Labour plans one-day solidarity protest over govt’s poor handling of education sector crisis

By Bassey Udo

The organised Labour, under the umbrella union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its affiliates are to embark on a one-day solidarity action in support of its affiliates in the education sector.

The President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, who announced this said the solidarity action was to expressed workers disgust over the government’s poor handling of the crisis that resulted in the country’s tertiary educational institutions being closed down for over four months.

The proposed solidarity match was contained in the highlights of the communique issued at the end of the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the NLC on Thursday in Abuja.

The NEC comprises all Presidents, General Secretaries, Treasurers of all NLC’s affiliate unions; State Chairpersons and Secretaries of the NLC State Councils, Chairperson of the NLC Youth Committee and members of the National Administrative Council (NAC).

During the meeting, some of the major issues considered included the state of the nation, particularly the energy crisis, widespread insecurity, hyper-inflation cum continuous devaluation of the Naira; state of the struggle, especially the failure by four states to commence the payment of the national minimum wage, the ongoing strike action in all public universities in Nigeria, challenges faced by workers and unions in Abia and Imo States, and the persistent anti-workers disposition of the Rivers State Government; the role of Nigerian workers in promoting and defending democracy especially through the Labour Party, and effective mobilization of workers and citizens to vote in Labour Party candidates in the 2023 general election.

On the lingering strike action by various groups in the Education Sub-sector, Labour expressed dismay that students in the public universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, comprising mainly those from working class and poor families, have been on strike for nearly four months without the government’s concern.

The organised Labour said despite its effort and trade unions in the country’s university system to resolve the crisis, including the convening of high-powered meetings of stakeholders, the government has failed to address this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

Rather than investing the required commitment to resolve the lingering industrial crisis in Nigeria’s universities and other tertiary education institutions, the NLC said the government was worsening the situation with its threat of “no work – no pay” policy that has led to the stoppage of the salaries of the striking university workers.

Labour condemned the government’s non-complacent attitude to the lingering industrial action in the country’s Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and Research Institutions, especially the recent activation of “no work–no pay” policy on striking university workers.

It described the stoppage of salaries of striking university workers as draconian, especially since the government was to blame for the strike action, by its failure to honour a legally valid collective bargaining agreement.

Consequently, Labour said it has ordered its affiliate unions to activate and deploy the “no pay–no work” policy to retaliate the government action.

On energy crisis, the NLC observed that despite Nigeria’s status as a major oil producer, the country has failed to refine her own crude oil.

The consequence of the failure, it said, was the near total importation of refined petroleum products, which has been a heavy hemorrhage of the national coffers, given the colossal foreign exchange revenue that go into the importation of refined petroleum products and payment of subsidy by the government.

The NLC traced the protracted crisis in the downstream sector of the country’s petroleum industry to the failure of the government to rehabilitate Nigeria’s refineries despite several promises by successive administrations.

The NLC noted the severe dislocations in the national economy and social order as well as the excruciating suffering by workers and Nigerians as a result of the continued neglect of the country’s public refineries.

Some of these dislocations include the high cost of the deregulated and non-deregulated refined petroleum products; acute shortages and disruption in the supply chain of refined petroleum products, especially Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), Diesel, Kerosene and Aviation Fuel, and the exposure of motorists in major cities, especially Abuja and environs, to long fuel queues at filling stations, and the proliferation of petrol black markets and sale of petrol above the regulated price of N165 per litre in many states; increase in the cost of essential goods and services, including food stuff, transportation costs, cooking gas, and personal services.

The Labour movement reiterated its call on government to honour its commitment as contained in collective bargaining agreements with Organized Labour and immediately fix the country’s refineries as a panacea to the wholesale importation of refined petroleum products and check the negative impact on the workers and Nigerians.

Besides, the group urged the government to invest in renewable energy, by providing facilities for the conversion of diesel vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG) as cheaper alternatives to fossil fuel, to strengthen the energy transition initiatives.

On the harsh industrial climate in Abia and Imo States, the NLC frowned at the two governments refusal to pay the national minimum wage, failure to honour collective bargaining agreements, owing workers up to 18 months of salary arrears, backlog of unpaid pension benefits, refusal to carry out periodic promotion for deserving workers, stifling of payment of several legitimate annual increment to workers.

Consequently, on the recommendation of the Central Working Committee (CWC), the NEC resolved to intervene by sending a strong delegation led by the NLC President to interface with Abia and Imo State governments with a view to resolve the issues.

Similarly, NEC called on the Rivers State government to withdraw the security siege on the NLC Rivers State Secretariat immediately and settle all arrears of salaries, annual increment, promotion, and unpaid gratuity and pension benefits to workers as the state was financially buoyant enough to do so.

Besides, the Council expressed displeasure that four states, namely Taraba, Zamfara, Abia and Cross River States, were yet to commence implementation of the national minimum wage to their workers.

Describing the action by the affected State governments as violation of the right of the workers, the NLC said failure to commence the payment of the national minimum wage would be considered a criminal breach of Nigeria’s laws and totally unacceptable by its leadership.

It vowed to deploy all lawful actions necessary to address and redress the violation of the country’s labour laws.

On the growing insecurity in the country, Labour recalled the various incidents that resulted bloodletting and severe security breaches across the country as well as the deteriorating socio-economic indices in the country particularly unemployment, deepening poverty, expanding divide between the few rich and many poor, and the continued poor oversight of funds allocated to security agencies.

It called on the government to ensure the release of all those still held in captivity all over the country including those kidnapped from the scene of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, kidnapped students, and other kidnap victims, including workers and other citizens.

On inflation and soaring cost of living in the country, Labour described it as an imperative for the demand by the workers for the payment living wages by the government.

Noting the huge deficits and near absence of social protection measures for citizens and workers to cushion the impact of the galloping inflation in the country, NEC expressed serious concern of the double jeopardy of high inflation rate, devaluation of the national currency and failure to review wages since 2009.

While urging the government to pursue policies to immediately arrest the galloping inflation rate, Labour suggested a stop to the huge losses in the downstream petroleum sub-sector, and transfer of the costs volatility in global commodities market to end users of refined petroleum products in Nigeria, by encourage local refining of petroleum products.

On the sack of 2,357 Primary School Teachers by the Kaduna State Government, the NL condemned the action, describing it as a clear disregard to judicial process by the government despite an ongoing legal action for the stoppage of the controversial Competency Test for the teachers.

Labour called for the immediate reversal of the sack of the teachers in line with the rule of law and respect of court processes since the case is before a competent court of law, and embrace dialogue between Organized Labour and Kaduna State Government to resolve the current and other crises.

On Labour Party and the countdown to 2023 General Election, the NLC acknowledged the wave of excitement by Nigerians to participate in the 2023 general election by their demonstration of commitment to register and collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs).

However, it noted difficulties experienced by eligible voters in the exercise at registration centres across the country.

While commending Nigerians for their commitment to participate in the 2023 polls, NEC urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that all eligible voters willing to vote in the 2023 general election were registered, adding that the electoral umpire should expand its reform initiatives by improving its logistics capabilities, especially with regards to provision of adequate voter registration centres across the country.

Labour also called on INEC to investigate reports of the deployment of voter registration centres in private premises, saying such conducts posed huge risk to the integrity perception of the process in the countdown to the 2023 general polls

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