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By AKOR SYLVESTER-Abuja
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, of throwing a spanner in the wheel of the implementation of the Labour – Federal Government Agreement on the crisis in the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and other issues arising from the removal of fuel subsidy.
NLC condemned what it described as the minister”s partiality in handling a critical item in the agreement which is the apparent Government meddling in Trade Union matters by siding with people, it said had illegally seized the NURTW headquarters with police support.
The congress in a statement signed by the General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugbuaja said the illegal group is backed by the Minister and now being encouraged to conduct its own Delegates’ Conference, both zonally and nationally to confer legitimacy to their action.
But the statement of the congress said: “This flagrant act not only constitutes an egregious intrusion into the internal affairs of a Union, in violation of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, but also represents a clear attempt to sabotage the recently ratified agreement between the Labour movement and the Federal Government.
“It is unfathomable that a Federal Minister of Labour, tasked with safeguarding the rights and interests of diverse stakeholders in our industrial relations landscape, would opt to take actions that could undermine the very foundations of our collective engagement.
“The Minister’s decision which is clearly morally reprehensible and legally untenable, marks a disheartening departure from the expected standards of conduct within the nation’s industrial relations sphere.
“Despite initial assurances from the Minister regarding the illegal occupation of the NURTW’s National Headquarters, the democratically elected leadership, led by Comrade Tajudeen Baruwa, has not been reinstated. Instead, the Minister has chosen to endorse and legitimize this hijacking with the State’s backing.
“This blatant power grab, subverting legality and moral integrity, is an affront to the principles of democratic governance.
“It is now abundantly clear that the Federal Government never negotiated in good faith and, consequently, was never genuinely committed to honoring the terms of the October 2, 2023 Agreement.
“This serves to affirm our earlier apprehension that the State was maneuvering to orchestrate a coup d’état against the democratically elected NURTW leadership, potentially alluding to the support of the Government, as suggested by Minister Lalong’s actions and statements.
“There is no doubt, both to us and the Nigerian public, about the Government’s intentions regarding the implementation of the October 2, 2023 Agreement. It is evident that, akin to the NURTW issue, the execution of other facets of the Agreement may be jeopardized.
“Therefore, we take heed of Minister Lalong’s actions, which flagrantly violate an accord responsibly endorsed by all involved parties.
“We reiterate and emphasize the following points:
“The NURTW leadership crisis was engineered by the Federal Government through the Police, aiding the Lagos group, who were members of the Lands, Parks and Garages Commission in Lagos state, not the NURTW to forcefully occupy the unions headquarters in Abuja.
“Comrade Tajudeen Baruwa’s leadership was democratically elected, adhering to union statutes, the national laws and ILO Conventions.
“The election process began in May 2023 at the zonal levels, culminating in the National Delegates’ Conference of August, 2023 that inaugurated the current leadership of Comrade Baruwa in August 2023.
“The Governor of Lagos State previously created Lands, Parks and Garages Commission which led to the Lagos group in 2022 renouncing their membership of the union and taking up offices in the Government Agency.
“It is inconceivable for non-union members to seize national leadership, bolstered by the coercive powers of the state, invoking the name of President as a shield and sword”..
The statement further rejected Minister Lalong’s endorsement of the holding of illegal Conferences, saying sny deviation from the spirit of the prior Agreement on the matter forebodes grave consequences.
It said the Government cannot flout ILO conventions, the Constitution, and it’s statutes with impunity and believe that all will be quiet.
According to the statement: “As Minister Lalong recklessly steers our nation towards an industrial crisis, we pledge unwavering resistance to all forms of malfeasance and misconduct within Nigeria’s trade union sphere.
“We will marshal our resources to ensure that political interference and lawlessness do not corrupt leadership selection processes within the trade union sector.
“Minister Lalong having descended into the arena has stripped himself of the moral high ground and authority to continue mid-wifing the process of implementing the October 2 Agreement.
“We will therefore be highly constrained to attend any meeting he calls for the purposes of the implementation of that Agreement. A minister of Labour is supposed to be an arbiter and as expected to provide professional guidance to the Government on this matter instead he chose to contaminate the process with the same level of politics of the murky waters playing out in the larger polity.
“We implore the President to rein in Minister Lalong, and if this does not occur, we will conclude that the Minister’s actions align with the President’s directives.
“Our allegiance is to upholding the Rule of Law and democratic principles, even if the Minister chooses to disregard them.
“We will continue to stand by the democratically elected NURTW leadership, working with them as the legitimate representatives of workers in their sector, to thwart those seeking to contaminate the trade union sphere with political machinations. Every avenue will be explored to shield the trade union movement from this emerging irresponsibility.
“We steadfastly uphold the provisions of the October 2, 2023 Agreement, and any continued non-compliance after 30 days will compel our relevant bodies to take necessary actions.
“The onus now rests with the Government to either honor the essence of the Agreement or persist on Minister Lalong’s perilous course, inevitably leading to a national industrial crisis.The blame for such an outcome will squarely fall on the Minister of Labour, Mr. Lalong.
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