The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, on Thursday, dismissed the ruling of the National Industrial Court restraining them from going on strike beginning from Monday.
The NLC and the TUC stated this after a meeting between the Federal Government and the workers ended in a deadlock on Thursday evening.
Following the hike in electricity tariffs and fuel pump price, the government and the labour unions had met penultimate Tuesday, but the dialogue ended in a deadlock following the failure of the government to reverse the price increase or offer palliatives to cushion the effects on the workers.
The NLC and TUC subsequently declared a strike and protest scheduled to commence on Monday. Both unions said they would collaborate to execute the industrial action for maximum effect.
Rising from a meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, the National Executive Council of the NLC comprising the chairpersons of the 36 state chapters and the Federal Capital Territory endorsed the decision earlier taken by the Central Working Committee of the Congress on the strike last Wednesday.
But the industrial court in Abuja, on Thursday, issued an interim order restraining the unions from embarking on the strike.
Justice Ibrahim Galadima issued the interim order following an ex-parte application filed by a group, Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association through their counsel, Sunusi Musa.
Justice Galadima ordered the labour unions, their officers and affiliate groups to halt the plan to embark on the strike pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed by the applicant.
The judge also granted an order of interim injunction restraining the unions from disrupting, restraining, picketing or preventing the workers or ordinary Nigerians from accessing their offices to carry out their legitimate duties on September 28, 2020 or any other date.
The court also granted an order compelling the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General, Department of State Services, to provide protection for workers engaged in their legitimate duties from any form of harassment, intimidation and bullying by the officers, agents or privies of the unions pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
Reacting to the court injunction, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, dismissed it, saying he had not been served, adding that the group that filed the suit was not his employers.
He asked, “How does that (injunction) affect me if I have not been served? Have I been served? Are they our employers? What relationship do I have with any group?”
The meeting between the Federal Government and organised labour meant to avert the planned strike and protest ended in a deadlock.
The meeting, which started at 4.16pm at the Presidential Villa’s Banquet Hall, Abuja, on Thursday, dragged till 9.22pm without a resolution.
But speaking to journalists after the dialogue, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said the parties had a fruitful discussion, adding that it was shifted till Monday to conclude the discussions.
He expressed the belief that the unions would heed the government’s plea to suspend their planned strike.
However, the TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, told journalists that the mobilisation of workers for the strike would not be halted, noting that the government failed to reverse or suspend the fuel price hike and electricity tariff adjustment.
He stated, “We were not the one that adjourned the meeting; the government adjourned it till Monday. Monday is the expiration of the ultimatum and we are still very much focused on that. It is a deadlock now.
“Of course, that (adjournment) will not stop the action that has been put in place. We have told them to reverse or to suspend, while the discussion goes on Monday. So, labour is left with no option but to go our way.”
Asked about the offers or concessions made by the government’s team, the union leader said, “We are coming with an open mind to find a solution to the problems in the country, especially on the price hike. They have made their proposal, but we are saying let us suspend or reverse, then we can now continue to discuss but they have adjourned. But labour will continue with the mobilisation of workers.”
Speaking earlier before the closed-door technical session, Ngige said attendance at the dialogue was expanded to include the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and others following the declaration of strike and protest by the labour centres.
Other officials in attendance included the Minister of Power, Mamman Saleh; Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva; Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; and the Minister of State, Labour, Festus Keyamo (SAN).
There was a mild drama as Ngige got into an altercation with the TUC president, who accused him of using “divide and rule tactics” to create a breach within the labour unions.
Ngige in his welcome address had reiterated that he has not received TUC’s letter whose notice of industrial action was addressed to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). He explained that his attention was drawn to the letter on social media by an aide.
The minister stated, “I want to reiterate that the country belongs to all of us, it is not Buhari’s country. Whatever we want to discuss, we will discuss dispassionately in furtherance of the welfare of Nigerians.
“I will even assume my role as a conciliator: if the government side did not play ball, I will tell them, and if labour also crosses into a lane that will lead to the collapse of the entire economy, I will also bridge the gap.”
But Olaleye in his remark dismissed Ngige’s claims that the country belonged to all Nigerians, stressing that the workers were being used as sacrificial animals by the political elite.
He said, “I heard when the minister mentioned that the country belongs to all of us. I, as a person, except you change my impression, I believe the country belongs to the few politicians that take decisions and make policies that are very hard for us to live in this country.
“If the country belongs to all of us, the question is, why are people running out of this country? Our youths are running out of this country despite all the dangerous obstacles on the road, many have lost their lives.
“Can somebody run out of his father’s house when nothing is pursuing him? So, definitely, the answer is no. Let’s make the country to belong to all of us so that we can be a bona fide owner of our country.”
He asked the labour minister to withdraw his comment over the letter, pointing out that the issues were beyond Ngige, hence the decision to address it to the President.
He noted,” I want to disagree with you; with due respect to your office, we honour your office and we will not do anything to undermine your office.
“But the issue is for Mr President himself to handle, we are not talking about the minimum wage, increase or any price with the government. We are talking about economic issues and we have elected Mr President to lead and that is why we have addressed that issue to him.
“But if you want to insist sir, that because the letter is not referred to you, then TUC can excuse you. I know it’s a statement of divide and rule which will not be acceptable to this congress sir.
“I will prefer that you withdraw the statement and let us continue the meeting. If the letter is not addressed to you and you invited us here, I don’t know how we can reconcile this statement.”
An obviously indignant Ngige took time to lecture Olaleye on his knowledge of International Labour Organisation’s practices, stating that he had attended all ILO sessions, governing board meetings and general assembly, insisting that the ‘competent authority’ for labour issues in any country is the minister of labour.
He stated, “My friend, the new president of TUC, I don’t want to start altercations before we start the technical session but I want to put the records straight for you so that if your general secretary has not educated you properly, then, he better go home and do so.
“You have no business with the President of Nigeria. Your place of business is the Ministry of Labour. You have said the issue is not labour dispute or wages negotiation, but in the same breath, you said your earnings are being eroded.
“If you want to address social issues, the civil societies are there, the political parties are there and you can write or castigate Mr President, but when you talk about the working class of Nigeria, erosion of their wages and anything that has to do with their welfare, you are dealing with the ministry of labour. So, there is nothing to withdraw from my earlier statement and I still stand by it.”
But the SGF, Mustapha, said no government decision was intended to hurt the citizens, arguing that the price hike “was taken in the interest of the people and the country.”