FG moves to avert planned labour strike, prays NLC, TUC to show understanding

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The federal government yesterday said it had demonstrated good faith in implementing the agreement it had with the organised labour on steps taken to ameliorate the hardship occasioned by petrol subsidy removal.

The government put on the defence while reacting to the threat by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to embark on a nationwide strike over the government’s failure to implement its part of the understanding they reached following the withdrawal of subsidy on petrol and the attendant dire economic consequences of the policy on the livelihood of Nigerians.

In a joint statement signed by presidents of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), Messrs Joe Ajaero and Festus Usifo respectively, the organised labour accused the government of insincerity in the implementation of the 16-point agreement reached with them on October 2, 2023.

Consequently, they threatened issued a 14-day strike notice – beginning from yesterday, February 9, 2024 – to the government should it fail to address honour its part of the agreement.

The two labour centres said a chunk of the “crucial agreements remain unmet or negligibly addressed, indicating a blatant disregard for the principles of good faith, welfare and rights of Nigerian workers and Nigerians.”

They said the agreement focused majorly on  addressing the massive suffering and the general harsh socio-economic consequences of  “the ill-conceived and ill-executed IMF/World Bank-induced hike in the price of PMS and the devaluation of the naira.’’

“Widespread hunger is now ravishing millions of Nigerians, with the workers purchasing power significantly eroded, while insecurity has assumed an increasing dimension.

“Nigerians are left wondering where their next meals will come from and what tomorrow might bring. The level of panic and anxiety amongst the populace has become nightmarish unfortunately, in the midst of all these, it appears our government is bereft of appropriate measures to ameliorate the huge burden it has foisted on the citizenry.

“We wish to state that these agreements, which encompass a wide range of issues crucial to the well-being of Nigerian masses and workers, have not been honoured as pledged by the federal government.

“From wage awards, palliative adjustments to improved access to public utilities; to the meddlesomeness in the internal affairs of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the interference by the Lagos State Government in union activities, the case of illegal and unlawful proscription of Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria.

“The government’s failure to uphold its end of the bargain is deeply regrettable and unacceptable to the Working people and the citizenry,” they said.

The unions added, “Constrained by this development and recognising the urgency of the situation and the imperative of ensuring the protection and defence of the rights and dignity of Nigerian workers and citizens, the NLC and TUC hereby issue a stern ultimatum to the Federal Government, to honour their part of the understanding within 14 days from tomorrow (today) the 9th day of February 2024.”

Addressing the media yesterday in Abuja, the minister of state, labour and employment, Ms Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, said the government was working to ensure that everything was done to address the needs and concerns of the nation.

“We have shown good faith, government is committed to expedite full implementation of the MOU.

“This government acknowledges the challenges faced by Nigerians and has demonstrated sincerity in its ongoing negotiations with the trade unions”.

The minister said the government had progressively implemented the MoU reached with the unions and had kept its doors open for further engagement to ensure that everything was done to address the needs and concerns of the nation.

Onyejeocha said all the agreements with labour were not implementable at once, urging labour leaders to give the government more time.

“These agreements, all of them are not going to be done the same day. Some can’t be done in two, three or four months. Like the CNG, it is a process that’s ongoing, and I’ve just told Nigerians what the CNG group has been doing in the last four months.

“We’ve commenced deliveries on those agreements. We’ve been reaching out to the organised labour because the president is committed to these agreements; he has good faith, that’s why we don’t want anybody to shut down the economy at any time because it will affect everybody.

“It’s like you want to pull down the whole roof of a house, meanwhile, you’re still inside the roof. We’re not shying away from implementing the agreements we’ve entered with the organised labour,” Onyejeocha said.

She listed some of the progress made to include the implementation of the N35, 000 wage award agreed upon between the government and the organised labour.

“We will ensure the complete implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) we entered into with Organised Labour. Our word is our bond.

“I can confidently say that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration stands firmly with the people, and the President is tirelessly working to ensure that everything is done to address the needs and concerns of the nation.

“The N35, 000 wage award agreed upon between the government and organised labour is currently being implemented,” she said.

However, the minister said her ministry had received complaints regarding non-implementation in some public sector organisations as well as the private sector.

“The Ministry is actively addressing these issues to ensure compliance across all sectors.

“The office of the national security adviser (NSA) has intervened in the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) matter with the Lagos State Government.

“As a result, up to 80 per cent of the agreement with the RTEAN management has been fulfilled, and ongoing efforts are in place to complete the remaining process,” she added.

She also noted that the federal government recently inaugurated a 37-member tripartite committee to recommend a new national minimum wage for Nigerian workers, “all in a bid to mitigate the hardship the Nigerian citizens are facing.”

Onyejeocha stated that in line with ongoing commitment to improving the welfare of Nigerians, “the government is actively implementing its plan to go green with the implementation of the Presidential CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) Initiative designed to alleviate the challenges arising from subsidy removal and transition Nigeria permanently to cheaper, safer and more reliable gas produced domestically for transport.

“Provisions have also been made for an initial 55,000 CNG conversion kits as part of the commencement of the auto gas conversion programme.

“Development of the state-of-the-art CNG conversion centres nationwide is also ongoing with the aim to deliver one million converted bi-fuel CNG/PMS vehicles to enable transporters and mass transit operators convert their vehicles that run on PMS to gas (which is forty to fifty percent cheaper than PMS).

“The government, through the ministry of finance, is procuring up to 11,500 CNG vehicles, including buses and tricycles that will be rolled out in fulfillment of the President’s promise by financing them at concessionary rate, even as production and assembly are ongoing locally and will be delivered in the next few months,” she added.