By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria's labor unions on Wednesday declared “an indefinite strike” to force the government to finalize negotiations for a new minimum wage of $139, potentially crippling Africa’s biggest economy.
Labors unions Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) told a joint news conference in the capital Abuja that the strike will begin at midnight.
Ayuba Wabba, president of the 5 million member-strong NLC, made the declaration after the parties failed to reach an agreement with the government delegation.
"In compliance with this mandate, all workers and private sector at all levels across the country have been directed to comply,” said Wabba.
He said, “All public and private institutions, offices, banks, schools, public and private business premises including filling station are to remain shut till further notice."
The TUC, the second-largest workers’ bloc, also urged its 24 affiliate groups to proceed with the strike, in what may mean a total shutdown of the economy from banks, schools, oil exploration, and transportation.
The NLC, for its part, has 40 affiliate unions and 37 state councils across public and private sectors of the economy.
But its membership excludes the military and paramilitary services as well as some civil establishments that offer services classified as essential by law.
The strike came a few weeks after the workers’ bodies gave Abuja an ultimatum to seal agreements that would see the current $50 minimum wage increased by nearly 150 percent — over five years after it came into effect.
Calls for a pay raise have elicited mixed reactions in Nigeria. Most state governors and federalists have insisted that the demand was unrealistic, as many states are unable to pay the current $50 minimum wage, citing lack of funds.
Shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015, re-negotiations for a new national minimum wage were brought to the table.
The agitation led to the establishment of a tripartite committee involving representatives from the government, labor unions, and private sector.
However, the committee has suddenly suspended the talks at the behest of the government, triggering the latest anger within the labor movement.