The Federal Government and the National Economic Council (NEC) have appealed to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to shelve their planned nationwide indefinite strike from October 3, 2023, saying it will amount to a gross violation of a subsisting court injunction.
The labour unions had threatened to embark on the strike over the removal of fuel subsidy, hike in fuel price and lack of palliatives and workers welfare.
However, the government said the issues were pending before the National Industrial Court (NIC) and that any action by the labour unions would be contemptuous.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, wrote to the head of the legal team of the two unions, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, urging him to persuade his clients to abort the planned strike.
The letter, dated September 26, 2023, reminded Mr. Falana of the previous steps taken by the government to resolve the matter amicably, including the intervention of the President and the National Assembly.
The letter also recalled that the government had instituted contempt proceedings against the labour leaders after they declared a nationwide protest on August 2, 2023, but later discontinued it after the labour unions agreed to negotiate with the government.
The letter warned that if the labour unions proceeded with their strike, they would be undermining the authority of the court and jeopardising the ongoing negotiations.
The letter read: “The attention of the Ministry has been drawn to media reports on the proposed nationwide strike action by the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, scheduled to commence on October 3, 2023.
“You are kindly invited to recall the antecedence of previous steps/actions on this matter, particularly the exchange of correspondence between this office and your firm, before and after the nationwide “action/protest” declared by the NLC on August 2, 2023.
“Whilst your clients had maintained that the nationwide protest by NLC is in furtherance of its constitutional right to embark on protests, the ministry has repeatedly advised on the need to advise your clients to refrain from resorting to self-help and taking actions capable of undermining subsisting orders of a court of competent jurisdiction.
“It is also to be recalled that based on the conduct of the said nationwide action/protest, this office instituted contempt proceedings against the labour leaders.
“However, upon the intervention of the President and National Assembly, coupled with the decision of the labour unions to discontinue their action/protest, the contempt proceedings were not prosecuted further.
“This was advisedly done to enable the government and labour unions engage in further negotiations without any form of encumbrances.
However, the National Economic Council (NEC), which comprises state governors and other top government officials, also appealed to the labour unions not to embark on the strike, asking them to continue negotiations at the state level.
The NEC made this appeal at its meeting on Thursday in Abuja, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
The NEC said it was aware of the plight of Nigerians and urged both the Federal Government and labour to find a common ground that would address the concerns of all parties.
“Also on September 26, 2023, the Presidents of NLC and TUC, jointly issued a communiqué stating that organised labour had resolved, ‘to embark on an indefinite and total shutdown of the nation beginning on zero hours Tuesday, the 3rd day of October, 2023.’
“From a review of the contents of the above communiqués and available media reports, the proposed strike action is premised principally in furtherance of issues connected with the removal of fuel subsidy, hike in fuel price and consequential matters of making provisions for palliatives and workers welfare.
“These are undoubtedly issues that have been submitted to the National Industrial Court for adjudication.
‘’Therefore, the proposed strike is in clear violation of the pending interim injunctive order granted on June 5, 2023, restraining both Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress from embarking on any industrial action/or strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the pending Motion on Notice.
“We wish to reiterate that a court order, regardless of the opinion of any party on it, remains binding and enforceable until set aside.
“It is the expectation of the public that the labour unions would lead in obedience and observance of court orders and not in its breach.
“It is therefore the earnest expectation of this Office that your distinguished law firm will advise the labour unions on the need to protect the integrity of courts and observe the sanctity of court orders.
“Consequently, you are kindly requested to impress it upon the organized labour unions to note the fact that their proposed strike action is in gross breach of the subsisting court order, as well as the appropriateness of addressing their grievances/demands within the ambit of the law.
“Hence, the need for them to be more accommodating and show greater appreciation of the effect of the order of the court, by shelving the strike action.
“The foregoing will afford parties more room for further mutual engagements, for a holistic and sustainable resolution of all outstanding issues on this matter in the overall national interest.”
It remains to be seen whether the unions will heed the appeals of the government and the NEC. If they go ahead with the strike, it could have a significant impact on the Nigerian economy and the lives of ordinary Nigerians.