The Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) hosted the founding of the Nigeria chapter of the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW) this week. The event was part of the nationwide union’s efforts to strengthen global ties to advance worker rights. More than 20 legal practitioners and scholars attended the event and are among ILAW’s newest members.
The Nigerian Labor Congress hosted the founding of the Nigeria chapter of ILAW this week. Credit: Moses Umaru, NLC
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja to announce the partnership, NLC President Ayuba Wabba said ILAW will provide an opportunity for lawyers in the country to connect directly with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and with labor lawyers around the world. “The whole essence of working in synergy is to continue to provide for the interest of workers, and defend human rights,” he said.
ILAW, a project of the Solidarity Center, now includes nearly 300 members from more than 50 countries. Launched last November, ILAW seeks to bring together legal practitioners and scholars to best represent the rights and interests of workers and their organizations and effectively advocate for workers in a global working environment. The ILAW Network is supported by an advisory board, comprised of 20 lawyers from 20 countries, with expertise on a broad range of legal matters.
In Nigeria, where jobs increasingly are contracted out and workers are forced into low-paying, insecure informal economy work, Wabba sees ILAW as another tool for strengthening the labor movement by coordinating efforts to counter the anti-worker moves by employers.
The challenges workers face in Nigeria are similar to those around the world—making collaboration of lawyers in multiple legal jurisdictions essential, says Jeff Vogt, Solidarity Center Rule of Law director and ILAW board chair.
“ILAW will always stand for, and protect the rights of workers and trade unions across the globe and in Nigeria,” says Vogt.
More than 20 legal practitioners and scholars took part in launching the country’s ILAW chapter. Credit: Moses Umaru, NLC
The Federal Capital Territory chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association also welcomed the partnership. “As an association of lawyers in Nigeria, we want to be part of this network,” said attorney Emmanuel Adedeyi.
In short, said Wabba, the partnership with ILAW means that “when you are in the courtroom as lawyers, we will also be on the street to compliment what you are doing in the courtroom—and that is the whole essence of us working together.”
ILAW membership includes access to legal resources and worker rights lawyers around the world. Find out more.
The Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) is encouraging workers to gather at a National Assembly public hearing this week to implore lawmakers to implement a new minimum wage bill affecting 11 million workers, and reject a proposed two-tier minimum wage bill that will rob state workers of a minimum wage increase all workers were promised more than two years ago.
A proposed minimum wage of $83 per month—a 60 percent increase over the current minimum wage–was recommended by Nigeria’s tripartite minimum wage committee following years of negotiations and endorsed by President Muhammadu Buhari last year. Workers have seen a steady erosion of their purchasing power caused by rising inflation, with the cost of staple foods rising more than 11 percent last year.
The minimum wage committee’s proposal must be adopted into law by the country’s 360-member House of Representatives in order to take effect, but passage of the law has been imperiled by Nigeria’s state governors, who last week approved a minimum wage of only $74 per month for state workers.
The country’s current minimum wage—$49.60 per month—is not a living wage, say workers, who accepted $83 as a compromise to the $164 per month they said would fairly compensate them and help them survive under hyperinflation.
Nigeria’s unions have been engaged in a years-long effort to increase the minimum wage. A threatened general strike in October 2018 was called off only a few hours before it was scheduled to begin, after the wage committee agreed to increase the minimum wage to $83. A second general strike was called off last week after a new national minimum wage bill was submitted to the National Assembly.
If a general strike is triggered, all public-sector institutions—including schools, hospitals and the oil sector—will be affected.
“We all need to stand ready in a state of full mobilization,” said Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) General Secretary Peter Ozo-Eson.
Nigeria’s labor federations—the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labor Congress of Nigeria (ULC)—called for a national strike starting at midnight last night to protest stalled negotiations with the government for an increased minimum wage for all workers in the country.
Should the strike continue, all public-sector institutions, including schools and hospitals, could be affected. The strike might involve as many as 4 million workers, including Nigeria’s two oil unions, said Peter Ozo Eson, an NLC spokesperson.
“[W]orkers across the country are angry,” said Iboro Ibara, NLC vice chairman in Akwa Ibom state.
The country’s current minimum wage—$49.60 per month—is not a living wage, say workers, and must be raised to compensate for increased commodity, gasoline and other cost of living increases due to hyperinflation.
The NLC called for a strike starting at midnight last night by “workers from all sectors of the economy and our civil society allies” to pressure the federal government to reconvene the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee. The committee meets so that workers, government and employers can consult on Nigeria’s national minimum wage. The strike was triggered when the government allowed labor’s 14-day ultimatum to reconvene the committee to elapse today.
“This strike is a direct result of the failure of the minimum wage committee to find a way forward,” said Craig Phelan, director of Solidarity Center programs in Nigeria.
UPDATE: The NLC suspended the nationwide strike yesterday in response to news that the federal government will reconvene the tripartite minimum wage committee this week, on October 4 and 5. The NLC credited workers’ “substantial compliance” with the strike for government agreeing to meet.
A new Solidarity Center report, “Working for Peace in North-East Nigeria: A Challenge for Nigerian Trade Unions,” outlines the devastating toll of Boko Haram violence on people living in northeast Nigeria, in particular on civil servants and their families, and how the labor movement will be essential to responding to the aftermath of the crisis and rebuilding for sustainable development and peace.
The report, with accompanying worker testimonials, was launched Tuesday at a 50-person event in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. featuring three workers victimized by Boko Haram; Solidarity Center, Borno-based trade union partners; representatives of Nigeria’s National Labor Congress (NLC)—including President Ayuba Wabba; Public Services International (PSI); the Trade Union Congress (TUC); the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA), as well as the press.
“We have lost more than two thousand workers—teachers, local government workers, health workers,” said Wabba, who pointed to lack of good governance as the root cause of conflict.
“We must work assiduously to try to address issues of human and trade union rights,” he continued.
Three years of sustained work by NLC-affiliated public-sector unions in the region preceded the report’s publication. The unions that represent teachers and hospital workers, among groups specifically targeted by Boko Haram militants, were able to document and begin to address the economic and psycho-social impacts of violence on their members and the community at large. “As integral members of their communities,” the report states, “union members are well-positioned to assess the local situation, understand the needs of community members and communicate this essential information to better facilitate the post-conflict rebuilding process.”
Report recommendations include that the government of Nigeria follow principles established by ILO Recommendation 205 to work in coalition with trade unions and employers in creating long-term solutions for a sustainable and inclusive economy, including bringing back family-sustaining jobs and helping institutions such as schools and hospitals recover and rebuild.
This week the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC)—which together represent millions of workers—along with civil-society organizations, presented a joint statement rejecting the “hate campaigns” that calling for secession in the northern part of the country. “We Are One for Nigeria,” they said.
Describing themselves as a pan-Nigeria force rejecting the drumbeats of war, the unions and civil society groups issuing the statement said that a physical conflict would, “hurt us all, most particularly workers” and that a divided Nigeria does not serve workers. The statement went on to call on all Nigerians of any faith, political bent, gender and ethnicity to, “stand up with one voice and fight those promoting division.”
The workers’ statement came in response to rising political tensions in the country, after a coalition of activist groups in northern Nigeria, known as the Northern Youth Groups, demanded that all members of the one of Nigeria’s main ethnic groups, the Igbo, leave northern Nigeria within three months or face forced expulsion. For some Nigerians, calls for secession are reminiscent of the bloody Nigerian civil war a half century ago, during which at least 1 million people died.