Which of the unions is the apex umbrella body for Nigerian workers? The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) used to be the sole umbrella for the various affiliate unions before the formation of the Trade Union Congress (TUC). But now, there is another apex union – the United Labour Congress of Nigeria (ULC).
Until the debut of ULC as the third force, the NLC and TUC championed the cause of the workers.
The development has further deepened the two-year-old leadership crisis rocking the NLC. The leadership tussle was caused by the supremacy battle between two factions led by Ayuba Wabba and Joe Ajaero.
Ajaero, a factional President of the NLC, had refused to step down for Wabba, in wake of the crisis that followed the disputed outcome of the March 2015 National Delegates Conference (NDC) in Abuja.
All interventions made by those sympathetic to the labour movement, including former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole and other past labour leaders, yielded no positive results. The gulf between the Wabba-led and Ajaero-led factions has not reduced.
Despite appeals from several quarters, including industrial unions, the recommendations in the report of the reconciliatory committee, headed by the former NLC President Hassan Sunmonu was never implemented.
Divisions over the 2015 strike and protest
The disagreement between the factions played out in failure of the organied labour to mobilised Nigerians to protest the withdrawal of petrol subsidy by the Federal Government in 2015.
Ajaero led his faction to collaborate with the government in finding solution to the issue. But, the Wabba-led faction opted for a nationwide strike, which was anything but successful. In fact, when the government invited the factions to a meeting over the subsidy removal, Wabba was quoted as saying that he would not hold meeting with government alongside the Ajaero faction. That forced the government to hold separate meetings with the factions.
As Wabba and Ajaero continued to battle for the soul of the NLC, their members remained at the mercy of the government as the organised labour lost its common voice on issues affecting workers’ welfare.
Ajaero group floats new union
The leadership crisis in the NLC got the climax on December 17, when the Ajaero faction broke away from NLC. It announced the formation of ULC as a new labour centre. In the new body are some unions affiliated to the TUC and NLC as well as some industrial unions that were hitherto, neither affiliated to the NLC, nor the TUC.
About 25 unions were said to have joined forces with the new association.
Some of the affiliates of the ULC include: National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Nigeria Union on Electricity Employees (NUEE), Nigeria Union of Mine Workers, National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Employees (NUBIFFE), Nigeria Union of Rail Workers, National Union of Lottery Agents, & Employees, Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE).
Ajaero, who was elected unopposed to lead the new body, said that the ULC would fight for workers’ interest and ensure a more equitable Nigeria where workers’ dignity and the work place would become less prone to impunity.
According to him, ULC’s emergence would strengthen the labour movement and bring on board aggrieved elements to chart a new cause for the workforce.
“The new labour centre, instead of weakening the movement, will present labour as a creative partner that has strategic benefits for the public, especially the employers and the government”, he said.
The ULC leader said the new centre’s focus was to restore hope to the Nigerian workers, the oppressed, the victimised, the neglected and other relegated members of the society.
Explaining that the new body has no plan to contest with anybody or faction, Ajaero said ULC will remain an independent centre, adding that “the issue of faction is over.’’
Ajaero also said the new congress was emerging because of the exigency of the moment where people work without salaries for months and were being denied their rights by their employers.
NUPENGs President Igwe Achese was elected ULC’s deputy president. Three vice presidents, a treasurer, an auditor and a financial secretary among other officers, were elected to run the affairs of the centre.
The officials promised to stand for victims of unfair labour practices and those being owed months of salary arrears.
Implications of ULC’s emergence
One obvious implication of ULC’s emergence is that the unions in critical sectors of the economy, including NUPENG, NUEE, NUBIFE, ANAP and NAAPE are among its affiliates.
Impliedly, the ULC would wield influence in the petroleum industry, power sector, financial, aviation, education, manufacturing and telecommunication sectors among others.
The name ULC is not new to the labour movement. It was the umbrella body for progressive unionists before the 1976 merger of unions following the restructuring of trade unions by the then military government under the late Gen. Muritala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo.
