- Distinguished gentlemen of the press, ladies and gentlemen, it has become expedient for me to call for this Press Conference to address the impending 2-day warning strike by members of the Nigeria labour Congress (NLC) and its affiliates.
- Allow me to first express my sympathy and that of the Government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR to Nigerians and in particular the workers over the challenges that have arisen from the removal of Petrol Subsidy and other policies of the government aimed at renewing hope for the future of our dear nation.
- Like Mr. President has stated several times, Government is not unaware that the implementation of these vital but difficult policies, come along with a measure of hardship for all of us citizens of this country. However, the Government has to take these decisions now rather than delay them further and put the nation into more difficulties that might be impossible to reverse.
- Ladies and gentlemen, you will recall that during national broadcast recently, Mr. President assured citizens of the government’s commitment to improving their livelihoods and putting in place measures to ensure that the pains arising from the removal of fuel subsidy are reduced to the barest minimum.
- Already, Government has taken steps to cushion the impact of the removal of fuel subsidy which are being implemented by the three tiers of Government. While some of these policies are being planned and fine-tuned, others are being rolled out as palliative measures to bring temporary relief to Nigerians. On the long run, the government of President Tinubu will put in place measures that will empower the people as well as create jobs and prosperity.
- As we continue in this direction therefore, we must ensure that there is a robust line of communication with Nigerians and in particular the organised labour to forestall a breakdown of industrial peace which would no doubt reverse some of the gains already made.
- In this context, it has become pertinent to appeal to the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), to suspend its intended 2-days warning strike, as such action would be detrimental to the gains already being recorded on our course to securing a greater future for Nigerian workers and citizens at large. Furthermore, I would request that the Comrade Leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress gives this Government some time to settle and address the issues on the ground holistically.
- It should be realised that the Cabinet of this administration was only recently sworn in by Mr. President and all cabinet members have hit the ground running by receiving briefings from their MDAs. Therefore, the issues raised by the leadership of the NLC are some issues that I and the Hon. Minister of State for Labour and Employment are being briefed upon. In the next few weeks, we intend to address them holistically.
- Consequently, I use this opportunity to reassure Nigerian workers that this government would never take them for granted nor fail to appreciate their support and understanding. We shall continue to pursue policies aimed at massive employment generation in all sectors of the economy as well as look into immediate challenges that have emerged out of the policies of government. We cannot do this in an atmosphere devoid of industrial peace.
- At this point, I need to put on record that as at this moment, I am yet to receive official communication of the NLC Communiqué following its National Executive Council Meeting, as required by the law. Like many Nigerians, I and the Hon. Minister of State got the information from media sources. I believe my dear comrades will do the needful by following laid down processes for handling such matters since the cabinet is now in place unlike previously when there was no cabinet on ground.
- In specific terms, let me take the issues presented by the NLC one after the other. On the issue of subsidy removal, palliative measures are already being handled and implemented, beginning with the State and local governments. You will recall that on the directive of Mr. President, the Federal Government dispatched trucks of rice and other grains to states for immediate distribution to most vulnerable citizens.
- In addition, the National Economic Council under the Chairmanship of His Excellency the Vice President, approved the disbursement of N5 billion naira to the 36 States and the FCT for purchase and distribution of more palliatives and further interventions. Earlier, Mr. President had directed the purchase of CNG powered buses and implementation of the policy for conversion of petrol cars to gas as a way of reducing the cost of energy for transportation.
- In the course of the coming weeks, additional measures will be announced having consulted with the leadership of the labour organised labour and key stakeholders. The issue of the review of minimum wage which was promised by the President will also receive attention so as to ensure that the Nigerian worker is not adversely affected by the challenges of the moment.
- The issue of the conflict between the Nigeria Police and the leadership of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) would be looked into without delay. In line with the subsisting laws of the Federation and International Conventions that Nigeria is party to, I do not believe that this conflict is insurmountable.
- Without prejudice to the fact that the Nigeria Police as a frontline internal security agency has its role to play in civil and criminal matters, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment has its role to play in resolving industrial relations matters. Therefore, we shall engage both parties in dialogue to find the way forward on this problem. I believe that the NURTW which plays a very critical role in the economy will always work with not only the police but all other security agencies. This misunderstanding must therefore be dealt with immediately.
- As for the matter between the organised labour with Imo and Abia State Governments, I have been informed that the Nigeria Labour Congress and these State Governments had entered into collective agreements induced by industrial actions carried out by the leadership of the NLC in the States earlier in the year. I would also appeal for calm on this matter, to allow us to follow the laid down procedures of dispute resolution rather than confrontation, which has not yielded the desired results yet. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect different results.
- On the claims of violation of workers’ rights by some employers with regards to membership of the Unions in the Aviation Sector, I am yet to receive a Trade Dispute Form properly submitted to my office on this matter as required by the Trade Disputes Act CAP T8 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. I wish to reiterate here that no one is above the law and as such, we shall do everything possible to ensure that all concerned act according to the dictates of existing legislations.
- Coming to the issue of marauders unleashing terror on farmers across the country, we must support the security agencies to continue to investigate and bring the culprits to book. I am sure many Nigerians have followed the successes recorded by the Nigerian armed forces in the past few days against bandits and other criminals across the country. Since these matters are more in the criminal, than labour domain, we are of the view that it does not warrant an industrial action. Therefore, I enjoin the labour movement to call on citizens to desist from taking laws into their own hands and report such matters involving members of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuffs Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN) to authorities for amicable resolution and proper action.
- On the comments made by my colleague the FCT Minister on the proposed demolition of illegal structures, we do not believe that the FCT administration will take any action targeted at any Nigerian including the workers. In any case, there has not been any execution of the proposed actions yet which would point to unfair treatment of any worker.
- I know that my friend and brother the FCT Minister H.E. Nyesom Wike is a lawyer and I know that he will operate only within the confines of the law and the provisions of the Abuja Masterplan. Besides, it is not sufficient grounds for a threat or mere suspicion or in anticipation of an action to warrant the shutdown of government machinery and stand the risk of rolling back the gains that have already been collectively made to deliver renewed hope for Nigerians.
- In light of these matters, I would like to reiterate my appeal to the leadership of the NLC to suspend their planned 2-day warning strike, and subsequent future actions, and to allow us to work together to amicably resolve these issues rather than embark on actions that would further worsen the conditions of the citizens of Nigeria.
- Finally, I wish to once again extend the deep appreciation of Mr. President to the Nigerian workers and the leadership of the organised labour for their support through the course of these difficult decisions that have become inevitable. By the grace of God, the pains will soon be over and Nigerians will have a nation whose capacity inspires hope, unity and progress.
- Thank you for your attention.
Rt. Hon. Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, CON
Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment
4th September 2023