A nationwide strike looms as the agreement between the Federal Government and Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, on the implementation of measures to cushion the effects of petrol subsidy removal is currently threatened.
The NLC accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, of deviating from the agreement.
Recall that Organized Labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, suspended its planned nationwide strike, following an agreement reached with the government on October 2, 2023, to, among others, pay N35,000 wage award to federal workers and ensure non-interference with the activities of the NURTW.
The NLC alleged that the labour minister was trying to foist a new leadership on the NURTW, in violation of both ILO Conventions 87 and 98, and the agreement reached between the government and labour.
The 30-day deadline for the agreement to come into fruition to avert a nationwide strike expires in less than two weeks
The NLC in a statement issued by the General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, vowed to continue to stand by the democratically elected NURTW leadership and work with them as the legitimate representatives of workers in the transport sector.
‘Not in good faith’
According to the Labour Centre, the current effort by the minister to scuttle the deal with the Federal Government is a clear indication that the government’s negotiation is not in good faith.
It said every avenue would be explored to shield the trade union movement from what it described as emerging irresponsibility.
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.
‘Minister’s decision untenable’
“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.
‘’Instead, the minister has chosen to endorse and legitimize 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 midwifing 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.
Efforts to hear the Minister’s side of the story proved abortive as calls put through his mobile phone rang out without response.