NEWS AND STORIES
Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are engaged in a show of strength after a notice served by the latter for a five-day strike by workers in the state.
The warning strike begun by workers at midnight today is in protest against mass disengagement of workers and other alleged anti-labour policies of the state government.
But the state government has said that it would not be blackmailed or intimidated by the threat of workers’ strike, insisting that the mass disengagement of workers was a decision taken in the interest of the larger population in the state.
The strike action embarked upon by workers followed a threat earlier issued by the NLC that its members in the state would down tools in protest against El-Rufai’s moves against the state’s workers.
Already, Aviation workers under the aegis of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), have directed their members to shut down operations at Kaduna airport with effect from early this morning in respect of a strike declared by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) against the state government.
In two separate letters jointly signed by the union’s leaders, namely Ocheme Aba, General Secretary, NUATE; Abdulrasak Saidu, Secretary General, ANAP and Ofonime Umoh, Deputy General Secretary, NAAPE, the workers pledged to comply with the directive of NLC to down tools in the state between May 16 and 21, 2021.
The union leaders added that workers at the airport had been directed to withdraw all services within the stipulated period.
“In effect, there will be no operations of any kind into, at or out of the airport within the period.
“This information is provided to enable your management take steps to safeguard valuable property within the airport vicinity during the period of the industrial action.
“This action shall be fully carried out unless otherwise directed by the NLC. And all workers are enjoined to fully comply as no form of sabotage shall be tolerated,” the unions said.
A circular earlier signed by the General Secretary of NUEE, Joe Ajaero, said: “In line with NLC directives on shutdown of activities in Kaduna, you are hereby directed to ensure TOTAL BLACK OUT in Kaduna by 00 hours on Saturday 15th May, 2021.”
He advised the workers to liaise with other states or regions through which Kaduna could be back-fed to ensure that there is no supply of electricity to the state.
Ajaero warned that “any station or officer whose unit is found wanting, the chapter or state council will be sanctioned for anti-union activities.”
Other unions, including railway workers, local government employees and university workers will not resume to their duty posts on Monday.
The state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, had in April announced the plan to disengage civil servants in the state for financial reasons, saying that a significant portion of the statutory federal allocations coming to the state was being spent on the wages of public servants.
“The state government has no choice but to shed some weight and reduce the size of the public service. It is a painful but necessary step to take for the sake of the majority of the people of this state,” the statement read in part.
The governor argued that “the public service of the state with less than 100,000 employees and their families cannot be consuming more than 90% of government resources, with little left to positively impact the lives of the more than 9 million that are not political appointees or civil servants.”
Reacting to the notice of strike served by workers yesterday, the state government said it would not succumb to blackmail.
At a press conference addressed by the state’s Head of Service, Bariatu Muhammed, and the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Alhaji Jafar Sani yesterday, the government dismissed the threat by labour unions to shut down critical services as a futile gesture, warning that it would not condone any disruption of essential services in the state as a result of the strike.
The government also said that the warrant of arrest it issued in 2017 on the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, over alleged vandalization of government facilities subsists.
According to the government, the trade unions planned to use hoodlums during the strike to disrupt the peace of the state, hence it had notified security agencies to take action.
“As is appropriate, the security agencies have been notified of the plans of some trade unionists to recruit hoodlums, including from other states, to create a destructive spectacle and further their self-serving narrative about public service jobs and insecurity,” the state government said.
The government insisted that the sack of civil servants was necessitated by dwindling revenues. “Thus, it is not sustainable to persist in spending 84% to 96% of its FAAC receipts on salaries and personnel costs as has been the experience of the state since October 2020.
“This government was not elected to devote most public funds to paying government workers and treat that as its defining governance mission, to the detriment of developing the state and its people.”
The government explained that the rightsizing of the public service would affect political appointees and civil servants.
“The necessary verification of credentials for full implementation of this painful but necessary decision is still being done.
“It has not determined the total number of officers that might be affected by the decision. Neither has it stopped paying the minimum wage, despite the prompting of the denizens of sentiment who have urged it to suspend payment and thereby violate the National Minimum Wage Act.
“The Kaduna State Government prefers to take lawful and rational steps that are within its powers to rightsize its personnel and thereby reduce its wage bill.”
It stressed that it would not succumb to the “veritable campaign of lies and misrepresentation” by the trade unions on the matter.
The state government also claimed that it “has been assured by some trade unions that they will not be part of the planned sabotage of social and economic life.”
According to the government, the strike was meant to sabotage the state. It therefore called on residents of the state to resist it and do their utmost to protect public facilities.
It noted that the Trade Union Act prohibits strike action by workers engaged in the provision of essential services.
“The law also forbids subjecting “any other person to any kind of constraint or restriction of his personal freedom in the course of persuasion” for strike action”, it added.
The government reiterated that the ban on public processions was still in force in the state, and vowed to protect its facilities and the right of its staff to access and work in their offices.
“It is unlawful for anyone to try to deny them access or exit. Government offices are not the property of any trade unionist and none of them should entertain thoughts of locking up or vandalizing any facility.”
