Organised labour on Thursday accused the Labour Minister, Solomon Lalong of taking actions to derail the October 2 agreement reached between it and the Federal Government.
On October 2, 2023, the NLC and its affiliate, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), suspended the indefinite nationwide strike action earlier planned for October 3.
The suspension followed an agreement reached during a meeting with the representatives of the government in Abuja to avert the strike.
In the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) issued at the end of the meeting, the NLC said part of the agreement with the government team led by the Minister of Labour was a commitment by all parties to henceforth abide by the dictates of social dialogue in all future engagements, among other things.
But, in a statement on Thursday in Abuja, the General Secretary of the NLC, Emmanuel Ugboaja, expressed shock at the turn of events as a result of the Minister’s action relating to the crisis in the leadership of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).
Ugboaja said the Minister’s meddling action has thrown a spanner in the wheel of the implementation of the agreement reached with Labour Party by the Federal Government Agreement.
Ugboaja alleged that Lalong displayed “unmasked partiality in handling a critical item in the agreement, which is the apparent government meddling in Trade Union matters by siding with a faction in the crisis that illegally seized the National headquarters of the union with the support of the police.
The Labour scribe said the action of the Minister has now encouraged the group to proceed to conduct its own zonal and national Delegates’ Conference to confer legitimacy to their action.
“This flagrant act not only constitutes an egregious intrusion into the internal affairs of a Union, in violation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98, but also represents a clear attempt to sabotage the recently ratified agreement between the Labour movement and the Federal Government,” the General Secretary of NLC said.
“It is unfathomable that a Federal Minister of Labour, tasked with safeguarding the rights and e, marks a disheartening departure from the expected standards of conduct within the nation’s industrial relations sphere,” he lamented.
He said despite initial assurances from the Minister regarding the illegal occupation of the NURTW’s National Headquarters, the democratically elected leadership, led by Tajudeen Baruwa, has not been reinstated.
Instead, he said the Minister has chosen to endorse and legitimize the hijacking with the State’s backing.
“This blatant power grab, subverting legality and moral integrity, is an affront to the principles of democratic governance.
“It is now abundantly clear that the Federal Government never negotiated in good faith and, consequently, was never genuinely committed to honoring the terms of the October 2, 2023 Agreement.” he noted.
He said the conduct of the Minister serves to affirm Labour’s earlier apprehension that the State was manoeuvring to orchestrate a coup d’état against the democratically elected NURTW leadership, potentially alluding to the support of the government, as suggested by the Minister’s actions and statements.
The Labour leader said there was no doubt by the public about the government’s intentions regarding the implementation of the October 2, 2023 agreement, pointing out that it was clear that the handling of the NURTW issue may jeopardize the execution of other facets of the agreement.
Reiterating Labour’s position on the crisis, Ugboaja said the NLC was of the view that the NURTW leadership crisis was engineered by the Federal Government through the Police, by aiding the Lagos group, who were members of the Lands, Parks and Garages Commission in Lagos state, not the NURTW, to forcefully occupy the unions headquarters in Abuja.
He said the NLC believes the Tajudeen Baruwa’s leadership of the NURTW was democratically elected, adhering to union statutes, the national laws and ILO Conventions.
The election process of the Executive, he said, began in May 2023 at the zonal levels, culminating in the National Delegates’ Conference of August, 2023 that inaugurated the current leadership of Baruwa in August 2023.
The Governor of Lagos State who previously created Lands, Parks and Garages Commission which led to the Lagos group in 2022, he noted, renounced their membership of the union and took up offices in the government agency.
He described as inconceivable the act of allowing non-union members to seize national leadership, bolstered by the coercive powers of the state, invoking the name of President Bola Tinubu as a shield and sword.
The NLC, Ugboaja said, firmly rejects the Minister’s endorsement of the holding of illegal Conferences, adding that any deviation from the spirit of the prior agreement with Labour on the matter forebode grave consequences.
“The Government cannot flout ILO conventions, the Constitution, and our statutes with impunity and believe that all will be quiet.
“As Minister Lalong recklessly steers our nation towards an industrial crisis, we pledge unwavering resistance to all forms of malfeasance and misconduct within Nigeria’s trade union sphere.
“We will marshal our resources to ensure that political interference and lawlessness do not corrupt leadership selection processes within the trade union sector,” he said.
Having descended into the arena, Ugboaja said the Minister has stripped himself of the moral high ground and authority to continue midwifing the process of implementing the October 2 Agreement, adding that Labour would be highly constrained to attend any meeting the Minister calls for the purposes of the implementation of the agreement.
“A minister of Labour is supposed to be an impartial arbiter and as expected to provide professional guidance to the government on this matter, instead has chosen to contaminate the process with the same level of politics of the murky waters playing out in the larger polity,” he observed.
He implore the President to rein in the Minister, warning that if this does not occur, Labour would conclude that the Minister’s actions aligned with his directives.
Labour, he said, steadfastly uphold the provisions of the October 2, 2023 Agreement, warning that any continued non-compliance of the terms after 30 days would compel the relevant bodies to take necessary actions that may inevitably lead to a national industrial crisis.