Fuel subsidy: NLC and affiliates disagree on strike suspension

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The ongoing issue over the elimination of fuel subsidies appears to have generated a significant schism within the country’s labor organizations, particularly the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.

The union had previously stated that it will begin a strike today, Wednesday, June 7.

However, following a meeting with the Federal Government, the NLC leadership decided to call off the strike.

Following a similar meeting with the FG, the Trade Union Congress, TUC, was the first to toe that line, with the NLC absent from the prior dialogue.

The development has not gone over well with state union chapters, who believe they were not kept informed before their leaders made a deal with the federal government.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who led the government delegation, disclosed the resolutions reached with the labour unions after a meeting at the Aso Villa.

According to him, the Federal Government, the TUC and the NLC would establish a joint committee to review the proposal for any wage increase or award and establish a framework and timeline for implementation.

“The Federal Government, the TUC and the NLC would review the World Bank Financed Cash transfer scheme and propose the inclusion of low-income earners in the programme”, the communique reads in part.

A chairman of the NLC in one of the states said that their members were not happy with the hasty withdrawal of the industrial action without the Federal Government shifting ground on the main issue.

He spoke after the NLC convened a National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting on Tuesday, to inform their members of the latest development.

The State chairman, who was not pleased with the outcome of the meeting said: “It was a one agenda meeting to brief us on their resolution with the federal government.

“You have seen the communique the national body signed; they have confirmed to us they were part of it. All those things stated therein were the issues they raised before the federal government.

“So we will set up a technical committee that will look at them and come up with a lasting solution, so to speak, that will help to assuage the sufferings of the people with regard to the removal of the fuel subsidy.

“There was nothing much. We were briefed and they informed us that they were part of those items in the communique; that it was their agreement.

“For me and some others also, I expected a situation where the new price regime would have been suspended. The issues that were raised should hold sway but they have to suspend the price regime while this discussion goes on.

“That would have made them to hasten the discussion and come up with a workable agreement. Thereafter, the new price regime can now come in.

“But since they have decided to put the horse before the cart, then let it be. That’s just the resolution as contained in that document. They are meeting on June 19th, it’s on that day that the technical committee will take off.

“Of course, it has to be as soon as possible. It’s not going to be an indefinite thing.”

Recall that the NLC had last Friday directed its members and affiliates to begin nationwide protest and withdrawal of services from Wednesday (today) if the federal government fails to compel the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL, to reverse the petrol pump price increase.

On Wednesday last week, the NNPCL announced a new fuel price template nationwide. The effect saw fuel pump prices increase from N197 per litre to over N500 nationwide.

The development followed President Bola Tinubu’s inaugural speech announcing the removal of fuel subsidy.

Tinubu had promised he would stop the controversial scheme if elected president.

He spoke before the February 25 election at a business luncheon with business owners titled: “Business Forward” in Lagos, where he hinted that, no matter how long people protest, it would not stop him from removing fuel subsidies.

He maintained that Nigeria would not continue to subsidise fuel consumption in neighbouring countries.

“How can we subsidise the fuel consumption of Cameroon, Niger, and the Benin Republic. No matter how long you protest, we are going to remove the subsidy,” he said.

Although former President Muhammadu Buhari’s government had announced the subsidy policy would end by June when the budget for the initiative would expire, Tinubu bears the brunt of its implementation.

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Prior to the announcement of the suspension of the strike, the Federal Government had approached the National Industrial Court in Abuja seeking an interim order restraining the NLC and the TUC from going on strike as planned, pending the determination of the motion on notice.

NGOLADITV reported that the National Industrial Court granted the FG’s application and ordered the Labour unions not to strike.

The FG had submitted that the proposed strike could disrupt economic activities, the health sector and the educational sector.

They also claimed that the strike may gravely affect the larger society and the well-being of the nation at large.

Meanwhile, the TUC has demanded that the “minimum wage should be increased from the current N30,000 to N200,000 before the end of June 2023, with consequential adjustment on the cost of feeding allowance, like feeding, transport, and housing”.

While addressing journalists on Monday, the union’s President, Mr Festus Osifo, and General Secretary, Mr Nuhu Toro called for the immediate implementation of the demands, including a Tax holiday for government and private sector employees earning less than N200,000 or 500USD monthly.

TUC also asked that “A representative of state governors would be a party to any negotiation and must commit to implementing the new minimum wage.”

They also called for introducing PMS Allowance for workers that earn between N200,000 to N500,000 or 500USD to 1,200USD.

The NLC said the authorities should have listened to the poor masses before removing the fuel subsidy.

Prof Oguguo Egwu, the Ebonyi State chairman of the Congress, made the remark in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, on Monday in Abakaliki.

“The increase has led to the suffering of the masses. Imagine paying N550 per litre of fuel in Ebonyi here. Go back to the status quo and let us have room for negotiation. There is a need to listen to the poor.

