Subsidy: NLC shuns FG meeting, electricity workers back strike

•NLC faults negotiation team, Lagos, Nasarawa, more state chapters join strike

•TUC demands salary increase, fuel importers seek equal access to forex

The Nigeria Labour Congress on Sunday shunned a meeting called by the Federal Government to discuss the subsidy removal and the attendant hike in fuel pump prices across the country.

The union insisted that it would not hold any dialogue with the government representatives unless a legitimate team was set up.

However, the Trade Union Congress officials attended the meeting which was a follow-up to the talks held with the NLC at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, last week, which ended in a deadlock.

This is as the electricity workers vowed to join the strike and plunge the nation into a blackout in protest against the removal of fuel subsidy by the Bola Tinubu administration.

The National Treasurer of the NLC, Hakeem Ambali, confirmed the decision of the union to boycott the meeting which was a follow-up to the Wednesday meeting on the removal of subsidy.

During the meeting attended by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, Managing Director, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation Limited, Mele Kyari, Dele Alake, and others, the NLC had insisted on the reversal of the fuel pump price pegged at between N488 and N540.

Following the breakdown of talks, the congress resolved at its NEC meeting held on Friday to embark on a nationwide strike.

Speaking to The PUNCH on Sunday, Ambali explained that like the TUC, the NLC was invited for a follow-up meeting at the State House following the earlier meeting which ended in a deadlock.

He hinted that the union did not attend the talks because the government representatives had no official mandate or authority to negotiate for the President.

“It was an adjourned meeting, a follow-up to the last one. However, the NLC insisted that we would be ready to negotiate with a team that has legitimacy and official mandate to negotiate for President Tinubu,” he stated.pp

Shedding light on the NLC’s boycott of the session, the National President of the congress, Joe Ajaero, contended that the meeting was of no consequence to the congress.

NLC slams FG

Speaking in an interview on Arise television on Sunday, Ajaero said, “Of what use is today’s meeting? As of Tuesday night, I had a meeting with the president of the TUC and some other government officials. I told the NNPCL MD that any move to increase the pump price would be taken as war.

“They went ahead to announce. We told them to return to the status quo so that negotiations will continue but up till now, they have not done that. So what are we going to the meeting to do?

“We are not making any progress and this is because we are still at the same point. The issue of alternatives and subsidies are things we have discussed over time and our position has been made public but the government appears not to be interested in our position.”

Speaking on media reports about factions of the NLC opposed to the strike, Ajaero said, “On Friday, all affiliates of the NLC agreed that we should take the next line of action. We don’t have northern NLC or southern NLC. If any media house has proof, let them bring it forward.”

In a notice issued on Sunday, the National Union of Electricity Employees also threatened to join the strike action.

Already, the NUEE has directed its members to withdraw their services nationwide over the sudden removal of the fuel subsidy by the FG.

The NUEE in a notice signed by its acting General Secretary, Dominic Igwebike, urged its members to comply with the directive and stop work from the early hours of Wednesday.

The union said its decision was a sequel to the directive from the NLC.

“To this effect, all national, state, and chapter executives are requested to start the mobilisation of our members in total compliance with this directive,” the statement said.

It further added, “Please note that withdrawal of Services nationwide commences from 0.00 hours of Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

“You are encouraged to work with the leadership of State Executive Councils of the Congress in your various states with a view to having a successful action.’’

As the Federal Government was scrambling to avert the strike, various state chapters of the NLC on Sunday started mobilising their members for the strike on Wednesday as directed by the leadership of the union.

The Lagos State chapter of the union endorsed the strike declared by the NLC leadership despite pleas by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

The NLC Chairman in Lagos State, Funmi Sessi, said the chapter was “in full support of the strike.”

Sessi, who said the NLC was not against subsidy removal, stressed that the congress was concerned about the masses and the effect the abrupt removal of subsidy would have on them.

