AGF Challenges Labour on Minimum Wage as NASS Fails to Prevent Strike

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The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), has criticized the organized labour’s nationwide strike that began today. Fagbemi, in a letter dated June 1, 2024, to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) leaders, argued that the strike violates a subsisting National Industrial Court order prohibiting such action.

The letter followed a failed meeting convened by the National Assembly leaders on Sunday night, where NLC and TUC leaders, including NLC President Joe Ajaero and TUC counterpart Festus Osifo, insisted on proceeding with the strike. The meeting, presided over by Senate President Godswill Akpabio and Speaker of the House of Representatives Tajudeen Abbas, also involved the Minister of State for Labour, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, who noted the government’s offer of a N60,000 minimum wage, a 100 percent increase, was the maximum feasible.

Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, suggested labour leaders might have ulterior motives, calling their demands unrealistic for both federal and state governments. The strike was declared by Organized Labour following the government’s refusal to raise the new minimum wage offer above N60,000 and its failure to reverse the withdrawal of the power sector subsidy and increase in electricity tariff.

Despite ongoing negotiations, which saw the government raise its offer from N57,000 to N60,000 while labour unions reduced their demand from N615,000 to N494,000, the government maintained its stance, leading to the strike’s declaration.

Fagbemi, in his letter addressed to NLC President Ajaero and TUC President Osifo, condemned the strike as premature and a violation of the Trade Union Dispute Act 2004, which mandates a minimum 15-day strike notice. He noted that neither the NLC nor the TUC had declared a trade dispute or issued any strike notice, making the action illegitimate and unlawful. He also cited an interim injunction by the National Industrial Court from June 5, 2023, restraining both unions from any industrial action.

Emphasizing the importance of following due process, Fagbemi pointed out that the conditions for exercising the right to strike align with International Labour Organisation principles. He assured the government’s commitment to resolving workers’ welfare issues through collective bargaining and urged the unions to return to negotiation.

TUC President Osifo, after the meeting with National Assembly leaders, indicated that the unions could not call off the strike immediately without consulting their respective organs. Senate President Akpabio and Speaker Abbas appealed to the unions to suspend the strike, highlighting its potential adverse impacts on public services and the economy.

Minister of State for Labour Onyejeocha, Special Adviser Onanuga, and Minister of Information and National Orientation Mohammed Idris all stressed the government’s financial constraints and the unrealistic nature of the unions’ demands. They urged the unions to return to the negotiation table to avoid further economic disruption.

In response, various unions, including the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, Joint Health Sector Unions, and others, have begun mobilizing their members for the strike. The Nigeria Union of Railway Workers, Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, and petroleum sector unions PENGASSAN and NUPENG have also directed their members to join the strike, emphasizing strict compliance and readiness to shut down operations.

Members of the Organized Private Sector have voiced strong opposition to the strike, warning of severe economic repercussions. They argue that the fragile economy cannot withstand the impact of another strike action.

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