Incidentally, the new ULC relies on the Trade Union Amendment Act of 2005, by the Federal Government headed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to come into existence. But how far will the ULC go? Only time will tell.
Labour leaders react
Labour leaders across the country have been reacting to the new development in the NLC. They believe that labour, as a house divided against itself would lack cohesion to engage government policies. They are pushing for fence mending.
The National President, National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Oladele Hunsu, described the move as unfortunate and a big blow to labour movement.
According to him, labour movement needed to be more cohesive at this time rather than disintegrating, adding that the only gainers in the ongoing dispensation were government and employers.
The garment workers’ president, while lamenting the development, further said that workers, who look up to labour for protection from employers’ anti-labour activities, would be disappointed in their leadership.
He said: “There is something we always say in labour movement that ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. This is not the best time for this to have happened because workers look up to the movement for protection.
“We need a strong movement to confront government and employers, now that it is divided, how can we achieve that. Some of us are not happy.”
Hunsu said the challenges facing Nigerian workers required a strong labour movement to battle it, listing minimum wage, rising inflation and job losses as some of the issues requiring a virile and formidable union to address.
“The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) confirmed recently that about four million Nigerians have lost their jobs. That is not even true; they are being economical with the truth. These are areas that should be confronted. So, division at this time is saddening,” he said.
The labour leader, who expressed hope in the ability of a united movement to tackle government and employers’ anti-labour activities, advised both parties to come together for the sake of the workers.
“It is government that profits from this division; it is the class enemy that profits from the system,” he said.
The Ekiti State workers on Sunday told Governor Ayodele Fayose to hold his solidarity strike, which declared on Friday in honour of the striking workers, saying “what we want is our money to alleviate our poverty”.
Fayose, had on Friday declared that he had placed himself on indefinite strike in solidarity with the workers, who had been on industrial action for about two weeks over non-payment of five months outstanding salaries.
Fayose said it has always been his wish to respond to payment swiftly, but for dwindling revenue to the state, adding that “now that I share from your pains, I have also placed myself on indefinite strike in solidarity with you and I shall be waiting here for you until you call off”.
But the organized labour in the State, who, however, commended the governor for declaring solidarity strike, maintained that what the workers needed was at least payment of three months salaries to actually authenticate the sincerity of the self-imposed strike declared by Fayose.
The Chairman of the Trade Union Congress in the State, Com. Osun Ayo Adesoye, who spoke with newsmen in Ado Ekiti, stated that the level of poverty among the civil servants had become burdensome and unbearable to the extent that they had become beggars.
“We appreciate the governor for sharing from our pains and anguish. But the workers will appreciate and commend him the more if he can pay at least two or three months salaries out of five months owed.
“Our situation has gone beyond the governor declaring mere Solidarity strike. We need more of actions now than talks because our situation is gradually becoming hopeless.
“Some of us have the intention of going to work, but no money to pay for transport fare. Some of us could not take two square meal a day. Some could not cook soup with ordinary fish, so our situation has gone beyond what anyone could trivialize.
“But I want to say that we are resolute to fight on, because it is an issue that borders on our welfare, careers and prosperity.
“We are hearing that the federal government want to give grants to
states, so if Mr Governor could pay three months now, it will be easy to use the grant to pay the remaining two months and still help in paying for the subsequent months.
“We appeal to the workers to be law abiding. We want them to be civil even in the face of provocation. By the grace of God, we shall all rejoice in the end”, he said.
The Federal government has constituted a 15-man technical committee to consider suggestions and contribution from relevant parties on the N500 billion social investment in the 2016 budget as palliatives to cushion the effect of the petrol price increase.
The committee headed by the Minister of Labour and Employment Senator Chris Ngige, is part of the agreement reached between the government, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joe Ajaero-led faction of the Nigeria Labour Congress.
A statement by the Deputy Director in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Samuel Olowookere, said the trade unions will provide seven members of the committee with TUC and the Ayuba Wabba-led NLC providing five members. The Ajaero-led faction will provide two members.
