From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
Both pledged to find solutions to key demands tabled before the government by the organised labour before the deadline.
After their meeting on Monday with the Minister of Labour and Employment Simon Lalong, in Abuja, President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero told Journalists that only the president could make decisions about the demands made by the Congress to the government.
Ajaero further discribrd the discussion as “fruitful” and said he was willing to meet with the administration at any time of day to discuss its demands and prevent the strike from happening.
Some of the demands of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) include : wage award, tax exemptions and allowances to public sector workers, provision of Compressed Natural Gas buses; release of modalities for the N70bn for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); release of officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) by the police, among others.
The NLC president said: “Like the minister said we had a fruitful deliberation and we have agreed to continue to make sure we arrive at meaningful agreement within the remaining days of the ultimatum.
“We equally discussed frankly the issue bordering the coup floated and executed by the Nigeria Police against the National Union of Road Transport Workers which has led to the detention of their democratically elected national officers and both parties agreed to show concern towards the resolution of the matter. It is one sore area that the trade union movement in Nigeria is not ready to compromise. Whether a coup in the trade union movement or in the polity. It must be condemned; whether it is in Niger Republic, Congo or Mali or in the trade union movement in Nigeria.
“On the other issue you can see that there is no agreement or implementation on any. There is no CNG anywhere. Refineries are not working. No agreement on wage award. Those are the issues we believe that something will happen before the ultimatum expires. It is possible that something will happen.
“We had a convivial deliberation with the minister and we hope that even if it is remaining one day we will get to the root of all these problems. Whenever we are invited we will be there. Both parties will work towards the realisation of these objectives before the last minute of the ultimatum.
“There is a larger committee that has set up technical committees. The ministry has performed its role to mediate and conciliate in the problem between us and the federal government. There is an inter-ministerial committee at the presidency level which is supposed to address these issues.
“The ministry of labour can't address wage award, the issue of CNG, refineries and others. The ministry has mediated to ensure that there is no problem or get both parties to resolve these issues.
“We are ready to engage the government whether in the night or day; we are ready to engage but not at gunpoint.”
On his part, the minister said many of the items presented by Labour were still under consideration before the final agreement.
According to him; “Our meeting was very robust. It was a fruitful meeting. Many of the items presented by Labour are still under consideration before the final agreement or discussions.
“It was a fruitful meeting. I thank the NLC for coming to the meeting and for their very useful contributions.”
Before the meeting went into a closed-door session, Ajaero said the two – day warning strike declared on 5th and 6th by the NLC was a “product of frustration caused by the economic situation in the country.”
The President of NLC said “none of the demands put before the federal government had been addressed.”
He lamented the lack of trust between government and the union in the negotiation process.
Ajaero said: “We came with mixed feeling whether it will work or not because we have had many meetings, some beyond this level, yet nothing seems to be coming out of it. But I have great optimism in the Nigerian project; we can't stop trying. We are here with that belief that something may happen. But that doubt, that trust gap is what we feared for a long time now and it calls for lamentation.
“The strike is an effect of a policy that doesn't have human face. There was no strike before the removal of fuel subsidy. It was the government that said ask for palliatives, ask for wages and we have asked for it. That warning strike was a product of frustration, up till this moment.
“We must work together to ensure that we don't keep on dragging these issues. It is the Nigerian people that are being affected, they are the people that are suffering. We have a lot of demands that we have put on paper for the government. There is the issue of CNG, refineries working, wage award and cash transfer. Of all these agreements, not even one has been addressed by the government and you want us to meet everyday.
“Some of us have been around for a long time and our job is not to go on strike but when you enter into an agreement that agreement should be implemented. Before the warning strike we raised the issues of palliatives and wage award and the NURTW.
“Nobody earning N30, 000 or N60, 000 will buy fuel for one week. We need to find solutions to all these problems and we have articulated them. Each time we finish they ask for time. They asked for eight weeks we gave them. They asked for four weeks we gave them. We don't know what to tell our colleagues or members again. We hope that at the end of this meeting we will have something to tell our members. This is a neck breaking meeting.”
Lalong assured the labour leaders that the government was committed to addressing all the issues that led to their warning strike.
The minister however said government must be mindful of striking a balance that promotes economic growth and secures sustainable progress for the nation as it attempts to address the demands of Labour.
Lalong said: “In recent months, our country has witnessed teething challenges, marked by industrial actions and unrest that have adversely affected the economy. I appear before you today not just as a representative of the government, but as an advocate for constructive dialogue, aspiring to understand your concerns and working hand in hand to find lasting solutions that benefit all Nigerians.
“I fully acknowledge and appreciate the invaluable role the NLC plays in championing for the rights and welfare of our workers. Your dedication and tireless advocacy have been critical in shaping a fair and inclusive work environment, and ensuring the wellbeing of our workforce. We acknowledge the valid grievances that have fueled the recent labour crisis, and we are committed to addressing them in a just and equitable manner.
“We must also recognise the economic realities that confront us. As we address the concerns of our workforce, we must be mindful of striking a balance that promotes economic growth and secures sustainable progress for our nation. Today, I call upon each one of you to join hands in an open-minded and constructive dialogue, enabling us to bridge any gaps that may exist between the interests of workers and the ultimate goal of driving economic advancement.
“In the spirit of unity and with utmost commitment to the betterment of our nation, let us seize this opportunity to listen and understand one another. Together, let us explore innovative approaches, reimagining strategies that enhance working conditions and worker benefits while nurturing a robust economy.
“I am confident that this gathering will produce resolutions that propel our labour sector towards greater strength, and our beloved country towards a brighter future. We eagerly look forward to our discussions today, knowing that the harmonious collaboration between the government and the NLC will facilitate an environment where our workforce thrives, and our economy flourishes.”