•NLC on Court Order: we’re ready to go to prision

•TUC, civil servants vow strike will go ahead

•Governors Forum, NLC parley fails to break deadlock

ORGANISED labour is pressing ahead with its planned anti-fuel price and electricity tariff hike strike across the country tomorrow despite spirited efforts by the federal government and the 36 state governors to stave off the protest.

Not even a list of palliatives offered by the federal government to the workers seems to be making any impression on them.

A peace meeting convened on Saturday in Abuja by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) with labour representatives yielded no fruit.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC), which is organising the strike with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said yesterday that there was no stopping the action.

Civil servants at federal and state levels declared their readiness for the strike despite the Friday warning by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Folasade Yemi-Esan, to workers on the payroll of the federal government not to join the planned strike.

Mrs. Esan cited the National Industrial Arbitration Court’s interim injunctions restraining the strike’s organisers from proceeding with their plan.

The President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Innocent Bola-Audu, responding to the warning yesterday, said that federal workers “are joining the strike. It is as simple as that.”

The federal government, in a last gasp effort to prevent the strike, has offered five categories of palliatives to the workers, including the extension of the N500 billion COVID-19 intervention funds to them.

But labour says while it remains open to resumption of talks with government tomorrow, it is not “too keen” on the palliatives.

A highly-placed government source said: “The government has worked round the clock to put some palliatives in place to mitigate the effects of fuel price increase and the hike in electricity tariffs.

“We have limited resources but we are bending backwards to adjust to accommodate the workers’ demand without hurting the economy.

“For example, Nigerian workers will benefit from the N500 billion set aside for COVID-19 intervention funds in one form or the other. This is why we are also engaging the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in the talks with labour.

“The agriculture loans we are giving to 240,000 workers will be interest-free to enable them augment their salaries. The nation’s constitution allows workers to own farmlands.

“Our appeal to Labour leaders is to avert any strike action which will further compound our economic challenges. We have lost so much to the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to leave the economy grounded.”

The source listed the palliatives as:

  • 240,000 workers to benefit from government agriculture loans
  • 50,000 civil servants (Levels 01-04) to get N2.5 billion cash transfers meant for urban poor.
  • Mass housing scheme for workers through Micro-finance and Federal Mortgage Bank
  • Solar power for 5 million homes
  • Mass gas-powered transit buses to convey workers to offices and for public use
  • Hasten action on emergence of modular refineries

A labour leader confirmed the palliatives offer to “meet one of our conditions’, but said: “We know that it is a game or a bait to stop us from going on strike”.

Continuing, the labour leader, who requested not to be named, said: “This is not the first time the government will come up with palliatives which will be implemented haphazardly.

“The last time they imported buses from abroad, the policy did not last. All the buses have been grounded along Kubwa Highway in Abuja.

“They have also failed to realise that this agitation is not about workers but about the plight of all Nigerians.

“At our session, we took note of the palliatives, but we said before we get to this stage, suspend the implementation of hike in electricity tariffs for one month to enable the technical committee to complete its assignment.

“On modular refineries, we said we are interested in order to check wastage of scarce resources on the turnaround maintenance of the nation’s moribund refineries.

“In fact, the government delegation claimed that two or three modular refineries will soon come on stream. They said the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has gone to inspect one of these refineries.

“We are for the deregulation of the oil sector, but with a human face. We support the government’s position on withdrawal of oil subsidy, but we must look inwards to produce the fuel we consume locally.”

Labour Minister Chris Ngige was optimistic, when contacted yesterday, that the strike could be averted.

He said: “I am a conciliator between the two parties. I am aware the government has presented its proposed palliatives to the Labour leaders.

“We are hopeful that we will find solutions to all the demands in order to save the nation the agony of any strike action.

“We are hopeful that there will be truce at the end of the day. This is our nation; we have to work collectively to help it to wade through the present economic challenges.”

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) held an emergency meeting with labour representatives in Abuja also as part of the effort to prevent the strike.

Although the NGF said at the end of the meeting that its members and labour “are on the path to resolving the impasse occasioned by the threat by workers to embark on industrial action”, there was no evidence in the communiqué issued at the end of yesterday’s talks that a compromise had been reached by the two sides.

The communiqué, which was signed by NGF’s spokesman, Abulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, reads in part: “The NGF Chairman explained that governors decided to wade into the ongoing negotiations with a view to broadening consultations and assisting to bring the impasse to an end, thus averting the impending strike action.

“He pleaded with the NLC that the timing of the action was inauspicious and could aggravate an already worsening situation if not averted.

“Dr John Kayode Fayemi emphasised that the plight of workers in the country was already in dire straits and that any action embarked upon by the union at this time would further worsen their situation as contained in the communique issued by governors after their first emergency meeting on Thursday, 24th September, 2020, since the outbreak of the pandemic and eventual lockdown of the country last March.

“The NGF Chairman said no one that is conversant with the prevailing situation in the country would disagree with labour and its demands, as it were, but pleaded that governors be given time to consult more broadly with the various stakeholders, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, the Vice President and the President.

“This, he said, would be top priority for the NGF and promised to head straight to the presidency once the meeting was over.

“The NGF Chairman expressed the hope that this gesture from the governors would also energise the leadership of labour to put a hold on their planned action.

“In conclusion, Dr. Fayemi stated that Government and Labour are not that far apart in the negotiation and the differences are not irreconcilable. According to NGF Chairman, “our President, who is always on the side of workers, will not be averse to the issues being raised, and I’m hopeful of an amicable settlement on the issues highlighted.

