The Federal Government has told the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that its plan to shut down the country on Wednesday, August 2, under the guise of industrial action was illegal.
The NLC had threatened to embark on a nationwide protest from August 2 following the failure to reach an agreement with government on the recent increase in pump price of petrol and subsequent palliatives.
The Federal Government had instituted a case at the National Industrial Court, Abuja, seeking to stop the NLC from embarking on the strike action.
The court had also made an order stopping the NLC from going ahead with the strike pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
But, despite the court order, Labour unions have insisted on the mass protest.
The Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Mrs Beatrice Jedy-Agba, in a letter to the NLC, through its lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, said parties before the court were supposed to maintain status quo, to respect the pendancy of the matter.
In the letter with reference number MJ/CIV/ABJ/316/23 and dated July 31, 2023, the solicitor-general said, “Parties are expected to maintain the status quo even in the absence of a restraining order. However, there was no threat of contempt of court in the clarification provided by this Ministry. Undoubtedly, drawing the attention of NLC and the public to the pendency of the order cannot be equated with threats.
“The issue of peaceful protests and police permit are also not in contention, however, you may wish to be guided by the contents of the Communique issued by the National Executive Council of NLC at the end of its meetmg of 27th July 2023. The decision or projected cause of action by NLC are directed principally in furtherance of issues connected with hike in fuel price and consequential matters of pallatives and workers welfare. We assert that it is grossly inappropriate to lead public protest in respect of issues relating to or connected with fuel price increase, which are currently before the court!
“From the Communique, it is apparent that the current move by NLC goes beyond peaceful protest by issuing a seven-day ultimatum for government to meet the demands and also embark on a nation-wide action to compel government to reverse alleged anti-worker policies.
“Furthermore, uncontroverted media reports have established that NLC is not planning a peaceful protest but intending to ground the government by endangering public peace, instilling fear in the masses, precipitating further crisis. To buttress the above, the Assistant General Secretary of NLC, stated thus: ‘Nigerians should be prepared. That’s what we are saying. Being prepared means you have to stock food in your house and be economical with your movement at this particular point in time so as to avoid being stranded…’
“In the same vein, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers and National Union of Electricity Employees, confirmed that they were working towards grounding supply of fuel and the national electricity grid. The Ag. General Secretary of NUEE stated thus: ‘The NUEE is an affiluate of the NLC and I’ve told you that we will join the strike action. The issue is that if there’s a deadlock between labour and the government; that means that the mass protest is still going on, and definitely electricity workers, as an affiliate of the NLC, will partake in the mass protest. So, all workers in the power sector will join the mass protest on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. It is binding on every staff member to join the strike action. So, if it results in a blackout, the only option is for the government to listen to us if it wants power to return.
“We reiterate that the interim order clearly restrained NLC from embarking on industnal action of any nature. It is common knowledge that strike is only a form of industrial action. NLC has expressed intention to embark on a nation-wide action to force the government (employer) to agree to its demands. Furthermore, the participation of workers in the protest will result in restriction, or imitation on, or a delay in the performance of work. The foregoing, inclusive of the purported peaceful protest (in view of its intended aims or purposes), undoubtedly amounts to an industrial action.
“It is incumbent on your law firm to sensitize the labour unions that peaceful protests are no justification for disrupting or shutting down essential services, which is tantamount to a strike action.”