A looming nationwide strike hangs in the balance as the agreement between the Federal Government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) faces a critical challenge. The NLC has accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, of veering off course from the agreed terms.
To provide context, organised labour, consisting of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), had initially planned a nationwide strike. However, they suspended this action after reaching an agreement with the government on October 2, 2023. This agreement included provisions for a N35,000 wage award for federal workers and ensuring no interference with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) activities.
Despite these agreements, the situation has taken an alarming turn as the Minister of Labour and Employment has been accused of trying to impose new leadership on the NURTW. This action is seen as a violation of international labour conventions (ILO Conventions 87 and 98) and the government-labour agreement.
The 30-day deadline for the agreement’s implementation, intended to prevent a nationwide strike, is now less than two weeks away. The NLC, in a statement by General Secretary Emmanuel Ugboaja, has expressed its unwavering support for the democratically elected NURTW leadership and will work alongside them as the legitimate representatives of workers in the transport sector.
The NLC is deeply concerned about the government’s actions, which it believes do not reflect good-faith negotiations. It is determined to explore every avenue to protect the interests of the trade union movement from what it views as an emerging irresponsibility within the government. The situation remains critical, with the possibility of a nationwide strike looming large if the issues are not resolved.
The statement, titled “Minister Lalong’s reckless move to undermine the critical labour-federal government agreement of October 2, 2023,’’ read: “In a shocking turn of events, the Federal Minister of Labour, Mr. Lalong, has thrown a spanner in the wheel of the implementation of the Labour-Federal Government Agreement by his unmasked partiality in handling a critical item in the agreement which is the apparent government meddling in trade union matters by siding with people, who had illegally seized the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, headquarters with police support.
“This group is now being encouraged to conduct its own delegates’ conference, both at zonal and national levels, to confer legitimacy on their action.
‘’This flagrant act not only constitutes an egregious intrusion into the internal affairs of a union, in violation of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, but also represents a clear attempt to sabotage the recently ratified agreement between the labour movement and the Federal Government.
“It is unfathomable that a federal minister of labour, tasked with safeguarding the rights and interests of diverse stakeholders in our industrial relations landscape, would opt to take actions that could undermine the very foundations of our collective engagement.
“The minister’s decision, which is clearly morally reprehensible and legally untenable, marks a disheartening departure from the expected standards of conduct within the nation’s industrial relations sphere.
“Despite initial assurances from the minister regarding the illegal occupation of the NURTW’s national headquarters, the democratically elected leadership, led by Comrade Tajudeen Baruwa, has not been reinstated.
Read also:NLC, TUC suspend strike for 30 days
‘’Instead, the minister has chosen to endorse and legitimise this hijacking with the state’s backing. This blatant power grab, subverting legality and moral integrity, is an affront on the principles of democratic governance.
“It is now abundantly clear that the federal government never negotiated in good faith and, consequently, was never genuinely committed to honouring the terms of the October 2, 2023 Agreement.
“This serves to affirm our earlier apprehension that the state was manoeuvring to orchestrate a coup d’état against the democratically elected NURTW leadership, potentially alluding to the support of the government, as suggested by Minister Lalong’s actions and statements.
“There is no doubt, both to us and the Nigerian public, about the government’s intentions regarding the implementation of the October 2, 2023, Agreement. It is evident that akin to the NURTW issue, the execution of other facets of the agreement may be jeopardized.
‘’Therefore, we take heed of Minister Lalong’s actions, which flagrantly violate an accord responsibly endorsed by all involved parties.
“We reiterate and emphasize the following points: The NURTW leadership crisis was engineered by the federal government through the Police, aiding the Lagos group, who were members of the lands, parks and garages commission in Lagos State, not the NURTW, to forcibly occupy the union’s headquarters in Abuja.
“Comrade Tajudeen Baruwa’s leadership was democratically elected, adhering to union statutes, the national laws and ILO Conventions.
“The election process began in May 2023 at the zonal levels, culminating in the national delegates’ conference of August 2023 that inaugurated the current leadership of Comrade Baruwa in August 2023.
“The governor of Lagos State previously created Lands, Parks and Garages Commission which led to the Lagos group in 2022 renouncing their membership of the union and taking up offices in the government agency.
“It is inconceivable for non-union members to seize national leadership, bolstered by the coercive powers of the state, invoking the name of the President as a shield and sword.
“The Nigeria Labour Congress firmly rejects Minister Lalong’s endorsement of the holding of illegal conferences. Any deviation from the spirit of our prior agreement on this matter forebodes grave consequences.
‘’The government cannot flout ILO conventions, the Constitution, and our statutes with impunity and believe that all will be quiet.
“As Minister Lalong recklessly steers our nation towards an industrial crisis, we pledge unwavering resistance to all forms of malfeasance and misconduct within Nigeria’s trade union sphere.
‘’We will marshal our resources to ensure that political interference and lawlessness do not corrupt leadership selection processes within the trade union sector.
“Minister Lalong, having descended into the arena, has stripped himself of the moral high ground and authority to continue mid-wifing the process of implementing the October 2 Agreement.
‘’We will, therefore, be highly constrained to attend any meeting he calls for the purposes of the implementation of that Agreement.
“A Minister of Labour is supposed to be an arbiter and as expected, to provide professional guidance to the government on this matter, instead he chose to contaminate the process with the same level of politics of the murky waters playing out in the larger polity.
“We implore the President to rein in Minister Lalong, and if this does not occur, we will conclude that the minister’s actions align with the President’s directives.
“Our allegiance is to upholding the rule of law and democratic principles, even if the minister chooses to disregard them. We will continue to stand by the democratically elected NURTW leadership, working with them as the legitimate representatives of workers in their sector, to thwart those seeking to contaminate the trade union sphere with political machinations.
“Every avenue will be explored to shield the trade union movement from this emerging irresponsibility.
“We steadfastly uphold the provisions of the October 2, 2023, Agreement, and any continued non-compliance after 30 days will compel our relevant bodies to take necessary actions.
“The onus now rests with the government to either honour the essence of the agreement or persist on Minister Lalong’s perilous course, inevitably leading to a national industrial crisis. The blame for such an outcome will squarely fall on the Minister of Labour, Mr.