Between Labour and Jang: Who will blink first?
Both labour and the state government are gathering support and sympathy from various corners, months of fervent and desperate media propaganda, divide and rule tactics as well as intimidation may not have paid off after all. Recently, the strategy of verbal attacks is holding sway.
It started in March this year when primary school teachers under the Plateau State Council of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) embarked on a strike, demanding a full implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage. The local council workers under the National Union of Local Government Workers (NULGE) had joined the strike a month later to press for the same issue. Now almost nine months into the strike, the recurring question is why is the impasse taking so long to resolve? Why have various committees and elder statesmen in Plateau state failed in getting the parties reach an agreement?
When the ‘Bargaining Committee’ failed in its mission to strike an agreement between the workers and state government, the House of Assembly had taken over and even offered a 1% increment to the initial 50% paid to the workers but the union had rejected it. By the time the Elders Committee under the leadership of retired Rear Admiral Samuel Atikum intervened and offered a 5% increment to the existing 50% in October, it almost got both parties signing an agreement and labour calling off the strike. However, on the 15th of October 2012, when everyone thought the over stretched strike was about to come to an end, hopes were dashed once again when the state government made it clear that it was pulling the no-work-no-pay plug on the workers, a decision labour described as unacceptable.
The Plateau state government still insists it will not pay workers the arrears since they had been on strike while NULGE president Samson Mafuyai insisted that the state government was using the 2004 Labour Act instead of the current act of 2005 and that the no-work-no-pay law had not been domesticated by the national assembly, so cannot apply to their case.
With the total strike action directed by Organised Labour entering its 7th day, tongues have been wagging and fingers are poking between the state government and the labour leaders. The state government had in an attempt to stop labour’s impending total strike action, obtained a court injunction from the National Industrial court Abuja on the 7th of December 2012, restraining Organised Labour from going ahead with the strike. Labour however, through the state chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Jibrin Banchir and NULGE president, Samson Mafuyai insisted that neither the state chapter nor the labour headquarters had been served with the injunction.
That has prompted the state Commissioner of Information and Communication Pastor Abraham Yiljap to state that “labour’s claim to have not been served with an injunction is a mere claim because they cannot be the only blind ones we have in the society.”
The Plateau State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice Edward Pwajok had also labelled the total strike action ordered by labour as illegal and stressed that, “under which group does the NLC, or state civil servants or those working in the private sector fall? What dispute do they have with the local governments of Plateau state? There is no law that allows solidarity or sympathy strike.”
As a means to break labour’s resolve, transitional chairmen of the 17 local government councils in the state shortly before the total strike action warned that the workers would be replaced if they failed to return to their duty posts. The transitional chairman of Kanke local government area Jonah Wakgyit had even claimed that “about ten schools in Kanke have re-opened and the teachers have returned to their duty posts.” His counterpart in Jos south LGA Peter Vwang warned that a five man committee had already been put in place to recruit workers that would serve as replacement to the striking workers.
NULGE chairman in Kanke, Mr Godfrey Dewan had fired back saying the government was only sponsoring thugs to impose the workers while Banchir insisted that the state government had “doled out millions of naira to bribe local government workers to break them from their leaders but failed.”
Some of the workers have even insisted on calling the government’s bluff. Mrs Danu insists, “let’s see if they can replace us, were they the ones that appointed us, they were not the ones that gave me appointment and so before they terminate my appointment, they must take my case back to the house of assembly. They are just saying it, it is not true and it can never happen.”
As part of efforts to canvass support from the public, the state government has distributed pamphlets around Jos city and its environs explaining its resolute stand on the dispute. The pamphlet which was published by the office of the commissioner of information and Communication, Pastor Abraham Yiljap is titled “Our Facts, Our Stance: Plateau State Government Position on the Local Government Worker’s Strike.” Labour however was not left behind in this strategy, as it also distributed leaflets on its position titled “Worker’s Solidarity Front,” conversing support and explaining its position with facts on the ongoing dispute between its members and the state government.
The degree of provocation, desperation and anger between the parties and even hunger on the part of the workers, brewing may be getting out of hand. Even the leaders of denominational churches headed by Reverend Soja Bewarang seem not to be making any head way. Though the Bewarang led groups are keeping mute on their discussions and efforts to reach him have been unsuccessful, Daily Trust learnt that they were planning to pull out from the discussion.
Mafuyai explained that, “We met about four or five times with the denominational heads and the last time we met, they told us that the issue was going beyond their own power and as the heads of Christians organisations, they wouldn’t want to drag their names into the mud and that since labour and government have not agreed, they were going to pull out, but we don’t know if they have pulled out or they are still going to call us but we are always ready.”
The burning of the homes of the chairman and that of the member representing Langtang in the house of assembly, Nanman Darko and Joyce Ramnap respectively in Langtang south LGA on the first day of the strike and the attack on the Commissioner of Agriculture, Steven Barko and Governor Jang’s special adviser Samuel Kwamkur on the third day gave a glimpse to the degree of anger brewing against government officials. The unfortunate event has given the state government and the security operatives, leverage to remind labour of their warning that the total strike action may lead to a security breach.
However, labour through Banchir and Mafuyai have constantly denied that their members were responsible for the attacks. The state government had tongue lashed the union saying “such brazenness, arbitrariness and outright disregard to the laws of the land will not build but stunt our march to strengthening democratic governance.” The tongue lashing between government and labour continued with the NLC General Secretary Chris Uyot describing governor Jang as dangerous to democracy having earlier blamed him for stretching the dispute as a result of what the union called “the rigidity of the state government not to pay the arrears of salaries owed the workers.”
NLC has gone ahead to stress in their letter that “the resolute stand of the Jang administration not to pay the workers has made NLC re-think its position and say it will no longer settle for the 55% and only go for full implementation of the minimum wage due to what many claim as Jang’s stubbornness. This may well be what Yiljap described as shifting the goal post by labour. He had said “we went as far as nearly having everything click until labour decided to shift the goal post and once again gave us 24 hours during which they will bring another answer. When they returned, they shifted the goal post again.”
While NULGE president had stressed that the commissioner was being economical with the truth, he insisted that “government is saying we should go back to work, but how can we do that when we don’t have a valid signed agreement on ground?”
As this fire in Plateau state continues to rage, one remembers the statement of State Attorney General, Edward Pwajok who said “the role of the state government in the matter is a fatherly one to assist in resolving the dispute.” Therefore as a father, will Governor Jang act as the bigger person by blinking his eyes first?