NLC factions divided over strike

NLC factions divided over strike
May 18 09:22 2016

…Wabba faction, TUC vow to disregard court order

….As govt threatens no work no pay

The Nigeria Labour Congress faction led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba and the Trade Union Congress have vowed to proceed with the industrial action scheduled to begin on Wednesday inspite of an existing court order restraining them.

The National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, had on Tuesday, stopped th NLC and TUC from embarking on strike to protest the increase of fuel price from N86.50 to N146

The NLC faction led by Joe Ajaero, however said the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, and others would not join the strike.

The Ajarero faction and the Federal Government agreed to set up a joint technical committee to review the new fuel pump price template of N135-N145 within the next two weeks and also work towards reviewing the current national minimum wage of N18, 000.

President of the National Industrial Court, NIC, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, in a ruling, restrained the labour unions from going on strike, pending the determination of a suit the Federal Government lodged before it.

Justice Adejumo further ordered all the parties to maintain status quo until the legal dispute was settled.

The order followed an ex-parte application filed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN.

The AGF approached the NIC, begging it to restrain the labour unions from “shutting down the nation”. Relying on Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the Federal Government insisted that it would not be “in the national interest” for the NLC and TUC to proceed on nationwide strike over the fuel price increase.

Malami argued that no amount of damages could serve as compensation, if the labour unions were allowed to shut down the economy. Contending that the balance of convenience was in favour of the government, the AGF prayed the court to determine “whether the respondents (NLC, TUC) have complied with the laid-down condition precedent for embarking on strike.”

The AGF also prayed the court to determine “whether, indeed, there exists in law and, in fact, the basis of which the respondents’ total closure of the economy can be justified”.

He told the court that the respondents met on Saturday and issued a communique wherein they gave government a three-day ultimatum to reverse the decision increasing fuel price.

He said the respondents, aside from threatening to shut down the country, if government failed to reverse the fuel price increase, also threatened to close down all government offices, seaports, airports and markets.

The AGF argued that ordinary and law-abiding citizens would be subjected to hardship, if the respondents were allowed to go ahead with their threat. He said the government was left with no alternative but to seek the intervention of the court. Besides, Malami told the court that he got notice of the communique on Sunday and quickly filed an originating summons, a motion on notice and an ex-parte application to determine whether NLC’s decision was justified in the circumstance.

He insisted that “great and irreparable damage” would be done against the nation and “ordinary and law-abiding citizens”, should the court refuse the ex-parte application.

Though none of the Labour unions was represented in court, Justice Adejumo granted the ex-parte motion, even as he ordered the service of all the relevant court processes on the respondents.

Organised Labour and its civil society allies, angered by government’s decision to seek redress at the NIC in the midst of a negotiation, on Tuesday, walked out of a meeting with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and vowed to go ahead with the planned indefinite strike from Wednesday to make government reverse the N145 per litre pump price of petrol.

NLC faction, led by Wabba, alongside TUC, and Joint Action Front, JAF, at separate meetings in Abuja and Lagos, described the restraining order by NIC as a black market injunction.

Leaders of Wabba faction of NLC and TUC, at their emergency National Executive Council, NEC, meeting in Abuja, insisted that once the strike commences on Wednesday, only the joint NEC of NLC and TUC could call it off. Although newsmen waited anxiously to be briefed on the outcome of the NEC meeting amid the court order, leaders of both bodies left the Labour House, Abuja, venue of the meeting without talking to journalists.

Meanwhile, factional president of NLC, Joe Ajaero, also faulted the restraining order by NIC stopping the planned strike and mass protest. Ajaero, while reacting to the restraining order by the President of NIC, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, contended that it was wrong for the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to have gone to court over a matter that parties were already on a negotiation table.

He equally wondered why the President of NIC would give an order on an ex-parte application without putting the other party on notice as was the practice.

Ajaero said: “This was not the first time a court would try to stop labour action. If you could recall, when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was the president of NLC, there was a court order against planned strike by NLC and TUC, which Oshiomhole described as a black market injunction.

“It was very wrong for the Attorney General of the Federation to have gone to court while parties in this case, the federal government and Labour, were already on the negotiation table.”

He however noted that labour could not have mobilised sufficiently enough for Wednesday’s strike without exhausting all avenues for settlement. “When we spoke with you yesterday (Monday), we insisted that there was no way we could mobilize, sensitize and even start an action tomorrow (Wednesday). ‘’That we would rather negotiate and it is only when the negotiations might have collapsed that we take the option of going through any action. “On the basis of that, we agreed that a committee should be set up to, among other things, look at the issue of minimum wage; look at the issue of N500bn social investment; look at the issue of setting up or reconstituting the PPPRA board and review the N145 new pump price of petroleum product. ‘’The committee is to report back in two weeks time. I won’t like to drag it more than this than to say this is the summary of the agreement reached.,” he stated.

Ajaero, however, insisted that his faction, including NUPENG, PENGASSAN, NUEE, among others, would not go on strike over fuel price hike by the Federal Government. He spoke after his faction’s meeting with federal government officials ended early Tuesday morning. This was a few hours after the meeting with Ayuba Wabba’s faction ended.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has threatened not to pay workers who join Labour in the ‘illegal’ strike called on Wednesday.

A statement signed by the SGF on Tuesday night read in full: “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, 18th May, 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.”