Home News Minimum wage: AGF tackles Labour as NASS fails to stop strike

Minimum wage: AGF tackles Labour as NASS fails to stop strike


The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, (SAN), has faulted the organised labour over the nationwide strike it is starting today (Monday).

Fagbemi, in a letter to the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress leaders, dated June 1, 2024, insisted that the strike over the new minimum was a violation of a subsisting National Industrial Court order restraining the unions from grounding the nation through the strike action.

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The AGF said this as a meeting convened by the National Assembly leaders on Sunday night failed to achieve its objective following the NLC and  TUC’s insistence on going ahead with today’s strike.

The meeting, which was presided over by the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, was attended by the NLC president Joe Ajaero, and his TUC counterpart,  Festus Osifo.

Also, the Minister of State for Labour, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, affirmed that the government could not pay more than N60,000, which she said represented a 100 per cent increase on the current minimum wage.

On Sunday, the Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, told The PUNCH that the labour leaders might have an ulterior motive, stressing that the minimum wage offer they presented was unrealistic for both the federal and state governments.

N60,000 offer

On Friday, Organised Labour declared an indefinite nationwide strike due to the Federal Government’s refusal to increase its new minimum wage offer above N60,000.

The President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, announced that the strike followed failed negotiations between the government and organised labour, and its refusal to reverse the withdrawal of the power sector subsidy and increase in electricity tariff.

The unions had earlier given the May 31, 2024 deadline for the conclusion of new minimum wage negotiations.

The government had raised its minimum wage offer from N57,000 to N60,000 while the labour unions reduced their demand to N494,000 from N497,000 proposed earlier. The labour leaders initially demanded N615,000.

But the negotiations deadlocked as the government maintained its offer of N60,000, leading to the declaration of a nationwide indefinite strike.

However, the AGF in his letter addressed to the presidents of the NLC, Ajaero and the TUC, Festus Usifo, strongly condemned the planned industrial action, stating that it was wrong of organised labour to call out workers at a time when the government and other stakeholders were working towards determining a new national minimum wage.

The letter was copied to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Chief of Staff to the President, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, the National Security Adviser, the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General, the Department of State Service.

Citing the Trade Union Dispute Act 2004, Fagbemi argued that the NLC and the TUC were required to issue mandatory strike notices of a minimum of 15 days.

The letter read, “It is pertinent to observe that at no time did either the  NLC or the TUC declare a trade dispute with their employees or issue any strike notice as required by law for such strike action to be legitimate and lawful.

‘Strike premature’

“I wish to note that this latest declaration of strike action by organised labour is premature at a time when the Federal Government and other stakeholders involved in the tripartite committee on the determination of a new national minimum wage had not declared an end to negotiation,” Fagbemi noted.

Emphasising the significance of following due process in declaring a labour strike, the justice minister added, “By the Trade Union Dispute Act 2004, NLC and TUC are required to issue mandatory strike notices of a minimum of 15 days.

“It is pertinent to observe that at no time did either NLC or TUC declare a trade dispute with their employees or issue any strike notice as required by law for such strike action to be legitimate and lawful.

“It is not in doubt that the fundamental importance of the 15-day notice is underscored by the fact that both NLC and TUC failed to comply with the statutory condition precedents (dispute resolution procedures) provided for under section 18(b)(a) of the Trade dispute Act 2004, as amended.”

He also stressed that the proposed strike action is in breach of relevant conditions itemized under section 31(6) of the Trade Union Act, as amended.

“No person, trade union or employer shall take part in a strike or lockout or engage in any conduct in contemplation of any furtherance of trade dispute unless the person, trade union or employer is not engaged in the provision of essential services,” he declared, referencing the law.

The AGF further drew the attention of the labour leaders to an interim Injunction order granted by the National Industrial Court on  June 5, 2023, in suit no: NICN/ABJ/158/23, between the Federal Government of Nigeria & Anor V. Nigerian Labour Congress & Anor.

The order restrained both NLC and TUC from embarking on any industrial action or strike of any nature.

The AGF noted that this “Order has neither been stayed nor set aside, therefore it remains binding on the labour unions.”

Fagbemi explained that the conditions outlined by Nigerian laws for exercising the right to strike were in tandem with the International Labour Organisation principles concerning the right to strike.

He assured that the government would adopt a conciliatory approach to resolving matters about workers’ and citizens’ welfare in the spirit of collective bargaining.

He appealed to the unions to shelve the planned strike and return to the negotiation meetings.

Addressing journalists after the meeting with the National Assembly leaders, the TUC President,  Osifo, said, “The Senate President appealed to us to call off the strike.

“But we can’t sit here and call off the strike because we have other organs. We will take the appeals to our various organs.

“We don’t have the powers to call off the strike action. For now, the strike action will  commence, while we discuss with our organs.”

But Akpabio appealed to the unions to shelve the strike, adding that “When the hospitals are closed, most poor people will die. Those who are even on oxygen will die. Those needing medical services will die. Goods and services will not move freely, productivity will reduce drastically. The living standards of Nigerians will also be impaired.”

Also speaking, Speaker Abbas said “There are three takeaways that we can go home with. One is that we have agreed to prevail on the government to revisit the issue of the 35k paid to Nigerian workers wage award that was started in October last year and stopped in February. We agreed that the wage award should continue until such a time that the minimum wage is agreed. We also agreed that the NLC and TUC should go and consult to suspend their strike as soon as possible to allow for negotiations to continue.”

Speaking with one of our correspondents in Abuja, on Saturday, the Minister of State for Labour, Onyejeocha, argued that the government and the Organised Private Sector could not afford the N494,000 demanded by labour.

 It gave the directive in a notice titled, ‘Special announcement from the National Desk of PENGASSAN,’ to all the oil union’s zonal, branch, and central executive councils.

The directive signed by the Public Relations Officer, Lagos Zone, PENGASSAN, Juliana Adenike, read in part, “Concerning the planned withdrawal of service from all of our offices on Monday, June 3, 2024, it is mandatory that there be strict compliance. It is your responsibility to ensure ‘no entry and exit’ in your offices by any of our members.

 “All ZECOM, BEC, and CEC executives are to wear red or any PENGASSAN attire. (You should) mount your entrances and ensure that there is 100 per cent compliance with the above directive.

 “There will be a joint task force of TUC/NLC and Lagos ZECOM going around to ascertain full compliance. Any company in default will be penalised.”

The  NUPENG in its letter titled, ‘Compliance with the directive on indefinite nationwide strike,’ said the union was fully committed to the decision to embark on the strike.

 Meanwhile, members of the Organised Private Sector have firmly voiced their opposition to the proposed strike, emphasising that it could unleash dire consequences, wreaking havoc on both the economy and businesses alike.

 The OPS members in separate interviews said the economy is too fragile to withstand the repercussions of another strike action