Talks with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its allies that the government called Sunday in an attempt to head off a nationwide strike planned for tomorrow were inconclusive. They were rescheduled for 2pm today. Unless they produced the outcome appealing to the organised labour, there would be no stopping an industrial action that would bring the country to standstill.
The dispute this time is over labour’s demand for a “consequential adjustment” of a new N30, 000 national wage which President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law in April this year, two months after he was re-elected. The adjustment is official jargon for a salary increase for certain categories of public servants. The NLC, therefore, directed its state councils to prepare for a nationwide strike starting from October 16, 2019.
NLC and its allies in Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Public Service Negotiating Council are demanding a 29% salary increase for officers on salary grade level 07 to 14 and 24 per cent adjustment for officers on salary grade level 15 to 17.
However, Buhari’s federal government has offered to pay 11 per cent salary increase for officers on grade level 07 to 14 and 6.5 per cent adjustment for those on grade level 15 to 17. On their part, state governors, under the auspices of Nigerian Governors Forum, have brought nothing to the table. They have ruled out any possibility of “specific salary adjustment”.Chairman of the NGF, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, said any strike by labour would be futile because the nation could not meet the specific demands of the organised labour.
The disagreements have set the stage for a protracted nationwide strike that union leaders hope would force the government’s to do a deal with them. The unions, in a joint communiqué issued at the end of a meeting recently in Abuja, said they could “not guarantee industrial peace” if the federal government failed to hold a meeting with them and accepted the consequential salary adjustment before the close of work October 16.
A letter the NLC sent its state councils, said it would not back down on its demand. “You will recall that a joint communiqué was issued by the leadership of the NLC, the Trade Union Congress and the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council stating that after two weeks from the date of the said communiqué, industrial harmony could not be guaranteed in the country should an agreement not be reached with the Federal Government on the consequential adjustment of salaries as a result of the new minimum wage of N30, 000. You are hereby directed to coordinate preparations with the TUC and the JPSNC in your states for necessary industrial action should the time expire without an agreement as contained in the communiqué.”
Nigerians are hoping that the flexibility of the federal government on salary increment would break the ice. Unlike the state governors who have said a pay rise is out the question, Buhari has offered something. That was what his government’s negotiating team and JPSNC were to discuss at Tuesday’s meeting. They were doing so well aware of the consequences of a failure to reach an agreement.
At this delicate level, we urge level headedness, not political grandstanding. A labourer, it is said, deserves his wage. Labour is right to demand what is rightly workers’. However, there is a world of a difference between what is right and what is possible. This calls for pragmatism on both sides. Let the government offer to labour what is reasonable, and let labour accept what an economy that is still recovering from recession can take.