The government identified some of its worker-friendly policies as payment of the new minimum wage and training for civil servants.
“Kaduna is also one of the states that is most faithful in implementing the Contributory Pension Scheme, effective from 1st January 2017”
“The state has also courageously attempted to settle the N14 billion it inherited as arrears of death benefit and gratuity from 2010, commencing payments with those who had exited service the longest.
“Since 2015, KDSG has paid over N13 billion in death benefits and gratuity.”
It added that apart from teachers and health workers, the government has continued to recruit required professionals for its agencies.
“This government has demonstrated in action, its commitment to the welfare of its workers, but it insists that this is sustainable only in the context of the general welfare of residents of the state that the government itself is mandated to serve.”
The Hammers want to sign a number nine after failing to replace Sebastien Haller in January and have identified striking targets ahead of the summer transfer window.
Southampton are hoping Ings will sign a new deal with just a year left on his current contract.
West Ham are not the only club keen on Ings, with Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton also monitoring developments.
The 28-year-old has bagged 12 goals in 27 Premier League games this term and is expected to be included in England’s European Championship squad this summer.
Ings is unwilling to sign a new deal with Southampton that would make him the highest earner at the club.
It is unclear whether he would view a move to West Ham as an upgrade, although the lure of playing in Europe could be tempting.
Joining Man City may also be enticing, with the club offering him the chance to work under Pep Guardiola and regularly challenge for silverware.
Everton and Spurs have established first-choice strikers in Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Harry Kane, meaning Ings could struggle for game time with either club.
On that basis, West Ham may be Ings’ most viable option, given that they desperately need to find a replacement for Haller this summer.
BERLIN — The head of Germany’s independent vaccine advisory panel says it’s likely that everyone will have to get vaccinated again next year against COVID-19.
Thomas Mertens told the Funke newspaper group in comments published Sunday that there isn’t yet enough data to say when exactly booster shots will be needed, and officials will have to wait a few months to see whether protection against the coronavirus weakens in some groups.
But he stressed that “the virus won’t leave us again” and so the vaccinations currently under way won’t be the last. He added: “In principle, we have to prepare for everyone possibly having to refresh their vaccine protection next year.”
Nearly 30.4 million people in Germany, or 36.5% of the population, had received at least one vaccine shot by Friday. More than 9 million, or 10.9% of the population, had been fully vaccinated.
— India finds hundreds of bodies buried in riverbanks as the prices for cremations soar
— UK gears up for big reopening but fast-spreading virus variant first found in India threatens future plans
— Turkey eases some COVID-19 restrictions but keeps curfews on for weeknights and weekends
— Barefaced, footloose: New Orleans eases masking, OKs dancing
— Nepal scales back Hindu chariot festival amid virus surge
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — Travelers in England were packing their bags, bartenders were polishing their glasses and performers were warming up as Britain prepared Sunday for a major step out of lockdown — but with clouds of worry on the horizon.
Excitement at the reopening of travel and hospitality vied with anxiety that a more contagious virus variant first found in India is spreading fast and could delay further plans to reopen.
Cases of the variant have more than doubled in a week in the U.K., defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections and deaths won by hard-earned months of restrictions and a rapid vaccination campaign. A surge testing and stepped-up vaccination effort was being conducted in the northern England areas hardest hit by that variant.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the variant, formally known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than the U.K.’s main strain and “it is likely it will become the dominant variant.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said if the new variant causes a big surge in cases, it could scupper plans to relax restrictions more fully on June 21.
NEW DELHI — Police are reaching out to villagers in northern India to investigate the recovery of bodies buried in shallow sand graves or washing up on the Ganges River banks. There’s been speculation on social media that they are the remains of COVID-19 victims.
In jeeps and boats, police are using portable loudspeakers asking people not to dispose of bodies in rivers.
On Friday, rains exposed the cloth coverings of bodies buried on the riverbank in Prayagraj, a city in Uttar Pradesh state. A state government spokesman on Sunday denied local media reports that more than 1,000 corpses of COVID-19 victims were recovered from rivers in the past two weeks.
But others say COVID-19 deaths in the countryside are rising.
Ramesh Kumar Singh, a member of Bondhu Mahal Samiti, a philanthropic organization that helps cremate bodies, said the number of deaths is very high in rural areas, and poor people have been disposing of the bodies in the river because of the exorbitant cost of performing the last rites and a shortage of wood. The cremation cost has tripled up to 15,000 rupees ($210).
LIMA, Peru — After Joel Bautista died of a heart attack last month in Peru, his family tried unsuccessfully to find an available grave at four different cemeteries. After four days, they resorted to digging a hole in his garden.
The excavation in a poor neighborhood in the capital city of Lima was broadcast live on television, attracting the attention of authorities and prompting them to offer the family a space on the rocky slopes of a cemetery.
“If there is no solution, then there will be a space here,” Yeni Bautista told The Associated Press, explaining the family’s decision to dig at the foot of a tropical hibiscus tree after her brother’s body began to decompose.
