Organised labour has called off the nationwide industrial action scheduled to commence on Tuesday (today) to press home workers’ demand for a new national minimum wage.
The National Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, announced the suspension at the end of the 10pm meeting of the tripartite committee set up to come up with the new minimum wage on Monday.
Wabba said the decision to suspend the action was reached after agreements were reached and documents signed.
“Having reached this position and agreements signed, the proposed strike action is hereby suspended,” the labour leader said.
Wabba, however, refused to disclose the figure of the new minimum wage arrived at by the committee.
He said the figure would only be made public after the committee’s report would have been presented to President Muhammadu Buhari by 4.15pm on Tuesday.
He, however, said only one figure would be presented to the President.
The Chairman of the committee, Amma Pepple, expressed delight that their assignment had been concluded.
“I am happy to report to you that we have concluded our assignment and we will submit our report to the President by 4.15pm on Tuesday.
“We will reveal the figure at the presentation,” she said.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, thanked members of the committee for doing a wonderful job.
He described the process as a long journey.
“The committee has worked assiduously to reach the conclusion,” he said.
Earlier, the tripartite committee set up by the Federal Government to come up with a new national minimum wage for the country concluded its assignment on Monday.
The committee chaired by a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Amma Pepple, had recommended two figures, N24,000 and N30,000, for minimum wage.
Pepple disclosed this to journalists at the end of the committee’s marathon meeting held to beat the indefinite strike action declared by labour unions and scheduled to start on Tuesday.
In the process of negotiation, state governors said they could only pay N22,500; the Federal Government proposed N24,000 while the labour and organised private sector settled for N30,000.
The labour and the Federal Government did not shift ground at the Monday meeting.
Pepple said the committee would present the two figures to the executive arm of government which will take a final decision after due consultation.
She said the final decision would thereafter be sent to the National Assembly.
“We have concluded but we have a little challenge about Chapter 5 of our report. That is the section where we report the negotiation and the figures we used for negotiation and the figure that we concluded on.
“The committee came up with two figures. The Federal Government suggested N24,000 and labour, as well as the organised private sector, gave a figure of N30,000.
“There is no stalemate. We have finished and we have signed the report but what we are insisting on is that the strike should be called off. We are waiting for the President to give us a date to submit the report. The report will go through a process. It will go through the Federal Government as well as the National Assembly.”
On the industrial action scheduled to commence on Tuesday, Pepple said, “We have pleaded with them (labour leaders) to call off the strike and they have said they are going to consult. So we are likely to come back. We shall be reconvening at 10pm.”
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, also told reporters that the government was making progress.
He insisted that the N24,000 figure of the Federal Government was based on ability to pay and sustainability, stressing that the state governors who proposed N22,500 would have no choice but to adopt the Federal Government’s figure.
The minister said, “We are making progress. The governors’ figure should be the figure of the Federal Government. We are just trying to carry them along; otherwise, the Federal Government speaks for the government.
“The figures are standing but you know that there are other processes. It will get to the National Economic Council, Council of State and then an Executive Bill will be sent to the National Assembly.
“The Federal Government figure of N24,000 is noted and it is also weighty because it is based on ability to pay and sustainability.
He added, “The labour is satisfied. We have done the needful and we have crossed the Rubicon. The only aspect we need to do now is to fix an appointment to present the report to the President.
“We are reconvening tonight because that appointment has to be made. Mr President has gone home; he is not just sitting idle. We have sent message to the place and we are making necessary contacts. If we get the appointment now, we will reconvene and decide what to do.
“The state governors have no choice now because they have attached themselves to us as the supreme sovereign, they are the minor sovereign.”
Representatives of the labour union that attended the meeting have yet to speak with journalists as of the time of filing this report.
While some of them left and insisted that they would not talk until after the meeting slated for 10pm, some others remained at the venue of the meeting.
The Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, who represented governors on the committee also did not talk to journalists before leaving the venue.
The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, also refused to talk to journalists.
The two ministers left the venue earlier than others.
While the reconvened 10pm meeting of the tripartite committee was still ongoing, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, on Monday night ordered all workers to ensure they resume at their duty posts on Tuesday.
She said the order became necessary because the National Industrial Court had restrained the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress from embarking on strike from Tuesday as scheduled.
The order was contained in a circular titled ‘Notice of court injunction on proposed strike action: Directive for compliance’ and dated November 5, 2018.
The circular was signed on behalf of the HOCSF by the Permanent Secretary, Service Welfare Office, Mrs Didi Walson-Jack.
She asked all Permanent Secretaries to ensure strict compliance with her directive.
The circular read, “The attention of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation has been drawn to the order of interim injunction by the Abuja Division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria dated November 2, 2018 restraining the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and their members from embarking on or taking part in the strike or industrial action to commence on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.
