•Says it’s threat to peaceful election

By Bimbola Oyesola

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has vowed to resist Federal Government’s recent ban on strikes in the aviation industry and other sectors it called “essential services”, warning it will impact the forthcoming election and handing over negatively.

President of the Congress, Festus Osifo, in a statement on Wednesday noted that it was a serious threat to industrial peace and harmony in the country.

“And forceful implementation of this directive by the government will be met with stiff resistance that might lead to breakdown of law and order in the country,” he stated.

Osifo said that the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika who announced the so-called ban on behalf of the Muhammadu Buhari administration should know that the Aviation law which he claims empowers government to ban strikes, cannot override neither the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria nor the fundamental rights of Nigerians to withdraw their labour if they deem it necessary. 

He said on the labour law supporting workers to strike, “This is unambiguously stated in the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to organise.

“Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) bans forced or compulsory labour which means no Nigerian citizen can be forced to work if he or she chooses not to work.” 

The TUC President urgedgovernment to always do everything possible to address issues of welfare raised by different unions and also respect the letters of any collective agreement that it entered into with workers. 

“This is the only way strike can be averted and not by any surreptitious or clandestine moves or pronouncements,” he said, adding that there is no sector whose services is not essential; “Is it health or Education?”

The labour leader explained further that  Section 40 of the Constitution also states that Nigerians have the fundamental right to unionise. 

According to Usifo, there is no more fundamental right in unionisation than that of workers to unite and struggle for their interests which also include industrial action.

He said, “The Minister’s claim that strikes are unnecessary because: “As a government, our ears are always open, the government is open to listening to any grievances and there are procedures for dealing with these kind of grievances”  sounds hollow. 

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“If indeed government listens, it would have listened to Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATTSSSAN) members and the aviation staff’s long-standing demands rather than force them into a strike. 

If truly government listens, it would not have allowed the universities teachers strike to drag on for eight months simply because it failed to honour an agreement it willfully entered into. And even after the strike was called off; it continues to withhold the unpaid salaries of the academics, which itself is provocative and unfair labour practice.”

The TUC President emphasised that strike in the aviation industry is not a peculiarly Nigerian issue; “it is a right exercised universally by workers”. 

He opined that in the past few months, airport and airline staff in France, Belgium, Portugal and Italy have gone on strike. 

He equally said that the same week that aviation staff went on strike in Nigeria, their counterparts in some other countries also did. 

“For instance, on January 25, 2023, aviation staff in Portugal and Germany went on strike while those in the United Kingdom have called a strike for February 1, 2023.

“It is wishful thinking for the Federal Government to think it can trample on the rights of Nigerian workers,” he said.

Usifo stressed that any attempt by the federal government to enforce an illegal ban on strikes will be vigorously resisted. 

“By this declaration, TUC is placing all its members on alert to be ready to carry out solidarity actions with striking workers in any sector if the government tries to criminalize such an action.

“The TUC assures ATTSSSAN members and aviation workers and indeed all the working people of our country of its solidarity and its readiness to side with them in all their legitimate disputes with government or employers in furtherance of their interests.”

He said that the Buhari administration should rather concentrate on good governance, make petroleum products available, protect Nigerians against rampaging bandits and hyper-inflation and allow a peaceful transition of power rather than provoke unnecessary labour unrest.

“The TUC calls on all organizations including professional and market associations, student unions and civil society organizations to join in resisting government attempts to abridge the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people when that time comes.

A Stich in time saves nine,” he said.