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How important is the NLC to the Nigerian worker?

Is the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) really that important to the Nigerian worker? This article explains what the body is all about.

President Muhammdu Buhari receiving the report of the Tripartite Committee on the Review of National Minimum Wage from the Committee Chairman, Mrs Amal Pepple, at the State House on November 6, 2018.

The NLC is pushing for N30,000 as the new minimum wage for the country.

After threatening to embark on a strike, the federal government asked for a deadline day meeting with labour leaders and representatives of the organised private sector, took their proposal and promised to enact same into law with the help of the National Assembly.

But what does the NLC really do and how has their activity affected the plight of the average Nigerian worker?

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Here’s a brief history of the NLC since you asked

The NLC was founded in 1978 as an umbrella organisation for trade unions in Nigeria.

At inception, four labour unions merged to form the NLC. There were: Nigeria Trade Union Congress, Labour Unity Front, United Labour Congress and Nigeria Workers Council.

The numerous affiliated unions were then restructured into 42 industrial unions.

The founding President of the NLC was a man called Wahab Goodluck.

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Today, the NLC has over 29 affiliate unions including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Petroleum and Natural Gas Employees Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Textile workers, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), among others.

Mr. Ayuba Wabba is the current president of the NLC.

The NLC is affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation.

The NLC has fought so many battles for Nigerian workers through the years

It is imperative to state here that the NLC was as resilient during the military era as it was during Nigeria’s civilian dispensation.

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The umbrella body of workers has taken on struggles like improved welfare/salaries for workers, reduction in the pump price of petroleum products, review of the national minimum wage, decent pay for state workers, child and slave labour etc.

Under the military regimes of Generals Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) and Sani Abacha, the NLC’s national organs were dissolved twice.

During the military era, labour leaders were often hounded and jailed and labour meetings were disrupted by soldiers.

When Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, the NLC was reformed and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole became President of the new look, reformed NLC.

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The minimum wage review battle in Nigeria has always been a fierce one

Even though Goodluck was NLC’s founding president, the first elected President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was a man named Hassan Sunmonu. He was elected President of the NLC in 1978.

Before Sunmonu, there was no structured minimum wage for Nigerian workers.

When political office holders were handed a pay rise at the time, Sunmonu’s NLC commenced agitation for a structured minimum wage.

In 1981, the NLC clamoured for a minimum wage of N300. When the Shehu Shagari led federal government refused to pay this amount, labour called for a nationwide strike that paralysed the economy.

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Eventually, the Shagari administration and Sunmonu led NLC settled for a minimum wage of N125.

In 1989, labour asked for a new minimum wage. During this period, Pascal Bafyau was NLC President. When it got down to negotiations, a certain Adams Oshiomhole who was Bafyau’s deputy, led the talks with government. The minimum wage was increased to N250 afterwards.

Between 1989 to 2001, the minimum wage went from N250 to N3000 and from N5,000 to N7,500.

In 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan increased the nation’s minimum wage to N18,000.

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Three NLC Presidents after Bafyau—Adams Oshiomhole, Abdulwahed Ibrahim Omar and Ayuba Wabba, were instrumental to the review of the minimum wage from the late ‘80s to the present day.

For what the term 'Minimum Wage' really means, kindly open this link.

Is NLC really that important for workers today?

Yes, it is.

As stated earlier, whether you work in the private or public sectors, you are under the NLC and the minimum wage fight is often for workers in the private and public sectors.

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As cheesy as it may sound, strike action is one sure way to bring the Nigerian government to the negotiating table because embarking on a strike will paralyse the Nigerian economy.

When the NLC called for the #OccupyNigeria strike of 2012 under Jonathan, over the increase in the pump price of petrol, the Nigerian economy almost ground to a halt until labour was called to the negotiating table and soldiers deployed to the Ojota Park in Lagos to chase away protesters.

Strike means tanker drivers will stop dispensing petroleum products and oil workers in the creeks and elsewhere will shut down flow stations. And you know how critical petrol is to the functioning of the Nigerian economy.

Some NLC strikes have been effective, others less so. The most effective strikes have always been those that involve the private sector, with markets shuttered and big businesses threatened with fines and picketing should they open shop.

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The NLC has been accused of selling out in the past on numerous occasions, but they remain the one body to keep championing causes and agitating for improved welfare for workers. Take them out of the equation and governments will simply become draconian and rudderless.

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