She stated, “We are part of the NLC NEC’s decision to embark on a nationwide strike from Wednesday. If the Federal Government does not caution the NNPCL to revert to the old pump price, the strike will go on as planned.

“The pump price must be reversed, then the Federal Government should afterward invite the NLC and stakeholders to dialogue over the issue. We are part of this decision in Lagos, and we are in full support of the strike.”

Like his Lagos counterpart, the Chairman of NLC in Nasarawa State, Ayuba Okok, said the workers in the state would participate in the strike action.

Addressing journalists after an emergency meeting of the State Executive Council held in Lafia on Sunday, Oko stated that he had directed all affiliates of the union in the state to mobilise their members preparatory to the strike.

Similarly, the Bayelsa State Council of the NLC said that it had asked the state workers to prepare to join the strike.

The state NLC secretary, John Angese, who stated this in a telephone chat with one of our correspondents on Sunday, said the state council was against the removal of oil subsidy by the Federal Government.

He said, “We (Bayelsa NLC) are participating in the strike; we’ve been given a directive to that effect from the national leadership. Our chairman is returning to Yenagoa from Abuja where he had gone to attend the NEC meeting. As soon as he comes into town, there is the likelihood of us convening a meeting tomorrow Monday to carry out the directive of the national leadership.”

The situation was the same in Delta State where the workers’ leaders are gearing up for the strike.

The NLC Chairman in the state, Goodluck Ofobruku, said, “We’re fully in support of the ultimatum and will join the planned strike and protests. As I speak, mobilisation has started”

On his part, the NLC leader in Cross River State, Gregory Ulayi, expressed his strong support for the impending strike.

The Ondo State chapter of the congress said it was ready to comply with the directive on strike issued last Friday by the NLC headquarters.

The congress Chairman in the state, Mr Victor Amoko, noted, “The NLC executive in the state will be meeting tomorrow (Monday) where we will brief our members on the outcome of the NLC decision in Abuja.

“I want to confirm to you that we are not backing out from the planned nationwide strike unless there is a new directive from the national body of the union”

On the other hand, the TUC in the state said its action would depend on the outcome of the meeting of the national body of the association with the FG.

The state chairman of the TUC, Mr Clement Fatuwase simply said, “Our national body would meet today on the matter and the outcome would determine whether we are going to join the strike or not.”

The Chairman of the TUC in Ekiti State, Sola Adigun, echoed Fatuwase, saying the union members had yet to be mandated to begin a strike over the removal of fuel subsidy.

Adigun said the TUC and its affiliates in the state were only instructed to start preparing their members for actions that will take place based on the Federal Government’s response to organised labour’s demand.

Giving an update on its decision about the proposed action, the Kano State chapter of the NLC said it would decide on Monday (today) whether to join the strike and protest called by the national body of the union.

Kano NLC meets

The state NLC Chairman, Kabiru Inuwa, disclosed that the union would hold a meeting at 3pm on Monday to take a decision on the planned strike and protest and made its position known afterwards.

“I attended the meeting convened by the national body of our union in Abuja. So, we have also called for a meeting of our local branch which will be held tomorrow (Monday).

“We shall make our position known whether to join the strike or not tomorrow after the meeting which has been fixed for 3 pm,” Inuwa said.

During a two-hour meeting with the Presidency, the TUC, among others, demanded a review of the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria said it was mobilising its members for the nationwide strike.

The union’s National Financial Secretary, Jimoh Musa, made this known in an interview with our correspondent on Sunday.

Musa said, “Of course, we will be mobilizing our members. We were a part of the meeting held two days ago. An injury to one is an injury to all. So, therefore we will be joining the strike.”

Speaking on the planned strike, the Deputy-President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gabriel Idahosa described it as ill-advised and counter-productive to the long-term merits of fuel subsidy removal.

‘NLC short-sighted’

According to him, fuel subsidy has been an albatross on the neck of the national economy, stifling growth, while enriching a select few.

