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Industrial relations and imperative of negotiation

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THE recently resolved industrial face-off between Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Kaduna State Government bore eloquent testimony on the value of negotiating table as against grandstanding and inflammatory outbursts by the feuding parties. The imbroglio started when Governor Nasir El Rufai, without following the prescribed law on employment and disengagement, unilaterally sacked 7000 public servants.

  The governor’s reason for summary dismissal of the workers was hinged on the huge financial outlay in salaries and allowances which has left a little for infrastructural development in the state. The unfortunate workers cried to the NLC and TUC to come to their aid since they were faced with indescribable privation in addition to being unable to pay the school fees of their children and wards.

  The umbrella labour unions swung into action through verbal bombardments against the governor; and made good their threats by marshalling their foot soldiers to Kaduna to picket and disable the economic activities in the state.

  On the face value, the NLC was somehow right, at least to show the over 7,000 wailing workers that they have where to fall back on.

   The resultant effect of the strike paralysed the entire economic sphere, even public power supply. This scenario angered the governor and without minding the implication of his hysteric utterances, threatened to arrest the labour leaders for criminality and economic sabotage. Curiously, he went further to apply unorthodox and strange means to display his power by allegedly contracting thugs and ragamuffins who descended on the striking workers, inflicting degrees of injuries. It worked like magic as fear gripped the workers who found themselves “between the devil and deep blue sea” as it were.

  The indefatigable Labour Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige had to weigh in to douse the raging inferno. Ngige, who has been acknowledged by friends and foes on his unfailing diplomatic suavity in resolving knotty labour crises proved his mettle in the resolution of the apparently irreconcilable imbroglio going by the fiery outbursts of the boisterous umbrella labour outfits.

  Hear Ngige: “We are not unaware of what is going on in Kaduna State. It is a labour issue which has snowballed into a national strike and picketing by the two labour centres and affiliate unions.”

   The outstandingly performing Labour Minister noted that the federal government was concerned with the crisis in Kaduna State between workers and the state government and in his usual suave diplomacy and pacifist mien compassionately prevailed on the fiery parties to observe “a ceasefire”.

   Premium Times reported how the two major labour coalitions, NLC and TUC, commenced a one-week total strike in Kaduna on a Monday, leading to the shutdown of electricity, airports, schools and so on in the state. The entire Kaduna public servants were unanimous in vituperations against the governor for his precipitate action without minding the harsh economic situation to the vast majority of people who work, talk less of throwing people into the labour market.

  In his characteristic  ‘I know it all’, the no nonsense Kaduna Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, said that there was no going back on the ‘rightsizing,’ of the state work force, saying over 90 per cent of the state’s federal allocation is currently being spent on civil servants.

  Probably for humour’s sake, the loquacious governor, who has been described as “a stormy petrel” declared the leaders of the NLC, led by Ayuba Wabba, as “fugitives who should be arrested for economic sabotage as the state was crippled economically”.

The Labour Minister, who knows Governor el’Rufai very well expressed hope and also prayed that the Kaduna State Governor’s impetuosity would not add fuel to the inferno. Ngige also appealed to the fiery and highly infuriated leaders of the labour centres to step down action to make way for a negotiating table, since it has always been better to “jaw jaw than to war war”

  In a statement by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Charles Akpan, the Labour Minister passionately appealed to all the parties concerned to take the interest of the generality of the masses into consideration and shift ground. The statement said inter alia: “We are not unaware of what is going on in Kaduna State. It is a labour issue which has snowballed into a national strike and picketing by the two labour centres and affiliate unions.

“We hope and also pray the Kaduna State Governor not to escalate matters to such a level where it becomes uncontrollable. We also appeal to the leaders of the labour centres to step down action to make way for discussion. My ministry is wading into the matter and therefore calls on the two warring parties to give peace a chance”.

  Ngige also appealed to all workers on essential duties, including doctors and nurses not to join the strike.

  “Importantly, I appeal to workers in critical sectors not to tamper with electrical or water installations so as not to bring more sufferings to the people of Kaduna and the nation at large.

  “This is because we have it on good authority, following a complaint by the Minister of Power, that workers have threatened to trigger a nation-wide blackout by interfering or switching off the national grid.”

 Following the intervention of the Labour Minister, the two labour centres suspended the five-day warning strike and  honoured the invitation by the federal government to broker truce in the industrial crisis.

  NLC President, Dr. Ayuba Wabba, told reporters in Kaduna that following the invitation by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, the union had respected the minister saying: “As you are aware, we have said time without number that any time there is an opportunity to have a discussion over an industrial relation issue, particularly, like the one we have, we will always avail ourselves the opportunity to attend such meetings.

  The decision of the Federal Executive Council that intervention should be made and all parties should be brought to the negotiating table to look at the issue at stake with the aim of resolving them appealed to both parties.

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