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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NUPENG to embark on 6 days National strike

Oil workers’ union NUPENG said its members would join other labour unions in the three-day warning strike over wage increases starting tomorrow
, and would then continue to stay away from work for three more days afterwards to protest sales of Shell’s equity in some oil blocs.

The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers said the transactions by Shell were not transparent and have negative impacts on members of the union.

NUPENG president Igwe Achese told Nigeria News Papers yesterday that the union is fully in support of the strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, adding that it was necessary for union to also express its dissatisfaction over the Shell transactions. He urged the Federal Government to stop the deals.

“We will join the NLC strike 100 per cent and from there proceed as a result of the SPDC sale of some its equity of oil blocks in the South-south and Southwest which is not open to public,” he said. He said all NUPENG members will join the strike and filling stations across the country would be shut during the period.

When contacted for comments on NUPENG’s allegations, spokesman for Shell, Mr Precious Okolobo, said official reactions would be sent tomorrow (today) on the issues.

Recent reports said Shell, Total and Eni had sold a 45 per cent stake in a one of the joint venture oil bloc worth about $600m to a Polish-Nigerian consortium, Kulczyk Oil. The transaction is subject to a number of approvals, including from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which owns the remaining 55 per cent of the bloc.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) also yesterday said it would join the three-day strike over minimum wage, and would shut down oil and gas installations during the period.

“Government at all levels and the private sector must implement the minimum wage law and pay the wages as provide by the law,” Babatunde Ogun, president of PENGASSAN, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a meeting between organised labour and the Federal Government to find ways of averting the impending strike ended in a deadlock yesterday with both sides refusing to shift grounds.

NLC, TUC and civil society organizations are billed to commence a three-day warning strike following Federal Government’s inability to “fully” implement the new national minimum wage.

The Federal Government is saying only workers from Grade Level 01 – 06 will receive a pay raise to meet N18, 000. But labour said every worker must get pay increase accordingly.

The meeting which was chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, has in attendance Minister of Labour Chief Emeka Wogu, NLC President Abdulwaheed Omar, TUC President General Peter Esele and other labour leaders.

Director General of the Budget Office Dr. Bright Okogwu, Chairman of the National Wages, Salaries and Incomes Commission (NWSIC) Chief Richard Egbule and a representative of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Assembly (NECA) were also at the meeting, attended by some federal permanent secretaries and other top civil servants.

Presenting the Federal Government’s side, Anyim said only the pay for Grade Level 01 – 06 was captured in the both the National Minimum Wage Act and the 2011 budget, urging labour to wait till January next year for other cadres to enjoy salary increment.

He said, “This meeting is not out to negotiate wages or salary in any manner, it is to address the problem of interpreting the National Minimum Wage Act. My impression is that there is no disagreement. I want to say that if the Federal Government, state or local governments are not willing to be part of this Act, the Federal Government would not have signed it into law. The fact of signing it into law is a very clear commitment that they want to pay as agreed with labour.

“The second thing I want to emphasize is that like the minister said, already there have been budgetary provision for level 01 – 06 in the Federal budget, that is a clear indication that the Federal Government wants to pay and abide with the agreement reached with labour, or simply put to honor the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act 2011.

“I think where the problem is now is the understanding in interpreting the provisions of that constitution.  From the part of government, both at the state and national level, the impression is that what is being talked about is minimum wage and this understanding was what the speaker of the House of Representatives said he had when the minimum wage law was being processed.

“And for Federal Government, they went ahead to provide for Grade Level 01 – 06 in the budget which are the classes of workers that earn bellow N18, 000 and they accommodated and provided for that in 2011 budget.

“When the Labour minister brought the memo approving the payment of these salaries across 01 to 06, there was no difficulty at all, because the Federal Government is committed to abiding by the law.

“When that was brought to you, you rejected it, with your understanding of the law is that it should apply across board and the principle of relativity.  One, the Federal Government did not contemplate this, two, they did not budget for this and three, everybody’s mindset is that we are talking about minimum wage.

“Now when this position of labour was made clear to us that labour said that except the relativity principle is applied, they will go on strike, the President said that if Labour insists that we must pay, we will not quarrel with labour, but we will not break the law, since we have not made provision for level 07 to 17 in the budget.

“And so the President said in order to be sure that we act within the law, we will pay level 01 to 06, which we have provided for in the budget, that as we provide this year’s budget we will provide the relativity principle from 07 to 17, then from January, we will be able to pay that one.  The whole idea is that we have to act within the law.

“Too many things are coming but as it were now, labour is threatening to go on strike, I want to emphasis that the issue is proper interpretation of the law; the best way of interpreting the law is not on strike, but rather on negotiation table, or other democratic avenues.”

However, Esele rejected this position saying that it was not late for government to do what Nigerian workers wanted them to do.

“In Nigeria, nothing is impossible. If it is possible for government to provide close to N100bn for Independent National Electoral Commission within short notice, then it should not be impossible for it to provide N2 billion for workers to enjoy the new wage across board,” he said.

On his part, Omar said government “is singing a new tune which is totally unacceptable to us.”

The meeting later went into a closed door but Omar told journalists that nothing had changed and the strike would continue as planned unless government comes up with something tangible before midnight (on Monday).

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