Rivers, labour, on war path

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* Tensions rises over planned strike in Rivers

* Labour leaders may ignore court order

By Codratus Godson

The Rivers State government which obtained a court order against the planned strike by labour unions in the state has urged the leadership of the unions to come to court on September 8, 2020, and address issues rather than embark on actions and strikes that may cause chaos on the streets.

The Commissioner of Information and Communications, Paulinus Msirim, who spoke with newsmen on Friday, September 4, 2020, urged labour to toe the line of reason and dialogue to solve problems.

The commissioner said a court of competent jurisdiction has issued an injunction barring labour from going ahead with the strike in the state. He waved the three-paged court order from the Port Harcourt Division of the National Industrial Court signed by a justice, N.C.S Ogbuanya.

The injunction issued on September 1, 2020, ordered the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) not to embark on the threatened strike action slated from September 5, 2020.

The NLC led by Beatrice Itubo has been charging for war since the implementation of the minimum wage in the state in January 2020, saying the workers did not find any significant difference in their salaries.

NLC in the state said they were not consulted in the computation to enable them understand what percentage was applied. This stance seemed to be an affront to the state government.

This led to instant misunderstanding and the Nyesom Wike government promptly shut down the Labour House built for the NLC by the state government. Labour charged back with strike action which had to be called off in the heat of the coronavirus. Now that the Covid-19 ccoast seems clear, both parties have returned to the path of war.

The Commissioner told newsmen that the government decided to take pages in two national newspapers to publish the court order as substituted service approved by the court in the case between the Attorney-General of Rivers State and the NLC, TUC, and four officers of the various unions.

Efforts to get in touch with the state’s NLC boss, Itubo, to react to the position of the state government proved abortive.

The national deputy president of TUC, Chika Onuegbu, however, said labour did not get any service and did not see any newspaper order because labour leaders do not have money to buy newspapers. “They have withheld check-off dues, so the leaders are not paid, they are hungry. Where will they get money to buy newspapers from?”

The former TUC two-term chairman in Rivers State and former national public relations officer of TUC who is an industrial relations expert and a recently qualified commercial lawyer said labour leaders are at the moment busy mobilizing for the strike that starts on Monday.

He went on: “Labour is preoccupied with many problems including fuel price increase, energy tariff hike, high cost of foodstuff in the market, increase in Dollar, inflation, etc. These are what matter to workers than reading newspapers in search of court orders. We have no response because we did not see any court order”.

Indications are however rife that while the state government expects Labour to obey the court order, labour seems to be strategizing on how to carry out the threat despite the injunction. Essential services unions are said to be perfecting plans to withdraw their services in the state. A source asked if labour obeys court orders.

Some unions have already asked their members to come out for peaceful protests on Monday which seems to be indirect strike.

Already, the unions in the oil and gas industry have called out their members and this may cut essential services to the public and to government offices. A source said planes may not fly, power may not in be in buildings, and fuel may dry up.

Government sources however said everybody should know that Gov Wike is not someone that can be intimidated. It is expected that he too would be perfecting his own strategies to counter the strike, and a full scale encounter seems on the way.

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