Lecturers demonstrating in southeast Nigeria against the cuts in higher education. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (AASU) has been striking in the region since July 2010., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Labour, govs end talks
Wednesday, 20 July 2011 00:00
From Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Collins Olayinka (Abuja), Samson Ezea (Lagos), Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu, and Taiwo Gbadamosi (Benin City)
Soyinka urges govt to pay up
THERE were indications last night that representatives of the Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum (NGF), the Federal Government and the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) were set to reach a truce on the minimum wage crisis and avert today’s strike.
Some governors at the meeting said they would do all that is required to save Nigerians from the pains of the national strike while Labour insisted on the strike unless there was a serious commitment from the government.
Labour, which was led by the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdulwaheed Omar and his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart, Peter Esele, declined to speak to journalists, saying they were going to meet with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim.
Even some of the governors approached after about five hours parley, also declined any comment.
Chairman of the governors’ forum, Rotimi Amaechi who spoke briefly, said: “I cannot say anything to you now. Labour will make appropriate pronouncement after they have met with the SGF. We have finished with them. So, wait and hear from them.”
On his part, Esele said: “We are going to meet with the SGF. It is after our meeting that we will be in a position to say something concrete.”
The Guardian however learnt that the parley with the governors may need further areas to be sorted out. For instance, the insistence of Labour that governments at all levels pay the new wage effective from March and when the money would be available to begin implementation, is expected to form the fulcrum of the agreement that could be signed between Labour and government.
This may have informed the decision of Labour to return to the SGF to put finishing touches to the agreement.
Meanwhile, as both sides continue their talks, the state chapters of the union said they were set for the three-day warning strike.
But Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, appealed to the government to listen to the agitations of workers and proceed with implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage across board.
Soyinka spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos, even as the NLC and TUC were poised to begin a three-day warning strike today over the issue.
“I am on the side of Labour. The voice of the people is the voice of God. They should be listened to for once. Why should they wait till 2012 before the minimum wage is implemented,?” he said.
According to him, what the workers are asking for is not extraordinary and so, it should not become an issue for an unnecessarily long debate.
Reacting, the leadership of Labour Party (LP) yesterday condemned the inability of the government to achieve an understanding with Labour unions over the minimum wage crisis despite it being a law in the country.
In a statement, National Chairman of the party, Dan Nwanyanwu, said the LP would take side with Labour on the strike.
Nwanyanwu wrote: “It is not enough for the governors to say that they will pay. There must be concrete arrangement as to when they will commence the payment. This arrangement will also consider the payment of arrears with effect from when the law was passed.
“We are aware that some people are still agitating for the creation of more states, yet most of these states cannot pay their workers. We therefore urge that states that cannot pay minimum wage should merge with other states or from states that they were carved out from.
“The time is now for most states to merge. If government existence is only on the ground of federal allocation, then such states must be pronounced insolvent. Such states must be scrapped and merged. Maybe that will solve the problem of everybody coming to Abuja to collect money.”
Despite the Rivers State government’s pledge to start the immediate payment of the minimum wage, TUC yesterday asked its affiliates in the state to set up strike monitoring and enforcement committees charged with a total shutdown of the state.
Rivers TUC Chairman, Chika Onuegbu, also implored the strike monitoring committees to liaise with the state Central Strike Committee headed by Vice Chairman, Godspower Imoni.
He urged all workers in the country to disregard the “misguided, vexatious and evil” statements by the Nigerian Employers Consultative Assocation (NECA) asking labour to restrict the strike to the public sector.
Onuegbu added: “Nigerian workers cannot be slaves in their fatherland. We thank PENGASSAN, NUPENG, ASUU and all unions for directing their members to comply fully with the directives of TUC and NLC over the N18,000 minimum wage.”
As organised Labour insists on industrial action, the leaderships of the Edo State chapter of NLC, TUC and the Joint Negotiating Council yesterday absolved themselves from alleged exclusion of some sections of the state civil service from the newly approved minimum wage bill.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole had on July 11, 2011, signed an agreement with the trade unions for the implementation of N18,000 minimum wage for the state civil servants with effect from June 2011 but did not include teachers and judicial workers, as he said they were already on special salary structure.
The governor also asked the teachers and judicial workers unions to come for negotiations with the administration.
This development led to teachers both under the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS) and the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) issuing ultimatum to the government to immediately include them in the new salary structure or face industrial action. The teachers also accused the leadership of the NLC and TUC of marginalising them and serving their own interests at the negotiation with the governor.
But a press statement issued yesterday and signed by the Chairmen of NLC and TUC, Emma Ademokun and Joe Aligbe, said the agreement for the new minimum wage would affect all workers in the public sector of Edo State.
The state TUC and NLC have also directed all workers to comply with the three-day nationwide warning strike declared by the national leadership of the NLC from today.
Also, Chairman, NLC, Kwara State, Umar Farouq, yesterday disclosed that non- implementation of the minimum wage was caused by the disagreement in the payment table prepared by the state government.
Farouq told NAN in Ilorin that the issue in contention was that the table proposed an interim implementation of the minimum wage.
He explained that the committee set up by the government submitted its report and recommended a payment table with effect from July.
According to him, the state NLC has written a letter to NLC’s headquarters for an advice on the government’s proposal.
“For us in Kwara, a committee was put in place; the committee has done its assignment. It has submitted its report. And as at the time we met last Friday, we were offered a new table, which will have been implemented with effect from July.
“There is a particular aspect of the table that we do not agree with and we decided to seek the advice of the head office of the NLC,” Farouq said.
He disclosed that the state government had wanted an interim implementation of the minimum wage pending the review of revenue allocation before full implementation.
“If the national headquarters of NLC sees any sense in the interim implementation, we will go ahead. But if there is no sense in it, we will tarry a bit until we make sure we have something that will be acceptable to everybody,” he added.
Farouq expressed the chapter’s readiness to comply with the three-day warning strike starting today and explained that a committee had been put in place to monitor and enforce compliance.
But, National Association of Postgraduate Students (NAPS) yesterday appealed to NLC and TUC to consider the negative social consequences of strike on the fragile economy.
Mr. Collins Adeyanju, the national president of the association, made the call in a statement issued in Abuja.
The statement said the Labour unions should consider other options to resolve the issue on ground.
“We hereby appeal to the NLC and the TUC to consider the negative social consequences of their planned industrial action on the already fragile economy,” he said.
The statement also called on the Federal Government to yield to the demand of the NLC on the minimum wage as Nigeria was undergoing security challenges.
It reads in part: “The Federal Government is called upon, in line with the promise of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for transformation, to avert the proposed strike in the interest of the masses.
“Nigeria, at this moment, is undergoing tremendous challenges, arising from the insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram and the current economic hardship, and therefore, cannot afford to be further compromised by industrial action.
“Organised Labour is enjoined to exhaust all avenues of negotiation with the Federal Government over the N18,000 minimum wage before embarking on strike.”