Breaking:Rivers seals off NLC secretariat as minimum wage dispute escalates

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* But govt says action is to allow for repair of cracks

By Codratus Godson

The seeming dispute between the Rivers State government and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) which began festering on Friday, January 31, 2020, has degenerated as the Labour House (built as a gesture to the NLC) has been sealed up.

Labour in the state led by Beatrice Itubo has last weekend rejected what they called paltry sums noticed when the state government commenced payment of the new minimum wage in the January 2020 salaries. Labour threatened action of negotiations did not commence on the subject to determine what the Rivers State government and the NLC would accept as new minimum wage.

The state government reacted angrily by daring the NLC to act, saying Labour should be utterly grateful to the Nyesom Wike administration, The governor built the NLC House as a donation in 2018.

One of Wike’s political opponents, APC’s Dakuku Peterside (Director-General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA) weighed in and urged both parties to go to the discussion table, even as he seemed to agree with Labour that negotiation was the way to go.

The state government had dubbed NLC as being political. This statement from an APC big lord may have incensed the governor more.

Thus, Monday, February 3, 2020, security operatives arrived the place, allegedly forced out the persons there and slammed seals and locked it. The uproar began and many concluded it was because it was the governor that built it.

The government through the office of Bureau for Special Projects, saying the NLC structure which was built pro bono by the Rivers State Government for Labour was completed and commissioned only a few months ago by the Bureau  and it that it is their normal practice to carry out general inspections and structural integrity evaluation or tests before the expiration of the defects liability period. “It is this activity that precedes the release of the 5% retention fees due any contractor 6 months or 1 year upon practical completion of the project. This is not new to every contractor or client in the construction industry.”

The statement signed by D.A George-Kelly, Special Adviser, Special Projects  & Head Bureau for Special Projects, said; “It is uncharitable and ungrateful for anyone under the aegis of the NLC to misconstrue this exercise for a product of an imagined imbroglio between labour and government. This is sad! The land was not revoked by government; the building was not seized by government. The Bureau  is only carrying out it’s routine duty in ensuring that all infrastructure it provides are habitable and safe for use by our people and it’s our practice to seal off buildings when such exercises are being carried out.”

As if NLC did not buy the dummy, the leaders said they would no longer tolerate intimidation and perpetual neglect of the workers. Speaking with anonymity, some of the leaders told reporters that their demands were very clear and simple. They said they want negotiation for minimum wage adjustment, saying the state government took the decision alone.

The government had said they followed federal government adjustment scale, but NLC said it is demanding to be carried along in the whole process as representatives of the workers as well as demanding for the payment of arrears, release of pending promotions and payment of the financial benefits, plus other sundry benefits and entitlements of the already impoverished workforce & pensioners.

Going by the highly charged political atmosphere in Rivers State, it would not be long before the matter takes the usual political divide, and this would make resolution difficult. Analysts say calling hostilities and coming to the negotiation table at this point in time could be the best option.
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