The National Deputy President of the Trade Union Congress, Tommy Etim, on Thursday, berated moves by the Federal Government to hamstring the Organised Labour from embarking on an indefinite nationwide strike from Tuesday, using the courts.
Etim stated that labour leaders would not succumb to any threat by the government, noting that they were ready to go to prison in their fight for better lives for Nigerian workers.
The TUC deputy president said this against the backdrop of the warning by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, that the proposed strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress and TUC was in contravention of a subsisting court order restraining the unions from declaring an industrial action.
The NLC and TUC Tuesday announced an indefinite strike with effect from October 3, 2023, to protest the alleged failure of the Federal Government to provide post-subsidy palliatives for workers and implement policies that could alleviate the sufferings of the masses after the removal of the fuel subsidy.
The unions had also directed their state chapters and affiliates to mobilise for the shutdown of critical facilities and infrastructure, including airports, seaports, electricity grids and fuel supply across the country.
However, the AGF in a letter addressed to the counsel to the NLC and TUC, Femi Falana, SAN, reminded them that it was as a result of the disobedience to the order that the ministry of justice filed a contempt proceeding against the labour leaders.
He added that the ministry withdrew the suit following the intervention of President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly.
The letter read, “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 the 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 union to engage in further negotiations without any form of encumbrances.
“However, in its communiqué issued at the end of its National Executive Council meeting on 31st August 2023, NLC resolved to embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the nation within 14 working days or 21 days from August 31, 2023.
‘’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.”
Fagbemi stated that from the contents of the communiqué and available media reports, the proposed strike action is connected with the removal of fuel subsidy and provisions of palliative for workers.
“These are undoubtedly issues that have been submitted to the National Industrial Court for adjudication. Therefore, the proposed strike action is in clear violation of the pending interim injunctive order granted on June 5 2023 restraining both the 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”, he added.
Fagbemi said irrespective of their disposition on the matter, the court order must be obeyed unless it is vacated.
He called on Falana to advise the labour leaders to abide by the court judgment to protect its integrity.
He said, “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.”