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Nationwide strike: FG’s meeting with NLC, TUC ends in deadlock

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The meeting between the Federal Government and Organised Labour, yesterday ended in deadlock as leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and their Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, counterparts, rejected the government’s offers.

However, the meeting will reconvene at 4 p.m. today.

Sources at the meeting said that the labour leaders rejected President Bola Tinubu’s N25,000 provisional wage award for low-grade workers to cushion the effect of the removal of the petrol subsidy.

The labour leaders told Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, to prepare to take all of them to jail because the government had been threatening them with a court order, saying “This is not acceptable.”

Recall that President Tinubu in his nationwide broadcast, on the occasion of Nigeria’s 63rd Independence Anniversary, had said: “Based on our talks with labour, business and other stakeholders, we are introducing a provisional wage increment to enhance the federal minimum wage without causing undue inflation.

‘’For the next six months, the average low-grade worker shall receive an additional Twenty-Five Thousand naira per month.

“Commencing this month, the social safety net is being extended through the expansion of cash transfer programmes to an additional 15 million vulnerable households.”

However, newsmen reliably gathered that Organized Labour in its meeting with the Federal Government team at the Permanent Conference Room, Presidential Villa, Abuja, rejected the N25,000 provisional wage award and demanded 200 per cent of the current minimum wage.
Besides, Labour insisted that the provisional wage increase should be for all workers, pending the enactment of a new Minimum Wage Act next year and must not be limited to only six months.

The labour leaders equally insisted that the conditional cash transfer for the poorest and vulnerable people should be increased to N25,000 for 15 million vulnerable Nigerians, against the N5,000 the previous administration was paying.

After many hours of horse-trading, the Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, who is leading the government’s delegation, broke the meeting for the government team to consult with the President on the new demands

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Gbajabiamila, it was learned, was accompanied by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong.

Some other issues raised by the NLC and TUC leaders included tax rebates for low-income earners, removal of Value Added Tax, VAT, on diesel for the next six months and provision of Compressed Natural Gas, CNG, and buses within the next two months.

The meeting that commenced at about 3.25 pm, ended around 7.15 pm to reconvene by 4 pm today.

Labour’s NEC to meet today on govt offers

Vanguard gathered that labour leaders would also hold their National Executive Council, NEC, meeting today to brief NEC members about the offers by the government.

The NEC is expected to take a position and give the leaders the new mandate to take to the government.

But briefing journalists after the meeting, the Chief of Staff to the President and leader of the government team, Femi Gbajabiamila, announced that Tinubu accepted organized labour’s demand that the wage award be across the board.

He said: “We’ve been at a closed-door meeting with labour and government side since three o’clock. So, it’s been about four four-hour meetings.

“A lot of issues were addressed. Issues that concern the Nigerian workers, the average Nigerian worker. I can’t begin to reel them out here. But I am happy to say that after four hours, we have reached certain agreements that are for the benefit of the Nigerian worker.

“Agreements on the wage bill, agreements on committees on salary increment, CNG buses, on several other things, I believe both labour and government side?

“Hopefully, we expect that labour will call a meeting of their various branches and executive tomorrow (today) to present the agreements that have been reached, and we pray and believe and hope that the strike will be called off tomorrow.

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“So I want to once again thank Labour for taking time out on a good Sunday like this one when they should be with their families to come and discuss in the interest of the workers. Thank you very much.

“There was a lot of chatter on Twitter about the issue of low-income workers only falling into the category of the provisional wage increase. We did communicate with the president and he quickly did say and agreed that all categories of workers would be given the wage bill.

‘’There is nothing like low income, mediun income or high income. I think it was worthy of clarification tonight.”

Making clarification on the N25,000 provisional wage award, he said: “There was a lot of chatter on Twitter about the issue of low-income workers only falling into the category of the wage bill.’’

Also speaking, the President of NLC, Joe Ajaero said: “I don’t have much to say than what the Chief of Staff has said. We have been meeting and we have looked at almost all the issues, all the promissory notes from the government.

‘’We will look at how to translate them to reality. Then we are going to take those promises to our organs. Of course, you know these people here cannot just wake up and review and call off action.

“So like he (Gbajabiamila) said, we are hopeful that our organs will have a look at them and give us a fresh mandate on what to do next. So it’s a simple one.”

On his side, the acting President of TUC, Tommy Etim Okon, said: “We do hope that by tomorrow, we are going to meet with our organs.”

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mallam Mohammed Idris, also said in a statement issued at the end of the meeting yesterday: “The Federal Government has announced N25,000 only as provisional wage increment for all treasury-paid Federal Government workers for six months.

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“The Federal Government is committed to fast-tracking the provision of Compressed Natural Gas, CNG, buses to ease public transportation difficulties associated with the removal of PMS subsidy.

“The Federal Government commits to the provision of funds for micro and small-scale enterprises. VAT on diesel will be waived for the next six months.

“The Federal Government will commence payment of N75,000 to 15 million households at N25,000 per month, for a three-month period from October-December 2023.”

According to the statement, the meeting resolved that “the issues in dispute can only be resolved when workers are at work and not when they are on strike.

“Labour unions argued for higher wage awards and the Federal Government team promised to present labour’s request to President Bola Tinubu for further consideration.

“A sub-committee to be constituted to work out the implementation details of all items for consideration regarding government interventions to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal.

“The lingering matter of Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, and National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, in Lagos State needs to be addressed urgently and Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who participated virtually, pledged to resolve the matter.

“NLC and TUC will consider the offers by the federal government, with a view to suspending the planned strike to allow for further consultations on the implementation of the resolutions above.

“Those at yesterday’s meeting included Governor Abdulrazak Abdulrahman of Kwara State and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, and Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, participated virtually in the meeting, chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila.

Meanwhile, Organised Labour has ordered the state councils and affiliates to ensure total compliance with the nationwide strike directive.