Last-minute move to avert strike fails, Labour shuns FG meeting

The organised labour comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trace Union Congress, Nigeria, on Friday, boycotted an emergency meeting with the Federal Government that was scheduled for 3pm at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The Federal Government had called an emergency meeting with the leaders of the organised labour at the Conference Room of the Office of the President’s Chief of Staff.

Among other goals, Friday’s meeting was meant to talk the labour movement out of its planned nationwide strike from Tuesday, October 3, 2023.

On September 26, the NLC and TUC disclosed plans to commence an indefinite strike on October 3 to protest the cost of living crisis after the scrapping of petrol subsidy by President Bola Tinubu during his inauguration on May 29, 2023.

The unions also directed their state chapters and affiliates to mobilise for the shutdown of critical facilities and infrastructure such as airports, seaports, electricity grids and fuel supply nationwide.

“It’s going to be a total shutdown…until the government meets the demand of Nigerian workers, and in fact, Nigerian masses,” the union leaders affirmed in a joint statement on Tuesday.

They accused the Federal Government of refusing to “meaningfully engage and reach agreements with organised labour on critical issues of the consequences of the unfortunate hike in the price of petrol, which has unleashed massive suffering on Nigeria workers and masses.”

Despite several deadlocked talks, the Federal Government, after Thursday’s National Economic Council meeting, appealed to the unions to continue negotiations, warning that an indefinite strike could devastate the economy at this time.

Although the government fixed Friday’s meeting for noon, it postponed the gathering around 3pm to enable labour to contact its leaders outside Abuja.

Saturday PUNCH gathered that the government sent the invitation to the meeting through the Ministry of Labour and Employment on Friday morning.

However, one of our correspondents observed that although light refreshment was positioned on the table, signalling an expected meeting, the Conference Room was empty by 4pm as the labour representatives had yet to arrive.

It was also gathered that the Minister of Labour, Simon Lalong, was in the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila.

A source, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH in confidence said, “They (representatives of labour) are supposed to be here by now. We have been expecting them since. The place is set and the Chief Of Staff and Labour minister are upstairs waiting.”

Around 5pm, Gbajabiamila was seen exiting the Villa premises. He was said to be headed for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to await the arrival of President Tinubu from Paris.

The PUNCH reported on Friday that the National Deputy President of the TUC, Tommy Etim, criticised alleged moves by the Federal Government to arm-twist the organised labour from embarking on an indefinite nationwide strike from Tuesday, using the courts.

He affirmed that labour leaders would not succumb to any threat by the government, noting that they were ready to go to prison in their fight for better lives for Nigerian workers.

Etim’s outburst comes against the backdrop of the warning by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, that the proposed strike contravenes a subsisting court order restraining the unions from declaring an industrial action.

However, attempts to get from labour leaders the reasons why they boycotted the meeting with the government officials were not successful as they could not be reached on the telephone.

Since the start of his administration, labour unions have protested Tinubu’s decision to scrap the decades-old subsidy that kept fuel prices low but drained government funds.

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, told one of our correspondents in an interview on Thursday that the government was making efforts to resolve the issues raised by organised labour.

“We are engaging labour and we are hopeful that our engagements with them will lead to a fruitful resolution of the issues so that the strike can be averted. A strike action will not be in anyone’s interest,” he stated.

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