Idahosa said, “It is definitely not a good move by the NLC. It just shows the unfortunate shortsightedness of the labour movement because they are looking at the immediate pain and the immediate gain and they are not looking at the best interest of their own workers.’’

In the same vein, the National Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Small-Scale Industrialists, Segun Kuti-George said the planned strike action by the NLC would amount to postponing the evil day.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, on Sunday evening, said it was reviewing a long list of demands made by the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, the topmost of which was the upward review of the minimum wage.

This followed a two-hour meeting between the representatives of the FG and the TUC at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Sunday’s meeting came four days after talks between the Government, TUC, and the Nigerian Labour Congress ended in a deadlock.

Dele Alake who spoke on behalf of the FG said the meeting featured the consideration of a list of demands from the trade unions, amongst which was the upward review of the minimum wage due to what he described as a drastic fall in the purchasing power of Nigerian workers occasioned by the discontinuance of petroleum subsidy.

However, discussions would continue on Tuesday, he said, as the President plans to convene a tripartite committee comprising the organised labour and private sector, to consider the specifics of the demands.

The President of the TUC, Festus Osifo, said aside from the minimum wage increase the union also demanded tax holidays for some categories of workers and revert to the old petrol pump price of N195/Litre while negotiations continue.

He explained “In the meeting we just concluded, we have detailed and marshalled out the list of our demands to them (FG).

“They also in turn told us that when they presented the items to us on Wednesday, we told them that we were going back to our principals. So they also need to touch base with Mr. President, so that we will reconvene this meeting again on Tuesday.

“We are hopeful that the demand that we have presented will be reviewed in the best interest of Nigerian workers.”

Meanwhile, e-hailing drivers under the aegis of the Amalgamated Union of App-Based Transport Workers of Nigeria have said that they would withdraw their services and embark on a nationwide protest on Tuesday over the failure of e-hailing companies to implement a 200 percent increase in fares following the new pump prices for petrol.

The Chairman of the Media and Publicity Committee of the union, Jossy Olawale disclosed this to The PUNCH.

He said the union was aware of the upward review of fares being implemented by some e-hailing firms.

A popular e-hailing company, in a memo dated June 2 informed drivers on its platform about an upward review in fares following the spike in operating costs.

According to the memo seen by our correspondent, the price review will see fares rise from N700 to N800.

Against the backdrop of the strike threat by labour unions, the Director General of Michael Imoudu National Institute For Labour Studies, Issa Aremu, has called for continuous dialogue between the organised labour and the FG on the fuel subsidy removal.

Aremu in a statement issued in Ilorin on Sunday, emphasized the imperative of policy dialogue and discussions between the government and relevant stakeholders on the vexed issue of deregulation.

He expressed optimism that through the exchange of facts, negotiations, and compromises, both the government and labour would find common ground for the inevitable reform of the petroleum downstream sector which he said the sector unions had been pushing for years.

He recalled that Petroleum products supply and pricing had always been an acid test for successive governments in Nigeria.

The former vice president of the NLC said, “What makes the current reform different is that there is a national consensus among all stakeholders that prohibitive costs of subsidizing a single product (petrol) in the wake of declining public revenue and other national needs are unsustainable. In addition, he said the Petroleum Industry Act with all its imperfections has rightly unbundled NNPC and legitimized deregulation.”

To deepen labour engagement through effective civil action, a tactical coordinating team of civil society and labour leaders has been mandated to work closely with the NLC, TUC and organised civil society to present the issues from proper perspectives.

The group comprising Nkoyo Toyo, Salisu Mohammed, Abiodun Aremu, Chris Uyot, Malachy Ugwumadu, Martins Egbanubi, Mo Paul, Hauwa Mustapha, Femi Aborishade, Monday Ubani, Richard Inoyo, Chris Nwaokobia, Jnr, Promise Adewusi, and Olawale Okunniyi, was expected to reach out, mobilise and organise collaborative peaceful mass actions across labour centres and other social movements.

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