ENUGU WORKERS, LABOUR LEADERS AT WAR OVER MINIMUM WAGE
The struggle between the Enugu State government and workers over the payment of the contentious N18, 000 minimum wage is still causing ripples in the state. The situation got to a climax on Tuesday last week when workers clashed with men of the State Security Services who attempted to arrest their 'leader', Comrade Osmond Ugwu, at the premises of the Christ the King Catholic Church, GRA, Enugu.
Before the present face-off, the state government had made its position clear that it was ready to implement the N18, 000 minimum wage policy in the state. But a circular recently released by government in which it published its own chart on how the minimum wage would be implemented increasing salaries of workers between level 01-06 by N10, 000 and those on grade level 06 and above by N5, 000 was rejected by the workers.
This prompted the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the state, led by Chief Chukwumaife Nze, to declare a three-day warning strike, which was to end on Friday, August 12. By Monday, August 15 when the workers were expected to resume work, there was confusion on whether the strike was continuing based on an announcement from the NLC chairman and another from an emerging group repositioning to hijack the negotiations on behalf of the workers. This emerging group was believed to have come up following allegations of compromise against the leadership of the organized labour in the state. ?Consequently, a rally was held at the workers square on Monday last week without the organized labour leaders in attendance. The workers reportedly formed what they called Workers Forum and appointed one Osmond Ugwu as chairman.?
Speaking to our reporter shortly before security operatives stormed the CKC Catholic church for his arrest (which was vehemently prevented by workers during the protest on Tuesday,) Comrade Ugwu chronicled the entire situation from his own point of view. Hear him: 'Workers are saying that the NLC leadership is fighting a different interest from that of the workers because if we return to work and they implement their chart, we are defeated.
Even if we go to court we are going to lose because that chart was presented to workers through their leaders without workers being part of it. 'Workers maintain that without withdrawal of that very chart, we cannot resume work. Secondly, the workers are telling the government that any meeting or negotiation they are holding with any person in the name of NLC or TUC chairman, that negotiation is not for the workers.?
'And let me say that the national leadership of the organized labour has made it clear that the minimum wage is not negotiable anymore. They said they have finished negotiation at the national level, that what they should be talking about here is mode of implementation vis-Ã -vis the arrears and date of commencement, not to talk about how much to pay again because the Standard Income and Wages Commission chart is where Enugu workers are standing and nothing more.'?
He also spoke on how he got the mandate to speak on behalf of workers. Hear him: 'On Monday, over 10, 000 workers converged at the Workers Freedom Square. It was transparent and the media were there. On the day the strike was declared, the NLC chairman told the workers at the rally on the August 9 that at the expiration of the warning strike, they should come there to be briefed on the development, that they should not rely on anything from the radio or television. Yet he went behind to call off the strike on air, without coming to brief workers.
Workers gathered according to the resolution of August 9 and the leaders failed to appear before them; and workers were aware that they had been betrayed on the issue of chart.? After considering the situation, the workers there resolved that they were going to work outside the organized labour leadership in the state. They came up with another platform called Workers Forum. They elected their leaders and unanimously made me the leader of the forum insisting that it is on that platform that the minimum wage issue will be addressed.'
Reacting, the state NLC chairman, Chief Chumaife Nze said the Workers Forum was an illegality.
His words: 'What he is doing is illegal and I believe government cannot deal with illegality. And you don't achieve minimum wage by going to the streets. It is only somebody who doesn't understand himself that will be doing what he is doing, and we believe that the appropriate authorities should take control. ?
'What he is saying is wrong.
How can he say that government should be dealing with somebody who is not well constituted, someone who is not elected? It is not done that way and the government and even the workers know this. What he has succeeded in doing is to deceive the few people he can deceive. The workers of Enugu State will know the truth and in due course they will understand that this man is deceiving them. And from available records, that is what he did in past years that led to the termination of appointment of innocent workers. He is known for that and we believe the government cannot discuss with such an illegal body. We also believe that His Excellency the governor and the government team will continue to discuss with the organized labour in the state. We are intact.?
'As I told you we called a three-day warning strike to press home the implementation of that minimum wage and after that, we called off the strike as required by law. And we are ready for further negotiations with government on modalities for payment. That is the situation, and we are waiting for the government. Anytime they call us we will meet with them. Moreover we are having the NLC NEC meeting soon, and the national executive will further direct the states on what to do.'?
On why the workers would lose faith in the leadership of the organized labour, Nze said: 'It was because they were fed with lies.