The government’s representatives on the committee are Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Minister of Budget and National Planning, Minister of Finance, Minister of Solid Minerals, Chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, representative of Office of the Head of service of the Federation and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
The statement said: “based on the above efforts by all concerned parties, all industrial actions by members of the NLC and TUC shall be stayed in order to provide a conducive industrial relations atmosphere for the effective and efficient implementation of the Federal Government’s policies to realise the targeted goals and objectives”.
The statement asked the affected trade unions to submit all their nominees before close of work to enable their inauguration on Monday.
The committee is expected to submit its report within two weeks.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has warned the federal government that it would shut down the economy by Wednesday morning if it failed to revert the pump price of petrol from the N145 per litre to the initial price of N86.50.
NLC’s National Executive Council (NEC) said this after their meeting at the Labour House, Abuja yesterday.
NLC said it will join hands with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to lead Nigerian workers and their civil society allies to shut down the country if the federal government failed to reverse the price increase.
TUC is expected to make its own decision today.
“The Congress gave the government till late night on Tuesday within which to reverse the increased price of petrol and the electricity tariff, or face a total nationwide strike,” a source told Daily Trust.
“The NLC has deliberately delayed their press conference till today in order to liaise with their TUC counterpart, harmonise their positions and jointly address the media”, he added.
The source said the Congress has directed all its affiliate unions to set up a monitoring committee and ensure the success of the strike.
Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has called for a review of the minimum wage.
He made the call following the deregulation of the petroleum downstream sector, which skyrocketed the pump price of fuel to N145 per litre.
Gbajabiamila, who had fought relentlessly against efforts by past governments to remove petroleum subsidy, said though it was necessary to deregulate the petroleum sector to shield the country from economic problems, it was also necessary to raise the minimum wage in order to meet the rising cost of living in the country.
He said, “There has to be a serious review of the minimum wage if you are going to increase the pump price of petrol because we all know everything rests on that.
“Prices are going to skyrocket, from school fees to food, to transportation, to school uniforms and to books. Everything is going to go up because of mono economy. If we are going to do that, it is incumbent upon the government to take seriously the demands of labour.
“Minimum wage needs to be reviewed; we cannot increase the cost of living and keep salaries where it is, they go hand in hand.”
Gbajabiamila gave a vivid account of what transpired at the stakeholders’ meeting at the Villa on Wednesday.
He said: “I was at the stakeholders; meeting with the Vice President Wednesday and other stakeholders before the decision was made.
“The story that was painted, the details, the breakdown and the facts were scary. From what I read and what I saw, if we had continued that way we may not even have a country in two months time.
“Salaries would not have been paid by any state. Faced with that, it puts me in a very difficult situation and serious dilemma as to which way to go. I have always on one hand fought against the removal of fuel subsidy but now, I am confronted with very scary details as to what will happen if they don’t deregulate.
“The consequences will be very bad for me and you, so it is like being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
Gbajabiamila, however, said the Federal Government ought to have established refineries before removing the subsidy.
“I believe that if God has given you natural product, the least we should do is to allow the people to benefit from that kind of product,” he said, adding that subsidy had dented the image of the country.
“If subsidy is being abused, all we need to do is to block the holes of abuse and not to punish the whole of Nigerians for the abuse of a few people.
“But having said that, I have always argued, why don’t you build a refinery first if at all you have to remove the subsidy. It is only in Nigeria that subsidy is given a bad name.
“There is subsidy all over the world, in America agriculture is subsidized and in UK transportation is subsidized. It is only in Nigeria that they say subsidy is bad. So, why is it not bad in other countries? That’s what we need to look at.”
The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has said that the dire economic situation which the country is presently grappling with will no doubt be a determining factor in the clamour for an increase in wages by the labour movement.
He also said that any demand for a new minimum wage should be in line with the abilities of the Federal and state governments to pay, adding that they will seek to meet with reasonable demands of workers for improved conditions of service.
