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Nigeria: unions stage national protest over labour crisis

31 August, 2016On 23 August 2016, Nigerian unions took part in a national protest against an escalating labour crisis caused by unpaid wages and the killing of workers.

The protest was organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in solidarity with workers in Imo, Nasarawa and Benue states over protracted wage issues, which led to the killing of two workers in Nasarawa in July.
Despite a bailout from the federal government, more than 20 states in Nigeria have been unable to pay monthly salaries. Some workers have not been paid since January 2016. In some states, workers have had their pay and hours cut, and have been told to go and grow food for themselves on farms, under a Back to the Land programme designed to cut costs.
Protests were held across the country. In Lagos, the protest was lead by Issa Aremu, the general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the National Union of Textile and Garment Workers, a member of the national executive committee of the NLC, and chairperson of IndustriALL in sub-Saharan Africa.
Aremu called on president Muhammadu Buhari and labour minister Chris Ngige to intervene and urge the governors of Benue, Imo and Nasarawa states to respect Nigerian labour law and stop wage cuts and the arbitrary redeployment of workers to farms to avoid paying them.
Aremu highlighted the situation in Nasarawa state, where two workers were killed when police opened fire on a protest on 29 July 2016 against the failure to pay salaries. A further two workers received gunshot wounds. State governor Tanko Al-Makura arbitrarily cut workers’ pay by 50% and threatened to sack striking workers and replace them with “fresh graduates”.
Aremu said:
“No colonial governor during the hated British colonialism so verbally casualized the dignity of labour with respect to contracts of employment on pay and tenure as governor Tanko Al-Makura unacceptably did.”
Aremu pointed out that constitution of Nigeria explicitly guarantees the sanctity of public service at both federal and state levels, with adequate security of tenure, hours of work, health and safety, adequate remuneration and pensions. The constitution guarantees decent work for civil servants in the public service and does not subject them to the whims of executive governors.
He argued that it is “bad governance” to “shift the burden of declining revenue onto the workforce” while maintaining the huge cost of the executive overhead. To turn civil servants into farmers overnight as a cost cutting measure is “an unacceptable joke”.
Referring to the killing of workers in Nasarawa state, he said:
“The unprovoked action by the police against unarmed workers on a peaceful protest is criminal and unacceptable. It is a gross violation of workers’ rights to protest as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution and International Labour Organization provisions. We support the demand by the NLC for the Nasarawa state government to investigate the incident, apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice.”
Fernando Lopes, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said:
“The situation in Nigeria is absolutely disgraceful: attempting to balance the books by cutting salaries and telling workers to become farmers. It is outrageous that workers were killed by the police for protesting against this arbitrary and unlawful move.
“We expect the government of Nigeria to intervene and ensure that workers are paid properly, that the right to organize and freely assemble is respected, and that those who ordered the killing of workers are brought to justice”.
The labour minister responded to the demands of the protest by convening a meeting between union leaders and the government of Nasarawa state on 30 August. The state of Nasarawa agreed to compensate the families of the workers who were killed. The issue of unpaid salaries remains unresolved.