President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday set the machinery in motion to avert the strike being planned by organised private labour and the human rights community in reaction to the latest hike in fuel price and electricity tariff.
He directed the Ministry of Labour and Employment to dialogue with the labour unions immediately.
The meeting is scheduled for today in Abuja.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) are believed to have already gone far in mobilising workers for the strike aimed at forcing government to reverse last week’s increase of petrol price to N159 per litre and of electricity to over N60 per unit.
But TUC insisted last night that government should first revert to the old prices first.
Apart from the talks, the federal government also plans to distribute 2,000 buses across the country to cushion the effects of transportation on Nigerians, especially the rural dwellers.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, told State House correspondents yesterday that the dialogue would afford government the opportunity to lay the state of the nation’s finances bare and the challenges both face on the table for better understanding.
Ngige said he would be reaching out to the concerned labour and trade union bodies as well as the civil society groups to get them ready for the meeting.
“The President has approved for us to have a bigger government side meeting with the organised private labour. All the government institutions that have to do with the finances of government will be part of the meeting so that we meet with them and show them the books,” the minister said as he emerged from a meeting with Buhari yesterday.
He added: “So, the invitation is going out to them this afternoon; the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and their affiliates or supporters and friends in the Civil Society Organisations.
“The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow (today). So, I will relate more with the Chief of Staff to the President and the leadership of the unions today so that we do this meeting tomorrow.
“At the meeting, government finances, challenges and everything will be laid bare on the table. Their own fears and what they think is also good for the Nigerian people, especially the workers, they will also table it so that we look at it.”
Continuing, Ngige said: “The electricity tariff, as you know, the Electricity Regulatory Commission approved the increase based on certain electricity band R1 and R2. And even in the R2 band, you have soft bands so that we can protect the rural poor and people who are in the suburbs.
“So, we are going to look at them holistically because we want a stable labour industrial union in the country. So, the President has been briefed and he is in tune and has given the support to talk to everybody we need to talk to.”
Government, the minister said, had also reached out to some unions in the universities which are planning a separate strike.
His words: “The tripartite unions of university system, including some colleges of education and some hospitals, Non-Academic Staff of Universities (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), we have invited them to a meeting.
“The leadership met with me last week and the major thrust of the challenges they have is on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS) system.
“They claim and allege that the IPPIS system is over-deducting some line items like taxes, the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) taxes they claim the IPPIS system is charging more than they are supposed to debit.
“They also claim that some allowances that are peculiar to the university system, like responsibility allowance, hazard allowance, field trip allowance and education of children allowance, that the IPPIS has stopped all of them.
“At the government level, we have discussed and we now want to do a special session with them; they come with their facts and the Accountant General will lead his team, the National Salaries and Incomes and Wages will also come and the Ministry of Labour will lead and then we discuss and find out who is treating the other unfairly.”
It will be recalled that the Labour community kicked recently when prices of petroleum products and electricity tariff were reviewed upwards, threatening to declare an industrial action.