“In view of the above, I am directed to inform you that all staff are expected to continue to report at their duty posts to carry out their duties pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.
“All Permanent Secretaries and Heads of extra-Ministerial Departments and Agencies are to bring the content of this circular to the attention of their staff and ensure strict compliance.”
Earlier, President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday appealed to the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress to consider the rot, he claimed, his administration inherited and call off its planned strike.
Buhari made the appeal at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, when he received members of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria led by Ambassador Oladapo Fafowora.
The appeal came barely 24 hours to the commencement of the indefinite industrial action called by labour unions to press for a new national minimum wage.
Buhari said the workers needed to show more understanding.
“President Buhari also appealed to the Nigeria Labour Congress to consider what this government inherited and the more it is doing with fewer resources in putting the economy right,” a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, read.
Buhari assured Nigerians that his administration would sustain investments to upgrade and develop the country’s transport and power infrastructure.
He said, ‘’There is no part of the country I haven’t been to, having attempted to be President four times. I know the condition of our roads. The rails were literally killed; there was no power despite the admittance of some previous leadership that they spent $16bn on the sector.
“Today, we are getting our priorities right and we believe that of the three fundamental issues we campaigned on, security, the economy and fighting corruption, we have remained very relevant and Nigerians believe we have achieved something.”
Buhari’s appeal came just as the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Abuja, also on Monday, rejected a request for a fresh order to stop the organised labour from embarking on its planned strike scheduled to commence on Tuesday (today).
The court presided over by Justice Sanusi Kado also refused to grant a prayer for an order to compel the government to immediately commence the process of adopting N30,000 as the new national minimum wage.
Justice Kado said it would be unnecessary to make another order stopping labour from embarking on the planned strike having earlier made a similar one in a case brought to the court by the Federal Government on Friday.
The Federal Government had filed its suit following the threat by the organised labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress, and the United Labour Congress, to embark on strike if its demand to increase the national minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000 was not met.
Contrary to the labour’s demand, the Federal Government said it could only pay N24,000 as minimum wage and the state governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, had stuck to N22,500.
The lingering dispute between government and the labour prompted the Federal Government to seek and obtain the court order to stop the strike. Labour however denied receiving any notice or order from any court.
The fresh ex parte application seeking to stop labour from embarking on the strike and to also compel government to commence the process of paying the N30,000 minimum wage was filed by a civil society group, Kingdom Human Rights Foundation International.
The group’s lawyer, Mr Okere Nnamdi, at the Monday’s proceedings, informed the court that he filed his client’s ex parte motion alongside other processes on November 1.
He urged the court to grant the prayers, including the one seeking an order of substituted service of the court processes on the governors joined as the 10th to the 45th defendants in the suit.
But the judge immediately cut in, asking the lawyer if it would still be necessary to proceed to hear the application, in view of the Friday’s order made by the same court.
Okere conceded that he was aware of the order made by the judge on Friday.
But Nnamdi argued that his ex parte motion was different from that of the Federal Government, save for the prayer seeking an order stopping the planned strike, which is contained in both applications.
The judge insisted that the court having, on Friday, granted an order to stop the strike, there was no longer any form of urgency in the matter, and as such, it was not necessary to compel the government to start the process of adopting the N30,000 as the new national minimum wage.
Following the judge’s explanation, the plaintiff’s lawyer applied to withdraw two of the prayers having to do with the request for an order stopping the planned strike and the other seeking to compel the government to pay N30,000.
Strike threat causes panic
In response to the workers’ strike, residents of Asaba and environs on Monday abandoned offices and stores to besiege various bank galleries in Asaba, the state capital, to make withdrawals ahead of today’s strike.
Our correspondent’s survey across the state revealed that there were unusually long queues of customers withdrawing money from virtually all the Automated Teller Machines of commercial banks, especially within the Asaba metropolis.
One of the customers, simply identified as Okechukwu, said he was shocked to see such an unusual crowd, despite the fact that neither the state nor the local councils had paid the November salaries.
Another customer, Mr Monday Jindu, told The PUNCH that attention was shifted to the ATMs because of the failure of some of the banks to attend to the customers.
“I enter inside the bank, the queue is long, even the PoS inside the bank was not working and I came back to ATM again, yet unable to dispense cash. The problem is that tomorrow is strike, so coming back tomorrow is another issue because no money will be in the ATM.
“I have gone to three banks this morning to withdraw, I couldn’t, some banks that have up to three to four ATMs, only one will be working which cannot serve the crowd.”
An old woman who did not want her name in print said she had to join the long queue despite health challenges because there were rumours that the banks might fully join the strike.
“I am here to withdraw the little balance I have in my two accounts before the money in the ATMs is exhausted. I had spent all I have on my children who went to school on Sunday.” she said.