As the Federal Government met with labour last night in a last ditch effort to avert tomorrow’s proposed strike by workers over minimum wage, government has said it would not be able to pay the new N18, 000 until next January, fuelling fears that a long drawn labour strike might be in the offing. The meeting was deadlocked even as Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi begged for understanding.
Government’s position appeared to have vindicated labour which had on Sunday expressed misgiving that government’s promise to pay the minimum wage was a mere ploy to get workers to shelve the impending strike. In choosing next January as the commencement date for the payment of the N18,000 national minimum wage, the government had explained that the amount required for the new wage bill was not captured in the 2011 budget.
However, labour maintained its stand to go on strike even as a meeting ended in a stalemate despite government’s warning that the strike would have severe effect on the poor masses.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who led the government team which also included the Labour Minister, Emeka Wogu, and the Chairman of Governors Forum, Amaechi, had appealed to labour to consider the prevailing economic and security situations in the country before going ahead with the strike.
However, labour dismissed the explanation urging it to treat the issue of the national minimum wage as a matter of urgency, by releasing money to pay workers as had been agreed before now.
Labour said that government can deal with any emergency situation in the country, citing the N100 billion released to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enable it organize the April general elections, without waiting for the 2011 budget.
Expressing disappointment that despite all the meetings held to discuss the matter of the national minimum wage, government was still trying to play smart with the intelligence of workers, labour accused the government of insincerity and insensitivity to the plight of workers.
At the meeting held at the conference room of the Office of the SGF, the government appealed to labour to call off its planned strike, and promised to pay the minimum wage across board from January, 2012.
But labour described the situation as that of an emergency in the pockets of workers and urged government to fulfil its obligation.
President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, who was obviously dismayed at the turn of event during the meeting, said: “I have come to know that in Nigeria, nothing is impossible. And since nothing is impossible for almost N100 billion to be released for INEC, I think it will not be impossible for another few billions to be released for Nigerian workers.
“We should not be thinking of waiting till January next year for budget to be prepared. I think if there is an emergency we will rise up to it and I think that Nigerian workers have an emergency. There is a state of an emergency in our pockets and in our homes.”
On his part, the SGF, while appealing to labour to consider the lifespan of the present administration which came on board only on May 27, assured that the administration would not to do anything to jeopardise the interest of workers but act according to the provisions of the law.
He said: “In order that we act according to the law, we will pay for levels 1-6 which we have provided for in this year’s budget, we provide for the relativity principles from 7-17, from January next year so that we will be able to pay across board. The whole idea is that we have to act within the law.
Since we have not made provisions for levels 7-17 in the budget, we are appealing to labour to that since we are working together as we process this year’s budget, we will provide for the relativity of all”.
Also appealing to labour, Gov Amaechi while promising that governors will not in any way go against the laws of the land, assured NLC, TUC to be rest assured that both the federal and state governments will not disobey the laws which, according to him, must be implemented.
Rotimi, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, told the labour leaders to find ways of dialoguing with government rather than going on strike as the effect of the three day warning strike would have a more severe effect on the poor masses which the labour represents.
He said: “If there is a disagreement on the mode the implementation will only appeal to labour to dispassionately look at the issues being raised by all the parties involved in the dispute.
“Please, suspend the strike until we finish negotiations. I believe that at the end of the day, it will be to the benefit of labour and the society and government if that strike is called off. And at the end of the day, we will be able to arrive at something that will be of benefit to workers of Nigeria. I believe that NLC people are patriotic and have no other country than Nigeria with a huge population of both the poor and the rich. I hear you have said people should go to the market and buy things because of the strike, how many poor people whatever they can stock for three days.” They buy things that they eat on a daily basis so, if the market is locked the next day, how will those people that you represent be able to feed. If the water to drink is not functioning, the rich have boreholes, the poor rely on public water scheme, they will suffer water borne diseases and it is not in the interest of labour that this people that they represent will die. If hospitals are not functioning, and the poor fall ill, they cannot possibly have enough money to go to the private hospitals.
The rich will go to private hospital so the same poor people you are representing will suffer. I believe that you should consider all of us to talk and give us an opportunity to be represented by you by ensuring thatnyou give government the chance to elongate the opportunity that government can have to complete negotiations”. He said. As at Press time, the meeting between the organized labour and the Federal Government was still on.
Also, the state chapters of the NLC are set to down tools in compliance with the national secretariat’s directive while the Nigerian Employers Consultantave Association (NECA) condemned labour for its planned strike.
Determined to press home their demand for the implementation of the new minimum wage, workers in the Oyo State public sector will from today (Tuesday) begin an indefinite industrial action.
The decision to embark on the strike ahead of the Wednesday’s commencement of the three-day warning strike declared by the national leadership of the NLC and TUC was after its congress in Ibadan , the state capital.
The Bauchi State NLC yesterday threw its weight behind the decision of national body of the union to embark on the strike.
Its chairman, Comrade Hashimu Gital, stated this in a press conference held at the NLC state council chamber in Bauchi.
Gital said the federal, state and local governments as well as all the stakeholders were not sincere on the non implementation of legislated minimum wage.
In another development, NECA yesterday in Lagos kicked against the planned strike, insisting that it has directed its members in the private sector to sanction any employee who is involved in the strike.
The association has also called on labour to consider the plight of the private sector employers that have long started implementation of the New Minimum Wage Act in their plans to plunge the economy into crisis through the strike.
NECA’s President, Chief Richard Uche, made the declarations while briefing newsmen of the association’s position in the way and manner government and labour have been handling the implementation of the National Minimum Wage Act (NMWA) 2011 that may plunge the economy into crisis.
“We appeal to the NLC and TUC for a deep reflection on this issue and implore them to demonstrate restraint and responsibility in the way they use strike to pursue their objectives,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rivers State Governor and the chairman of Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, has again appealed to labour to shelve the strike.
ahead of the planned meeting with labour and Governors’ Forum, Amaechi called on the NLC and TUC to put off the planned action as government at all levels have agreed to pay.
In a statement, Monday night from Abuja , his Senior Adviser, Media and Publicity, David Iyofor, quoted Governor Amaechi to have said that:
‘For the sake of our country, in the interest of Nigeria , Labour should please not embark on the strike action tomorrow. With Governors now agreeing to pay the minimum wage, I believe the fundamental issue that should have led to labour going on strike have been resolved. If there are other issues that are still outstanding, these can be easily resolved through dialogue. We, the governors have accepted to pay the N18, 000 minimum wage, which I believe is the main issue at stake.’
The governors had after a meeting in Abuja last Friday agreed to pay the new salary but Labour’s grouse is on arrears and a written agreement committing the governors.
The governors are expected to meet with the labour leadership today in Abuja to deliberate on the way to avoid the strike, even as the TUC President General, Comrade Peter Esele has vowed that only written commitment and immediate implementation and not words from the government could forestall the planned strike.