberation, and we have agreed to continue to make sure we arrive at meaningful agreement within the remaining days of the ultimatum.
“We equally discussed frankly the issue bordering the coup floated and executed by the Nigeria Police against the National Union of Road Transport Workers, which has led to the detention of their democratically elected national officers, and both parties agreed to show concern towards the resolution of the matter.
‘’It is one sore area that the trade union movement in Nigeria is not ready to compromise. Whether a coup in the trade union movement or in the polity It must be condemned, whether it is in the Niger Republic, Congo, Mali, or in the trade union movement in Nigeria.
“On the other issue, you can see that there is no agreement or implementation on any. There is no CNG anywhere. Refineries are not working. There was no agreement on the wage award. Those are the issues on which we believe something will happen before the ultimatum expires. It is possible that something will happen.’’
He further explained, “We had a convivial deliberation with the minister, and we hope that even if it is remaining one day, we will get to the root of all these problems. Whenever we are invited, we will be there. Both parties will work towards the realization of these objectives before the last minute of the ultimatum.
“There is a larger committee that has set up technical committees. The ministry has performed its role to mediate and conciliate the problem between us and the Federal Government. There is an inter-ministerial committee at the Presidency level that is supposed to address these issues.
“The ministry of labor can’t address wage awards, the issue of CNG, refineries, and others. The ministry has mediated to ensure that there is no problem and to get both parties to resolve these issues. We are ready to engage the government, whether at night or day; we are ready to engage but not at gunpoint.”
Before the meeting went into a closed-door session, Ajaero had said the two-day warning strike declared on September 5 and 6 by the NLC was “a product of frustration caused by the economic situation in the country.”
The labor leader complained that “none of the demands put before the federal government had been addressed.”
He lamented the lack of trust between the government and the union in the negotiation process.
Ajaero stated, “We came with mixed feelings about whether it will work or not because we have had many meetings, some beyond this level, yet nothing seems to be coming out of it.
‘’But I have great optimism in the Nigerian project; we can’t stop trying. We are here with the belief that something may happen. But that doubt, that trust gap, is what we have feared for a long time now, and it calls for lamentation.
“The strike is an effect of a policy that doesn’t have a human face. There was no strike before the removal of fuel subsidies. It was the government that said, Ask for palliatives, ask for wages, and we have asked for it; that warning strike was a product of frustration, up until this moment.’’
Ajaero bemoaned the adverse impact of the fuel subsidy withdrawal on Nigerians, stressing that the NLC would not rush into a strike without justification.
He added, “We must work together to ensure that we don’t keep on dragging out these issues. It is the Nigerian people that are being affected; they are the ones that are suffering. We have a lot of demands that we have put on paper for the government.