“On his part, the President of the NLC said the Federal Government violated the time-tested global process of dialogue and thanked the NGF Chairman for his efforts at ensuring that sanity returns to the negotiation table.

“When the cost of PMS rises, the cost of everything in the country rises with it”, the NLC President explained.

“He agreed with the NGF Chairman and also praised him for agreeing to broaden the mechanism for consultation on the matter, saying “I praise you for showing a good grasp of this matter and I believe that if they had widened the mechanism for consultation and involved people like you, we wouldn’t have come to this pass.”?

At the meeting held at the Abuja residence of the Chairman of the NGF, Govrernor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, were Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba; Trade Union Congress (TUC) President, Quadri Olaleye; the NLC General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboajah and the Director General of the NGF, Mr. Asishana Okauru.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) threatened to boycott peace talks with government should it be served with any court order restraining it from going ahead with the strike.

NLC Vice President Joe Ajaero, said: “The protest is by Nigerians and members of NLC and TUC are Nigerians, so let them injunct the whole country.

“The nationwide protest by all Nigerians, community leaders, students will go ahead as planned. You can get a (court) order against the NLC but I am a Nigerian and other Nigerians will come out and protest. There are things you don’t injunct.

“If there is any injunction, then the meeting of Monday will not hold. If they go ahead to serve us with injunction, they have closed all avenues for dialogue.

“Bad laws must be disobeyed. You are injuncting me for imposing tariff on me? The person must be joking.

“I think by tomorrow or on Monday they should open up all the prisons. Nigeria people will occupy them. Why are they wasting time with injunctions? Let them bring prison sentences directly.

“Those (petrol and electricity hikes) are anti-people policies, including using the courts to subvert the will of the people. And on a daily basis that they bring these injunctions, they aggravate the situation and we will not be party to any further meetings on this.

“If the courts can solve their problem, let them go ahead with the courts. I don’t think we will continue with the dialogues.”

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) said there was no going back on the planned strike.

“Why do you think the strike will not go on?” was the answer from TUC president Quadri Olaleye yesterday when he was asked whether the strike organisers would reconsider their position.

His words: “We are discussing with government. They fixed a meeting for 3pm on Monday as at today (Saturday). Why do you think the strike will not go on? They (government side) adjourned the meeting till that date.

“If we were the ones that adjourned, we would have said let us wait till after the meeting on Monday. But they were the ones that adjourned.

“We gave them 24 hours to reconvene the meeting and they said they could  only reconvene on Monday by 3pm.

“So automatically, the strike will start except otherwise stated.”

He said about 45 civil societies as well as market women had been mobilised for the industrial action.

Also, the President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Comrade Festus Osifo, said the association had reached out to its branches, telling them to prepare for the strike.

He said a letter directing the branches to mobilise for the strike was dispatched on Friday.

Osifo said: “Absolutely, because we are affiliates of TUC. So, as long as TUC has called for strike, we just have to join. It is an obligation.

“It is mandatory for us to join as long as the strike is called by TUC. Definitely, we will. We issued letters yesterday (Friday) to the branches (state chapters).”

The National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), the Joint Action Front (JAF), Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), aviation unions, among others, have declared their interests in the strike.

Also joining the strike is the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) which has directed its members nationwide to get ready for action.

The General Secretary of PASAN, Comrade D.D.Y. Suleman, in a circular to its members, said the strike became necessary following the recent increases in electricity tariffs and the pump price of petrol.

The circular was addressed to all organs of PASAN, including the Central Working Committee (CWC) Members, National Executive Committee (NEC) members and all PASAN members across the country.

The Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) said no court injunction would  prevent tomorrow’s planned protest by workers.

ASCSN National President, Innocent Bola-Audu, said federal workers would join the industrial action declared by organised labour.

The ASCSN boss said workers had already been mobilised to execute the strike on Monday.

Asked if civil servants would join the strike, the ASCSN President said: “Yes, we are joining the strike. It is as simple as that.

“Our members have the directive to begin strike on Monday. You know the strike should have started since the 23rd of September, 2020 but we had to also align with our brother, the NLC, and we have not given them any other contrary directive from the last one we gave them, which was on the 22nd of September, 2020 and we told them that by 28 of September, 2020 the strike is going on.

“The Federal Government should understand that labour operates under strict international rules and regulations.

“The Federal Government cannot inflict pains on Nigerian workers and then they now run to court to seek an injunction and say we should continue to feel the pains because court has granted them an injunction.

“It is the right of the workers to protest – the International Labour Organisation Convention, 89 and 144 and where processes are properly served. Running to court will not save the situation.”

The head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan had, on Friday, warned workers on the payroll of the federal government not to take part in the strike in view of the interim injunctions issued by the National Industrial Arbitration Court restraining the strike organisers from proceeding with it.

Her words: “Sequel to the call by the Labour Unions for workers to embark on industrial action from Monday, 28th September, 2020, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) wishes to inform all public servants that the Federal Government team is currently engaging with the labour unions with a view to resolving all contentious issues and avert the planned industrial action,” she said.

“Furthermore, it is important  to note that there is a court injunction granted by the National Industrial Court (Suit No. NICN/ABJ/253/2020) on 24th September, 2020, restraining the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria from embarking on any form of industrial action pending the hearing and determination of a Motion on Notice.

“Accordingly, all officers on Grade Level 12 and above and those on essential services are hereby strongly advised to be at work to perform their official duties.”

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