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HomeNewsThe 1970 Adebo Interim Award and Workers Struggles for higher Wages.

The 1970 Adebo Interim Award and Workers Struggles for higher Wages.

No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country… Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reported an inflation rate of 31.70% for February of 2024 compared to 21.91% in February 2023. The prices of food, housing, fuel, electricity, and transport had doubled. The average price of Ikg of rice was N1223 in February 2024 compared to N521 in February 2023. The price of 1 kg of beef increased by from N2446 to N3655 during the same period. The price of I kg of bean had increased by 98.25% from N595 to N1178 while that of I kg of Garri White had increase by 109,16% from N346 to N723.5. The price of I kg of yam tuber had increased by 131.3% from N436 in February 2023 to N1010 in February 2024. Nigerian workers and peasants are currently living below starvation levels. There is an urgent need for an immediate interim award like the Adebo Interim award of 1970. We will examine how Nigerian workers were able to struggle and win this interim award immediately after the civil war.

During the Nigerian civil war, the Federal State had committed itself to the establishment of a wage commission. This promise was followed by the Trade Disputes (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) No. 2, decree of 1969 which placed a freeze on wages and salaries for the next 12 months. Next came the elimination of the workers’ right to seek legal redress. This was outlined in the Federal Military Government (Supremacy and Enforcement of Powers) decree, No. 28 of 1970. The decree made any declaration by the courts concerning the legality or validity of any decree enacted by the Supreme Military Council, null and void. Thus, workers could not seek legal redress in the cases of decrees that trampled on their rights

The workers organized shop floor unions that led numerous short wildcat strikes. For example, 104 members of the Nigerian Union of Plantation and Allied Workers organized a day long wildcat strike for better working conditions and regular pay period in January, 1970. The police arrested the strike organizers. The Federal State denied registrations to unions organized by shop floor workers. Private employers were also encouraged to deny recognition privileges to shop floor local unions. However, the continuation of wildcat strikes of short duration nationwide forced the State to react on a policy level.

First, the State enacted the Industrial Arbitration Regulations of 1970. Under these regulations, an Industrial Arbitration Tribunal was set up in April of 1970 to handle industrial complaints, peg wages and contain the exploding workers’ struggles. The tribunal handled 42 cases in its first 18 months of existence. Secondly, the State enacted the Trade Union (Amendment) decree, No. 27 of 1970. This decree reinstated the ban on strikes and lock-outs. It also allowed the Police and Armed Forces to utilize their detention powers under the Criminal Code to remove shop floor workers’ leaders from the arena of struggle with increasing frequency. Finally, the State established a salary and wage commission chaired by Chief Simeon Adebo.

The terms of reference of the Adebo commission were “(1) to review the existing wages and salaries at all levels in the public services, the statutory public corporations and state-owned companies; (2) to examine areas in which nationalization and harmonization of wages, salaries and other remuneration and conditions of employment are desirable and feasible as between the public and private sectors of the national economy; (3) to consider the need to establish a system for ensuring that remuneration in the public services, the statutory corporations and the state-owned companies is periodically reviewed and kept in proper national balance and (4) to make recommendations to the Federal Military Government, including, if necessary, the need for any appropriate interim measures pending final examinations.”

The commission began its hearing in mid-1970. The workers’ response was twofold. First, they continued the series of wildcat strikes. Secondly, they put rank and file pressure on the leaders of the national labour centres thereby forcing them to unite and make demands on the commission on behalf of all waged workers. All through May, June and July of 1970, strikes for higher wages and better conditions of service occurred. The number of recorded trade disputes increased from 14 in May, 1970 to 19 in June and 20 in July of the same year. The number of workers involved in strikes increased from 588 in May to 2,885 and 1,556 in June and July respectively. Some of these workers went on strikes for non-wage related issues. In general, strikes of longer duration were more likely to fail as there was more time for police repression of strike leaders and management intrigues.

The workers’ autonomous actions during May to July of 1970 forced the national labour leaders to act. In August, 1970, leaders from the national labour centres (the LUF, NTUC, ULC and NWC) organized a unity committee called the United Committee of Central Labour Organizations (UCCLO). The aim of UCCLO was to collectively represent the workers’ interests before the Adebo Commission. The committee’s first action was to present a memorandum to the wage commission. In this memorandum, the committee demanded a 500% increase in the minimum daily wages of unskilled workers and the award of an interim cost of living wage increase to offset inflationary impacts on workers’ income. The committee generated enough support to force the commission to terminate its national tour and make an interim report to the Federal State.

