Fears have gripped political parties, civil society organisations and other stakeholders in the electoral process over the threat of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to begin a nationwide strike tomorrow over the impasse on the N30,000 new minimum wage.
They warned that if the strike holds, it will not only frustrate the ongoing preparations for the 2019 general elections, but can lead to the extension of the polls, which begin on February 16, 2019 with the presidential election.
In separate interviews with LEADERSHIP, the stakeholders hoped that the scheduled meeting between the NLC and the federal government on the matter today would yield positive result.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is banking on the affiliate members of the NLC including the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to conduct the elections.
Although INEC has entered into an agreement with the NURTW and other transport unions for the movement of election materials to the polling units and wards in the 774 local government areas of the country, the stakeholders believe that any strike by the NLC could adversely affect preparations and actual conduct of the polls.
Even ASUU’s acceptance to participate in the elections as ad-hoc staff has not assuage the fears of the stakeholders, who said that NLC has enormous influence on its affiliate bodies.
One of the stakeholders said that even though INEC is meeting with the leadership of the NLC this week, the union is determined to make good its threat unless the relevant parties to the new wage dispute intervene or shift ground.
“If that is allowed to happen, the strike will not only affect the election but the economy will also suffer,” he added.
The national chairman, United Peoples Congress (UPC), Dr. Kenneth Ibe-Kalu, pleaded that in the interest of the country, NLC should suspend the strike until after the election.
He said: “I don’t think it is wise for the NLC to go on a strike in an election year. The election circle is bigger than the NLC’s demands. Since government is a continuum, the union should allow the election to hold and continue their negotiations after the election.”
Ibe-Kalu warned that a strike by NLC would affect the 2019 general elections negatively, adding that the effect of any industrial action might lead to the extension of the polls.
“If the strike takes place, definitely, INEC won’t get the needed ad-hoc staff. It will cripple many other things including logistics because even INEC staff won’t go to work. And that might lead to the extension of the elections. If the election is extended, political parties and their candidates will spend more money. So, we are calling on the NLC not to make their threat a reality. They should resume negotiations in March,” Ibe-Kalu said.
Also, a chieftain of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Umar Yahaya, urged the NLC to weigh the interest of its members alongside the implications of the strike on the polity, noting that “the timing is wrong and should be reconsidered.”
He said: “It will not be in the best interest of the nation if the strike takes place. We are in an election year. The election is to be conducted at all levels. This means that many people will be required to serve as ad-hoc staff. NLC should at this time, consider the interest of the nation.”
But, a financial expert and governorship aspirant in Kaduna State under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2018 primary election, Alhaji Shuaibu Idris Miqati, said that it was natural for workers to demand for a better package, but added that productivity should be considered.
“When the minimum wage was set at N18,000, it was more than a $100, but today, the N30,000 being demanded by the workers is not up to $100. We also know that productivity has dropped. What are you giving that you are demanding for higher pay? Your demand should be based on what you are giving.
“The good news is that the federal government captured the issue of the minimum wage in the 2019 budget. So, there should not be any basis for a strike. If some states say they won’t be able to pay what the federal government offers, the NLC should take on those states,” Miqati said.
“We are in an election year. Anything that will derail the peaceful conduct of the elections should be avoided. NLC should allow reason to prevail,” he said.
However, the executive director, Civil Society and Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said that the negotiations with NLC did not start today, adding that it was a prolonged issue that must be addressed.
He said that if political officeholders receive jumbo pay, there is no basis for the civil servants to be neglected.
“Remember, this proposed strike is not only for minimum wage. Many workers in the local governments and in some states have not been paid for long,” Auwal said.
“The government is aware of this threat long before now. Government must improve the working and living conditions of workers. Why should fund be spent on political office holders while civil servants are neglected? It is irresponsible for any government not to pay workers’ salaries while political officeholders are getting huge allowances,” Auwal said.
According to CISLAC official, NLC should not be blamed for the threat of a possible strike in an election year but the government for not paying living wages and neglecting the workers.
“There should not be sentiment about this issue. If you must fight corruption, workers must be well-paid. If you don’t pay them, don’t expect them to work. Government should be sincere to all workers. There are states and local governments that are not paying workers’ salaries. Government increased fuel pump price and transportation, healthcare and other essential services have gone up. Food prices, education, and other social services have gone up too. So, government must look at the welfare of workers,” Auwal insisted.
If the strike holds, banks and fuel stations would be shut, thereby crippling the economy and possibly trigger another recession.
It was also learnt that essential services in the maritime sector, especially the import and export sub-sectors could be affected.
The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), including its affiliates such as the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) branch, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), the Association of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), and Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN), will withdraw their services if NLC goes on strike.
Also, aviation, transportation (railway), construction, manufacturing, and health workers among others will also join the strike.
LEADERSHIP reports that public workers in ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs), educational institutions, including INEC and others won’t go to work, thereby affecting the preparations for the elections.
NLC, TUC, and United Labour Congress of (ULC) had earlier asked all their affiliate unions and state councils nationwide to prepare for a prolonged strike over the delay of the Federal government to approve a national minimum wage.
Last Friday, INEC met with the leadership of ASUU where both parties agreed to work together for the success of the 2019 general elections despite their unmet demands, a gesture INEC national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Barr Festus Okoye, described as “patriotic.”
With over one million ad-hoc staff required by INEC from the federal institutions to participate in the 2019 general elections, the commission realised that a non-agreement with ASUU outside their talks with the federal government might affect its preparations.
“The NURTW and ASUU are members of NLC. INEC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NURTW for the transportation of its personnel and material to the various polling units and collation centers throughout the Federation. The NURTW will provide over 400,000 vehicles and drivers and support staff throughout the duration of elections. If the NLC goes on strike and their affiliate unions join them during the elections, it will definitely affect the movement of personnel and materials,” Okoye said, insisting it was the reason the commission would have to meet the union.
“INEC is interested in a conductive environment for the successful conduct of elections and all the stakeholders in the electoral process should do the needful in making sure that all impediments to the smooth conduct of elections are staved off,” Okoye added.