Talks between the federal government and organised labour on recent hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff ended in a deadlock last night.
This came as the National Industrial Court yesterday granted an order restraining the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), their officers, affiliates and privies from embarking on any strike or stoppage of work next Monday.
The labour unions had earlier given the federal government a seven-day ultimatum to reverse the price and electricity tariff increase.
Both parties refused to shift ground at yesterday’s meeting between the federal government and organised labour to find a common ground on the recent increase in electricity tariff and fuel pump price.
NLC and TUC insisted they would proceed with the planned protest and industrial action unless the government revert the status quo in respect of the price of petrol and electricity tariff.
But justifying its action at the meeting, the federal government maintained that its decision to increase the pump price of petrol was not to inflict pain or cause harm to Nigerians.
The secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2015 resisted pressure to deregulate the oil sector because he felt the time was not right
In his opening remarks at the commencement of the dialogue between the government’s team and organised labour as part of move to halt the planned industrial action by labour, Mustapha said: “Five years down the line, that decision has become imperative and cannot be escaped; it is a decision that must have been painfully considered.
“The president has said that no government decision taken is intended to cause any pain or harm. Decisions that have been taken are of utmost interest to all people and working class.
“I had the privilege of working in the presidential transition committee set up by President Buhari and I remember the decisions that were presented to him. One of the decisions by the team considered as low hanging fruit in 2015 was deregulation, and I think President Buhari objected to it. Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report.
“There was the need to consider seriously the issues relating to deregulation of petroleum sector and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency within the power sector on what needed to be done. When the report was submitted to Buhari, his reaction was that the Nigerian people elected him not to inflict pain on them. He said though he considers that economically as a low hanging fruit, he felt that the time was not yet ripe for it, that the important thing is to manage before such decision will ever be taken.
“I am just sharing this reflection in order to put in perspective the fact that the decision was never intended to cause great pain and erode the wellbeing of our people.
“But little did we know that we will be confronted in one or two years – that was after the implementation of the minimum – with a pandemic which hit the entire world and has completely disrupted even the strongest of the economy to the extent that each and every countries of the world today are trying to find a solution to the economic disruption COVID-19 has brought to the entire world,” he said.
But the TUC president, Quadri Olaleye blamed the current disagreement on the refusal of the government to engage constructively with labour.
He said labour had written to the government suggesting alternative ways to run the economy, but “nobody ever listened.”
Olaleye said: “Nigerian workers are suffering; a lot of people have lost their jobs, especially during this COVID-19 and the only solution government could bring to their door step is that they should pay more for electricity, they should pay more to buy petrol.
“This hardship is getting too much. So, whatever solution we are bringing must be holistic; something that everybody will feel that the country belongs to all of us sir.
“I can send to you many communications from the labour movement suggesting solutions and now we have found ourselves in this situation but the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are suffering and it is our responsibility as labour centres to fight for their rights, to protect their interest. N30,000 minimum wage was agreed last year and now there is increase in PMS price, increase in the tariff of electricity, introduction of stamp duty and some other hardships on the workers and their families,” he lamented.
NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, on his part, said that part of the challenge was that the new increases also reduced the purchasing power and eroded the gains that have been made with the minimum wage.
He said that the increase had impacted negatively on workers, many of whom are yet to benefit from the new minimum wage.
Earlier, the minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said that the government called the meeting in an attempt to ameliorate the pains that the deregulation of the petroleum price and the increase in electricity tariff may have caused.
He said that the government was determined to persuade labour not to go ahead with its protest and was ready to discuss elaborately.
The minister said: “With that we think that we can resolve issues and nobody will be in the mood to go on strike or go on demonstrations in the street because I want to reiterate that this country belongs to all of us.”
The government team which was led by Mustapha also included the minister of state for Labour, Festus Keyamo (SAN); minister of Power, Saleh Mamman; minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN); minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, among others.
The labour team was led by Wabba; TUC president, Quadri Olaleye; secretary-general of TUC, Musa Ozigi-Lawal; president of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Festus Osifo and the president of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria, Williams Akporeha, among others.
Following their disagreements on the issues, both the government and labour resolved to continue the talks on Monday at 3pm.
Meanwhile, the National Industrial Court (NIC) has granted an order of interim injunction restraining the NLC and TUC, their officers, affiliates and privies from embarking on any strike
or stopping of work from Monday next week. The order was sequel to an ex-parte application filed by the Incorporated Trustees of Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association through their
counsel, Sanusi Musa.
Ruling on the application, the trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Galadima, held that the order was pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
The court also granted an order of interim injunction restraining the unions, their officers, affiliates, privies from disrupting, restraining, picketing or preventing the workers or its affiliates or ordinary Nigerians from accessing their offices to carry out their legitimate duties on Monday or any other date.