In the interim report, the Adebo Commission stated, “the award we feel able to recommend at this time is aimed at relieving intolerable suffering at or near the bottom of the wage and salary levels. Workers earning more than £524 a year were not given an interim award. Those earning £500 or more a year were given a cost of living allowance to raise their wages to £524 per annum. Workers earning less than £500 per year were given a cost of living allowance and a wage increase of £2 per month, if they were salaried workers. Daily paid workers were given a wage increase of Is. 7d. per day. This interim award was made applicable to both the private and public sectors and back-dated to April, 1970.”

The release of the Adebo interim award recommendations encouraged more strikes as unskilled and semi-skilled workers sought to emphasize the need to change the deplorable conditions under which they lived. The number of mandays lost due to strikes rose from 750 in August, 1970 to 22,300 in the following month. Workers in banking, agriculture, manufacture and mining went on strike for higher wages. In the building and construction industry, some workers went on strike in support of a one month pay advance to celebrate the coming independence day.

The Federal government approved all the recommendations of the Adebo Commission in December 1970. The Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), argued that those private employers who had paid their employees cost of living wage increases following the Morgan Awards of 1964 should be exempted from paying the Adebo interim awards. The Federal government concurred and modified its position. Private companies were to pay their employees the difference between the Adebo awards and all cost of living wage increases paid as a result of the 1964 Morgan awards. The government’s action was tantamount to a declaration of industrial war with private sector workers. These workers made preparation to fight for the awards as the new year began. They mobilized community support among the unwaged and self-employed at the points of reproduction.

In January 1971, one of the European employers announced that it would not pay its employees any Adebo interim award. This generated an immediate sit-down strike at that point of production. The Federal military government sent the police to clear the occupied factory and placed Mr. W. 0. Goodluck, the President of the Nigerian Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and Mr. S. U. Bassey, the NTUC General Secretary, under detention. Workers then went on strikes to demand the release of Messrs. W. 0. Goodluck and S. U. Bassey of the NTUC. For example, 60 members of the Vono Products (African) Workers Union went on a 10 days strike for this reason. So also did members of the Nigeria Enamel Ware Ltd. African Workers’ Union (Ikeja).

The arrest and detention of the NTUC leaders did not have any impact on the industrial war. A week later, 1,500 members of the Nigeria Texile Garment and Allied Workers’ Union executed a one day strike. They demanded the implementation of the Adebo interim awards. The management of the Nortex Nigeria Ltd., Kaduna, capitulated to the demand. Others strikes for the payment of the Adebo interim awards in the private sector during January, 1971 included a 4 days strike by 707 members of the Ikeja Texile Union and a 6 days strike by 750 members of the Ewokoro Cement Works and General Workers’ Union. The managers agreed to pay the interim awards after these strikes. Strikes for the payment of the interim awards in the private sector continued during the following months. Such strikes included a 2 days strike by 500 members of the BEREC (Nig.) Ltd. Workers’ Union, and a 3 days strike by 825 members of the Guiness African Workers’ Union. These strikes forced the managers to pay the interim awards. In the first three months of 1971, a total of 59,780 workers were involved in strikes. Eleven strikes were recorded in January and 50 strikes were recorded in the following month. The number of mandays lost increased from 20,351 in January to 86,006 in March, 1971. Usually, the strikes were initiated by shop floor workers. The NECA employers broke ranks. Most decided to surrender and pay the interim awards. The obstinate ones were attacked with continued strike actions and increased industrial sabotage. The uncontrolled situation developing at these points of production forced the Federal military government to reverse its position. All private employers were ordered to pay the Adebo interim awards. Thus, Nigerian workers won the Adebo Interim award through struggles.

The Federal government inaugurated a 37 member committee on minimum wage on January 26, 2024. The committee is chaired by Bukar Aji and has representatives from the Federal government, the State government, the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprise (NASME), the NLC and the TUC. The committee will recommend a new national wage for Nigerian workers to the Federal government. The committee began operations by having public meetings in the nation’s 6 geopolitical zones. History teaches us that Nigerian workers can struggle for and win an interim wage award with a strategy of nation wide local shop floor rank and file wildcat strikes. The time to act is now.

Izielen Agbon
izielenagbon@yahoo.com
Twitter:@izielenagbon

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