The same plight is shared by other families across Peru.
After struggling to control the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year, the country now faces a parallel crisis: a lack of cemetery space. The problem affects everyone, not just relatives of COVID-19 victims, and some families have acted on their own, digging clandestine graves in areas surrounding some of Lima’s 65 cemeteries.
BEIJING — A COVID-19 outbreak in Mongolia appears to be easing after a six weeks in which the sparsely populated country’s coronavirus death toll rose from 15 to 219.
Authorities on Sunday reported 541 new cases and two deaths in the latest 24-hour period, China’s Xinhua News Agency said. It was the sixth straight day of under 600 new cases, and down from a peak of 1,356 cases about two weeks ago.
Coffee shops, gyms and swimming pools were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity this weekend as the Mongolian government continued a gradual lifting of restrictions following a four-week lockdown that ended May 8, Xinhua said.
A ban on restaurants, bars, religious services and large gatherings for sports and cultural events remained in effect, the Chinese news agency said.
The total number of confirmed cases has increased since the beginning of April from 8,841 to 48,642. ———
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s interior ministry on Sunday lifted a full lockdown that had ordered people to stay home to fight COVID-19 infections, shifting to a less-restrictive program that still involved curfews on weeknights and weekends.
The ministry called the steps that apply from Monday to June 1 a “gradual normalization.”
Shopping malls will be able to reopen. Some businesses will remain closed, including gyms and cafes, but restaurants will be able to offer take away in addition to delivery. Preschools will resume in-person education but upper grades will continue remote learning.
Turks can return to their workplaces but will have to stay home from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday, with the exception of walking to a market to buy food. Civil servants will continue working remotely or in shifts in offices. Foreign tourists and workers with special permits are exempt.
The Turkish government introduced a full lockdown end of April to curb a surge in infections and deaths, following record daily cases above 60,000. Saturday’s health ministry statistics show 11,472 new cases. The total death toll is 44,537.
SEOUL — The Asian Football Confederation has announced North Korea has pulled out of qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
“The (AFC) has today confirmed the withdrawal of the DPR Korea Football Association from the Asian Qualifiers,” the AFC said in a statement on Sunday.
Pyongyang has not yet given an official reason for pulling out of next month’s qualifiers for the tournament, to be held in Qatar in November and December 2022, but South Korean media has reported that it is because of concerns over COVID-19.
Due to the spread of the virus, there have been no qualifiers in Asia since November 2019 and in order to reduce travel as the games resume, the AFC has ruled that all group matches in the second round of qualification will be played in hubs. ———
ORLANDO, Fla. — Visitors to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios-Orlando were allowed Saturday to remove their masks when outdoors, except when on attractions, in line or riding transportation.
Florida’s major theme parks are adjusting face mask policies after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened its recommendations on Thursday as more people get vaccinated for the coronavirus. Masks remain mandatory indoors, except in restaurants when seated or actively eating and drinking.
SeaWorld Orlando and its sister park, Tampa’s Busch Gardens, are allowing guests who say they are fully vaccinated to remove their masks throughout the parks. The two parks will not require proof of vaccination but are asking guests to “respectfully comply.”
The CDC guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
MILAN — Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was released from Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital on Saturday, where he was treated for complications related to an earlier bout with coronavirus.
The 84-year-old Berlusconi, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 last September, has been in and out of the hospital in recent weeks. He was most recently admitted last Monday. He also spent 24 days in the hospital under medical supervision in April.
The three-time former premier and media mogul left the hospital without passing in front of photographers and television cameras waiting outside. Last year, Berlusconi spent 10 days at the same hospital receiving treatment for COVID-19. He also received a pacemaker several years ago.
NEW YORK — Yale University is requiring its faculty and staff to get coronavirus vaccinations before the fall term, extending a requirement already imposed for students.
The private university says faculty members, staffers and academic trainees must be fully inoculated by Aug. 1, although there are provisions for exemptions for reasons based on medical conditions or religious or “strongly held” personal beliefs.
More than 350 colleges and universities around the country are requiring vaccinations for students, at least those living on-campus. However, requirements for employees are somewhat rare. That’s according to information compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
BEIJING — China has canceled attempts to climb Mount Everest from its side of the world’s highest peak because of fears of importing coronavirus cases from neighboring Nepal.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency says the closure was confirmed in a notice from China’s General Administration of Sport. The move reflects the abundance of caution China has taken in dealing with the pandemic.
While China has mostly curbed domestic transmission of the coronavirus, Nepal is experiencing a surge with record numbers of new infections and deaths.
China had issued permits to 38 people to climb Mount Everest this spring, and Nepal to 408 climbers. In Nepal, several climbers have reported testing positive for the coronavirus after they were brought down from the Everest base camp.
The month of May generally has the best weather for climbing Everest. Scores have reached the summit this week and more are expected to make attempts later this month once the weather improves. Two climbers have died on the Nepalese side, one Swiss and one American.