Oyegun, who spoke to journalists in his office at the national secretariat of the APC, used the opportunity to pay tribute to the late Oba of Benin, His Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa, describing him “as a consummate manager of men” during his days at the federal civl service, where he made his mark
Speaking on the party’s position on the demand by the labour union for an increment in the minimum wage, Oyegun cautioned that any such considerations must be based on the economic realities on ground and the ability of government to pay.
“It is a matter for the Executive, it is a matter for the Economy and the Executive at Federal and State Levels who will have to consider the demand in line with their abilities to pay and of course in line with reasonable demands of workers for improved conditions of service. This wages increments must be based with the Economic realities on ground, that’s, the ability to pay.
“It shouldn’t be a Federal matter, state should be allowed to make their decisions based on their abilities to pay. The cost of living are not the same in every part of the country. One state has made a decision and this will tell other states to talk to their workers and let them see their ability to pay and then decide accordingly. The Federal government should decide based on the reality on ground and make a decision too,” he said.
On the delay in the Federal board appointments by the APC government, the ruling party chairman, blamed it on the fall-out of merger of ministries which was intended to save scarce resources.
Today was Workers Day and Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of the State of Osun, took the time to appreciate the role of labour in the development of the state with a memorable commemoration at the Oshogbo City Stadium. Also present were the Deputy Governor, Chief of Staff, other government officials and labour leaders.
See pictures below;
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on Saturday called on the Nigeria Labour Movement to lead campaign for recovery of stolen wealth and the prosecution of all indicted looters.
He made the call at the 2016 Pre-May Day Lecture with the theme, “The fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy’’, organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
Falana who was represented by Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, the Chairman, Partner for Electoral Reforms said that the need to prosecute indicted looters had become imperative, as there had been diversion of public funds by a handful of public officers.
According to him, government has continue to take toxic loans from foreign financial institutions to fund the escalating costs of governance.
“Under an economy controlled by market forces, the majority of citizens have been denied access to security, welfare and happiness.
“In an arrogant manner, the few public officers and their cohorts who have cornered the commonwealth go around freely.
“The ongoing investigation into the mega looting of the treasury had shown that if the resources of the nation had been judiciously managed, an effective welfare programme could have been established.
“This will run in the interest of the people, although the mega looting of the national treasury is being investigated.’’
Falana noted that electricity tariff had been increased even though there was no improvement in electricity supply.
He also said that Nigerians were being forced to pay more for education, health, fuel and other essential social services.
“Since the Federal Government is in a position to borrow N600 billion every month to pay salaries, it should also borrow to fund the welfare programme promised by the APC.
“It is therefore suggested that the stolen wealth being recovered should be channeled towards the funding of a welfare programme for the people,’’he added.
He called on the Federal Government to review the National Minimum Wage as it was long overdue in line with the law.
According to him, government is under obligation to provide a living national minimum wage and ensure that condition of work is humane.
He said that government must ensure that the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment were safeguarded and not endangered or abuse.
Also speaking, the NLC President, Mr Ayuba Wabba assured workers that labour and all other progressive forces would continue to meet and provide policy option that must force government to implement agreements.
“The challenges we have in this country is lack of planning, corruption and mismanagement, among others.
“Therefore, we will not expect those issues to change without us engaging our political elites on how best to transform the economy. We must hold our leaders accountable,’’ Wabba said.
Earlier, the TUC President, Mr Bobbio Kaigama said labour would continue to liaise with anti-graft agencies to probe state governors who were not able to disburse their bailout funds accordingly.
“I want to assure the Nigerian workers that we will continue to provide the necessary leadership that will benefit the workers,’’ he said.
Organised labour has presented a new minimum wage of N56,000 to the Federal Government ahead of Sunday’s May Day celebration.
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who spoke with reporters in Abuja, hoped the tripartite system to look into the demand would soon be put in place.
The labour leader said although labour was aware of the downturn in the economy, the laws of the land stipulates that minimum wage must be looked into every five years.
He said: “I can say authoritatively that as at yesterday, we presented N56,000 as minimum wage to government. That demand was submitted officially to the Federal Government. And we hope that the tripartite system to look at the review will be put in place.