“The federal government can do it without inflicting injury on citizens. Make sure that the people are not suffering. Have the interest of the masses at heart and not cause injury to them,” Egwu said.

On his part, the Enugu State chairman of the NLC, Comrade Barrister Fabian Nwigbo, told DAILY POST in an interview that the national body of the NLC would be meeting by 2 pm on Tuesday (yesterday) to deliberate on the communique reached with the federal government.

Nwigbo lamented that the action being taken by the Federal Government, including its meeting with the NLC, is belated because people are already suffering.

He stated that the government should have put in place measures and palliatives to cushion the effect of the new policy.

”The national body has just invited us for a meeting at 2 pm today (Tuesday), and I think it is in line with that information on social media. So we, all of us in different States, have been discussing on our platform, waiting for that meeting to know whether that was what happened in that meeting, and then the way forward.

”But for now, we have not been properly briefed. I only got a message this morning inviting me to a virtual meeting by 2 pm. at the national office.

“So the practice is that since we had our emergency NEC last Friday, we were told not to do anything other than issues raised and agreed upon during that meeting, one may not comfortably discuss those items in that communique without hearing from the national.

”I cannot say exactly whether they (States) are carried along because I don’t have that privilege of that information. However, it is normal for state governments to wait and decide from agreements between labour or critical stakeholders and the federal government.

“So states will not come out now to say, remove fuel subsidy or don’t remove fuel subsidy, or we will do this or do that. They are waiting for that to be concluded at the national level. And after that decision, they will be given direction on what to do.

“I am aware that the presidency is saying that it has discussed with the Governors and that discussion will continue regarding what should be the palliatives that will help cushion the effect of this fuel subsidy removal.

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“But to me, those things are belated. If you want to remove fuel subsidies, after removing them, you start talking about how to improve things for people; it is belated.

“Ordinarily, even with the communique that is coming now, issues ought to have been discussed and the communique in place before he removed the fuel subsidy.

”What I am saying in effect is that whatever they are doing now, even the meeting between the NLC and government representatives, for me, it’s belated; people are already suffering.

“And you know, in Nigeria, once the commodities prices have already stepped up, they can never come down, no matter what you decide. But there is nothing we can do; we will continue.

“If we succeed in our actions by his grace, the government may decide to put in our agreement certain things that may help people survive this harsh condition that the federal government has put everybody into.”

However, the Director-General of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies, MINILS, Ilorin, Comrade Issa Aremu, hailed the ongoing dialogue between FG and the Labour union.

Comrade Aremu said that the current policy debate is good for national development, adding that what is needed is to “work out win-win options” for the downstream petroleum sector in particular and Nigeria as a whole.

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 downstream petroleum sector, which he said the sector unions, namely PENGASSAN and NUPENG, have been pushing for years.

“Neither policy reversal nor mass protest is an option, but genuine negotiation and social dialogue would make the deregulation policy a reality without compromising the welfare of the citizens with respect to welfare and securing jobs,” he said.

Comrade Aremu commended the initiative of President Bola Tinubu for meeting with labour leaders, which he described as “not only labour friendly but a leader that is accessible and open to engagement”.

He challenged labour and civil society to reciprocate the presidential gesture with creative options to protect public and private jobs.

Meanwhile, the NLC says it has rejected the ruling of the National Industrial Court, NIC, favouring the Federal Government against the interest of the masses and workers in the country.

Mr Joe Ajaero, NLC President said this in a communique jointly signed with Mr Emmanuel Ugboaja, General Secretary of the Congress at the end of an emergency National Executive Council, NEC, meeting on Tuesday in Abuja.

It said that the NEC meeting was called to discuss the outcome of the dialogue between the NLC and the Federal Government on the petroleum product price hike.

The NLC said the NEC in session resolved that there was a need to show the government that it was important to comply with laid down laws and court rulings.

“Especially as it concerns obedience to the rulings of the Courts and their brazen disregard to the 2023 Appropriation Act.

“To therefore support and accept the decision of the leadership of Congress to suspend the proposed strike action in compliance with the flawed rulings of the NIC.

“Also to allow negotiations to flow freely and enable final agreement during or after the 19th June, 2023, negotiation round with the federal government.

“To however register in strongest terms its disgust and disapproval with the ruling of the NIC for its continuous weaponization of the instrument of Exparte injunction in favour of the government.

“That it is against the interests of Nigerian workers in defiance of the position of the Supreme Court on the use of this instrument,” the communique read.

Congress further stated that all Affiliates and State Councils of Congress are hereby directed to suspend further action and mobilisation until the outcome of the final negotiations.

The communiqué commended all Affiliates and State Councils on their robust mobilisation towards a successful nationwide strike and to also remain vigilant in case there is a need to continue.

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