•Labour awaits Tinubu’s position as wage committee submits report to SGF

 

From Bimbola Oyesola, Geneva, Switzerland and Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

 

As the five working days relaxation of the indefinite strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) ends, the organised private sector (OPS) has threatened to invoke the clause of ‘No Work No Pay’ should members of the organised labour resume their strike on minimum wage and the reversal of electricity tariff hike.

The Unions had given the Federal Government a five working days ultimatum to come up with the new wage acceptable to workers and retraction of the new electricity tariff.

But Director General of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale Smatt-Oyerinde, who spoke on the sidelines of the ongoing International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday, warned that the employers would not hesitate to invoke the clause of ‘No Work No Pay’ if the workers refused the offers of N62,000 by the government.

“The employers in Trade Dispute Act Section 43 have the right not to pay for work not done. It is part of our law.”

He queried where the employer would get the money to pay the workers if there would be no production activities during the strike.

“Where would the employer get the money to pay when work is not done? It is a rule of justice. Where do I get the money to pay from?”

The NECA director general said both international law and local industrial law do not give absolute right for the workers to go on strike.

He said the Trade Disputes Act regulates the right to strike in Nigeria, while at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) level it is being contested and has been referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for interpretation.

“The context of ultimatum, context of strikes, these rules were guided by law, were guided by framework, in the ILO, it is the convention. In Nigeria, it is the Trade Dispute Act. We will wait for ICJ to come back.”

He said all the parties must work within the legal framework, adding that there is a subsisting order at the National Industrial Court (NIC).

“We saw the letter by the attorney general of the federation and our view is this, if you don’t align with it, you will go back to the court where he gets the order to contest it, but the moment I don’t context it, then I have gone way beyond the legal framework,” he said.

He said all parties must work within the legal framework to have an equilibrium society devoid of anarchy.

According to him, at the international Labour Convention 87 gives the right to organise, “but workers felt it includes the right to strike and that is what we are demanding interpretation from the ICJ.

“Our position is that we cannot be party to rubbish those institutions created to regulate the industrial process, we have the NIC and the Industrial Arbitration Panel (AIP), we must follow those institutions before escalating issues.”

The NECA boss said the employers aligned with the Federal Government on N62,000 because that is what is feasible for the members of the OPS.

“After going back and forth, the employers painfully came to N62,000. I say painfully, judging by the current state of employers in the country, business closing shops, business relocating. Two objectives inform our decision, can we afford to pay, jobs and create jobs and three, it is a deeper economic reason for us.

“Even in the ILO, the importance is to make sure that the developing economy is not left behind. This is done through transiting those in the informal to formal sector.”

Oyerinde said anything above N62,000 would be detrimental to the Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs) that form the bulk of the informal economy.

He said though both the governors’ forum and organised labour have different proposals, the NECA director general said the president would have the final say.

“The work of the committee is to make recommendations to the Federal Government and not force anything down the throat of the Federal Government. What we are to negotiate is minimum wage. The economy must be able to drive it.

“It is now left for the President to make his recommendation to the National Assembly. It is not compulsory that all the tripartite members should submit the same amount,” noting that in 2019, only labour and employer agreed on N30,000, while the governors’ forum said N22,000, but N30,000 was eventually approved by the National Assembly. 

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Meanwhile, the Organised Labour has said the decision of President Bola Tinubu on the report of Minimum Wage submitted to him would inform its next line of action on the resumption of its relaxed strike.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have given the Federal Government a five working days ultimatum to come up with the new wage acceptable to workers and retraction of the new electricity tariff.

However, the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, who arrived at the venue of the ongoing 112 International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday, said Labour would not resume the strike today.

“The NLC will wait for the next line of action based on how the President handles this matter,” he said.

Ajaero said the NLC will not have its position forwarded to the president and then go ahead to take certain action, “but when the president finally takes a decision on this, we will take action”.

He reasoned that besides President Tinubu, the National Executive Council would also have a lot to discuss as it will be presented to them on the table.

“Whatever direction they take, we will carry on with it,” he said. Noting that the committee report submitted to the President were two from the Organised Private Sector of N62,000 and Organised Labour, N250,000.

Ajaero said the import of the report was that the bill going to the National Assembly (NASS) is an executive bill which the president needs to consult widely before taking it to NASS.

He expressed that the last Minimum Wage submitted to former President Muhammad Buhari was around N27,000, then after consultation it was moved to N30,000.

“So it was expected that the President will make some other move because he has seen clearly that it was not just a margin, but a gulf between N62,000 and N250,000,” he said.

Ajaero said a lot is expected from President Tinubu on this present issue as the position he takes will go a long way in solving the present national  problem.

Meanwhile, he has reiterated that workers cannot be intimidated by employers from going to strike on the refusal to pay while on strike.

According to him, “the right to withdraw service is a fundamental human right. It’s a right that you can’t adjudicate. Clearly even in a master/servant relationship.”

He noted that the no work no pay clause could only work in a precarious casual employment, adding that a strike that was caused by an employer’s action could not be subjected to no work no pay.

“You refuse to pay a good wage or you refuse to pay a salary at all. I protested and then you benefit from it by equally further denying me. These are common principles in law or in terms of morality and if you want to drive it further no work no pay, no pay no work, that should be the end of it,” he stated.

“I didn’t come to work, you didn’t pay me. You don’t pay me, I will not come to work. In industrial relations, there’s a right to lock out by employers and there’s a right to strike by workers,” he added.

The NLC President said there is need for both the employers and workers to understand that industrial practice is all about maintenance of equilibrium for peace to reign in the workplace.

In another development, Nigeria’s delegation led by the Minister of Labour  and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, is expected to address the ILC today on issues of labour and industrial relations in the country.

Meanwhile, the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage, established by President Tinubu in January has concluded its assignment and submitted its report to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), George Akume

The submission of the report, yesterday, marked a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to address the minimum wage issue.

In a statement issued by  Director on Information and Public Relations, Segun Imohiosen, the committee was tasked with recommending a new national minimum wage for Nigerian workers in both public and private sectors.

The committee, comprising 37 members, was inaugurated on January 30, 2024, in accordance with the Minimum Wage Act of 2019.

He said the report will formally be presented to the President for appropriate action once the leadership of organized labour, government, and organized private sector representatives return from the ongoing International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

The SGF expressed gratitude to the committee chairman, Bukar  Aji, and members for their commitment and sacrifices during the assignment.


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