“Our argument is that, yes, it’s true that the economy is not doing well, but the law is also clear that the issue must be looked into. And workers should not be seen to be sleeping on their rights.
“These are processes, but when we come to the roundtable, we can then see the best way out. But I think it is obvious that since it is a product of law, it is usually required that the tripartite process be put in place so that we can look at the issues.
“It is obvious that workers have not fared well in the last one year. But we will not continue to lament. What we try to do is to work out a process of engagement on how those issues can be addressed.”
Asked if states that have not been able to implement the N18,000 minimum wage would be able to pay what they are demanding, he said: “First, you must understand the logic behind the minimum wage. The logic is to ensure that no worker earns below what can sustain him for 30 days.
“You also know that when we negotiated the N18,000 minimum wage, you know the value in terms of exchange rate, it was almost at $110 to the naira. Today, it has been reduced to virtually nothing. It’s also about law; the law envisages that within a circle of five years, the issue of inflation will be there and the issue of purchasing power reduction will be there.
“Mind you, the challenges in our economy, we don’t expect it to be forever. It is something that is transient. Economy will always go up and down. We are passing through a turbulent time.
“The issue of minimum wage is not essentially for now. It’s an issue we must take on board, if we want to address corruption. Without taking proper care of the worker, it is difficult. That is why I said it’s a process and we are going to dialogue around that process. That is why collective bargaining is important.”
He added: “Remember that President Barack Obama increased the United States minimum wage in 2008/2009 when the U.S. economy was in recession, because his understanding is that people need to be empowered to have the purchasing power to buy. If manufacturers are producing and nobody is buying, the economy will be at a standstill because people don’t have the purchasing power. And that is the situation we are in now. It’s an argument”.
President, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Boboi Kaigama told said that the laws were due for a review, necessitating the demand for a new minimum wage.
He said: “We want to draw attention of the government to the fact that five years down the line, the minimum wage is due for review. We have made our submission and we expect a committee of organised labour and government to be put in place so that we sit down and see how the issues can be addressed.”
The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria has described as insensitive the recent move by senators to acquire 108 Toyota Land Cruiser jeeps meant for every member.
The TUC in a statement on Monday described the decision as an act of criminality, wondering why the senators wanted to acquire new cars after collecting loans for the same purpose less than a year ago.
The statement, signed by Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama, TUC President, and Comrade Simeso Amachree, the Acting Secretary General, reads: “Where did such idea emanate from for God’s sake at a time the country is bleeding from all sides and seriously gasping for breathe?
“This is obviously a pointer to the fact that our Senators means no well for the country. They have lost touch with the plight of the people that vote for them. Our politicians and their tradition of reaping where they did not sow! What would our Senators say they have achieved in the last one year?
“It is morally wrong and shameful for the Senate of the Federal Republic to attach so much importance to infinitesimal things like cars and houses at a time their counterparts elsewhere are making good laws and transforming lives.
“We do not know of any lawmaker both in the Red and Green Chamber that had not got cars before they came to the senate. Some have even been in the senate now for 12 years after serving as governors and lawmakers in their respective states.
“Where lies the conscience of our Senators? How come they are not disturbed by the effort of our president to revamp the economy? We are not going to let all these forces frustrate the effort of the Federal Government again, not any more.
“We want the Senate to immediately furnish Nigerians and the world how they got money for the purchase of these cars without appropriation. We view as demeaning and laughable the explanation by Senate spokesperson, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who said that Special Advisers drive jeeps, why not Senators?
“Oh, it is unfortunate this Senate is determined to frustrate the effort of the President Buhari led administration. What a Senate so reckless and arrogant!
“The Congress must as a matter of urgency commence investigation and prosecution of those involved in the transaction up to the supplier of the cars. We have set machinery in motion on how to stall the evils going on on the floor of the Senate. Haba, at first it was an amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act and now paltry issues like cars. But for greed and avarice, what cars haven’t they got? THE SENATE SHOULD GET PREPARED.”