The court also granted an order compelling the Inspector-General of Police and the director- general of the Department of State Services (DSS) to provide protection for workers engaged in their legitimate duties from any form of harassment, intimidation and bullying by the officers, agents or privies of the unions pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
Banks, Others To Join Labour Strike
Also yesterday, the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFE) said its members will join the organized labour to embark on their industrial action set to commence on Monday.
In a circular to all zonal and domestic committee councils of NUBIFE, the union urged its members in banks, insurance companies as well as financial institutions to ensure full compliance to the strike action.
The circular which was signed by the general secretary of the union, Muhammed Sheihk reads: “The National Executive Council of Nigeria Labour Congress in their meeting on Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, resolved to embark on a nationwide strike as from Monday, 28th September, 2020 over the hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff.
“In this regard, you are therefore directed by this letter to ensure total compliance of this directive by your organisation/zonal council. We promise to keep you posted as events unfold.”
NLC Inaugurates Committee In Nasarwa To Mobilise Workers For Protest
Meanwhile, the NLC, Nasarawa State chapter, has set up a five-man committee to mobilise workers ahead of the nationwide protest and possible strike scheduled for Monday.
The committee were set up yesterday in Lafia at the State Executive Council (SEC) meeting of the union to inform them about the planned protest and possible strike over increase in price of electricity and petrol.
NLC chairman, Comrade Yusuf Turaki Iya, said the committee’s responsibility is to coordinate and mobilise members from various affiliates towards ensuring successful protest and possible strike if the government fails to reverse its decision.
He added that the committee would also coordinate the printing of posters, press releases, placards among others to ensure workers from the state participate in the planned action by the union.
He explained that already most of the affiliates had gotten circulars on the action from their national headquarters directing them to join the action to pressurize the government to resent their decision.
He said the affiliates who are yet to get a circular from their headquarters concerning the planned action would get it today.
He also directed affiliates to call meetings of their unions to step down the decision reached at the SEC with the view of proper mobilisation.
Comrade Iya described as unfortunate decisions to increase electricity tariff and price of fuel given the hardship the masses were already facing.
The NLC chairman in the state also assured members that the leadership of the union would always give priority to their welfare.
He called on workers to remain calm as they await further directive on the planned national protest and strike from the leadership of the union.
FG To Address Petroleum Products Transport Safety Challenges
In another development, the federal government has expressed worry over the growing incidence of accidents on the nation’s road involving trucks transporting petroleum products across the country.
To this effect, the government said that it was reviving the railway system as well as investing heavily on the light rail system to provide alternative means of transporting petroleum products.
President Muhammadu Buhari is poised to address the safety challenges facing the transport sector, especially trucks carrying petroleum products.
The minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, disclosed this while speaking at a Workshop on ‘Truck Renewal Policy’ organised by the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) in Abuja yesterday.
The minister who was represented by an assistant director in the minister, Mrs Oniremi Joke, said the government was developing a strategic plan for controlling trucks on major highways.
She said one of the strategic plans is the development of Truck Transit Parks.
While commending the associations for organizing the workshop with the theme, “Truck Renewal System, Ensuring Road Transport Safety”, the minister stated that the forum was not only timely, but apt considering the spate of accidents involving trucks across the country leading to loss of lives and properties.
On President Buhari’s concern about the state of accidents, she said: “As you are aware, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, is poised to addressing some of the safety challenges facing the transport sector in order to save lives and maintain sanity by building and expanding more roads.
“Also, in order to lessen the pressure on Federal roads, the Government is reviving the railway system as well as investing heavily on the light rail system.
“However, the replacement of old sub-standard trucks with modern trucks equipped with safety devices for the transportation of petroleum products is an alternative that must be followed by Road Transport Unions and Associations”.
In his opening speech, MOMAN chairman, Adetunji Oyebanji, said that the forum was put together as part efforts in improving road transport safety in the petroleum downstream. MOMAN and NARTO, he stated, organised the conference to discuss fleet renewal that would ensure the replacement of trucks in the fleet of transporters, which do not meet the safety requirements of trucks designated for the transportation of dangerous goods.
“The conference will enable all major players involved in regulation, service providers, financial institutions and key users involved in petroleum transportation by road to have a discuss on a frame work on truck renewal that will guarantee sustainability of the business,” he stated.He emphasised the need to transport products by alternative means saying, “All over the world, the transportation of petroleum product is carried out by pipelines, rails and road. Movement of product by pipeline is considered the most efficient and safest compared to rail and road. The pipeline system which was used in the early 1990s in Nigeria, had to be discontinued due to integrity issues on the pipeline which made road transportation become the major means of petroleum transportation in today Nigeria.”
On his part, the national president of NARTO, Alhaji Yusuf Othman charged government to create the enabling environment for them to participate actively in the development of the sector.