Wednesday, September 16, 2020

FG, Labour’s eight-hour meeting ends in deadlock


                                     Chris Ngige

An eight- hour meeting involving the Federal Government , the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress ended in a deadlock on Tuesday, following the inability of the parties to reach a consensus .

While the organised labour was demanding the reversal of the hikes in the price of petrol and electricity tariffs , the Federal Government pleaded for understanding , saying it could not sustain the fuel subsidy .

Although the government team made presentations on its policies, it didn ’ t specify how the effects of the hikes in electricity and petroleum products would be alleviated .

Also on Tuesday, the TUC has said the indefinite strike and nationwide protest billed to commence from Wednesday , September 23, would hold as planned.

The congress had issued a seven - day ultimatum to the government on Monday , threatening to embark on an indefinite strike if the Federal Government failed to revert to the old electricity tariff and the price of petrol.

Olaleye in response to inquiries said in a text message at 6:30 pm on Tuesday said , “ The ultimatum still stands ; no acceptable explanation was presented . Still in the meeting. ”

The dialogue which held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja , began around 11 am and dragged on till past 7 pm without a resolution on the issues raised by the organized labour.

The parties , however , agreed that the unions should go for consultations with their executive council members and return for the second leg of the meeting at a future date .

The labour unions are expected to hold an expanded meeting today ( Wednesday ) , where they would take a final position on the issues raised at the dialogue and revert back to the government .

The Minister of Labour and Employment , Chris Ngige led the government team to the parley which also had in attendance the Minister of State , Labour, Festus Keyamo ( SAN); Minister of Power , Saleh Mamman; Minister of Works and Housing , Babatunde Fashola ( SAN) and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva and others .

The labour team was led by the NLC President , Ayuba Wabba ; President of the TUC , Quadri Olaleye , Secretary -General of the TUC , Musa Lawal , Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria President , Festus Osifo and the President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria , Williams Akporeha, among others .

In his welcome address, Ngige said there was an urgent need for all stakeholders in the country to join hands to fashion out “ how we can survive the economic challenges imposed by the COVID - 19 pandemic. ”

He said the meeting was “ a bilateral dialogue between us as Nigerians to consider the state of the economy and events that have necessitated recent increases in electricity tariff and the price of Premium Motor Spirit . ”

But Wabba argued that the high prices of petroleum products and electricity tariff had erased the gains of the minimum wage .

He faulted the government for unilaterally fixing the prices of electricity and petrol without consultations with Nigerians.

According to him , many Nigerians are struggling to survive because of the high cost of living occasioned by the government ’ s recent policies which included the increase in the Value Added Tax .

Wabba stated, “ The question now is what do you have on the table to actually cushion the effect on workers and their families because they have been pushed to the wall . They are already enraged .

“ Do you have anything for us so that we can say yes, despite this challenges , this is what I have for Nigerian workers so that they can have something that can cushion this effect for them ?

“ Already , the value of the minimum wage has been eroded ; that is the reality. If Ghana compares their minimum wage with our own , you will see their minimum wage . ”

He accused the government of transferring the “ inefficiency in the subsidy regime ” to the consumers which they ( consumers ) have to pay through the hike in price .

The NLC president admonished the government to fix the nation ’ s refineries and stop lining the pockets of fuel through a fraudulent subsidy regime .

Wabba noted , “ I agree with Mr President that subsidy is a fraud but do we address it or transfer it to the customers ? That is where the issue is . We don’ t need to transfer it to the customers .

“ More than 90 countries of the world actually have minimum wage on this . Those are the issues that are biting very hard and workers and citizens are crying aloud that there is much burden on them .

“ We have increased VAT, we have increased some taxes , we have increased now the fuel price and the electricity tariff . An ordinary worker can’ t pay those charges. In fact , higher-level officers are complaining seriously . This is the predicament we are in.

“ Therefore let us also look for solutions . How do we mitigate this impact which is very pronounced on workers?”

On his part, the TUC president asked the government to reverse the recent price hikes , which he said , had been biting Nigerians hard.

Olaleye stated, “ Nigerian workers are crying and the populace is also crying . Last December , we were so happy that when we signed the minimum wage agreement and Nigerian workers were happy that their lots were increased .

“ Unfortunately , now they are crying . By calculation , we are losing an additional 15 per cent of what we gained as a result of the signing minimum wage. For somebody who is paid N 6, 666 as increment , now he is losing not less than N 25, 000 from his income . The N 6, 666 is going , additional N 15, 000 is added . ”

Sylva in his presentations stated that the FG had yet to begin the full deregulation of the downstream sector “ because of the desire of President Buhari not to inflict more pains on the masses. ”

The minister emphasized that the landing cost of petrol is N 163 but it was being sold for N 161 per litre, indicating that full deregulation was yet to take off in the country .

He said going by the current exchange rate, the products could have been sold at N 183 per litre.

He also said the FG spent N 10. 4 trillion on petrol subsidy between 2016 and 2019, stressing that the country was losing N 1 billion daily to fuel subsidy between 2016-2019.

He added that the country was in a bad shape because of the crash of crude oil globally.

“ We have not fully deregulated because of the concerns the government has for Nigerians. Price of fuel could go up to N 183 per litre going by the current rate of the dollar. We need to open up the economy, even though , the initial stage may bring pains to Nigerians, ” he stated.

The Federal Government two weeks ago increased the ex -depot price of petrol from N 138. 62 to N 147. 67, prompting marketers to adjust their petrol prices to between N 158 and N 162 from N 148 to N 150 in August . The ex - depot price is the price at which government sells petrol to marketer.

The fuel price hike came at a time electricity distribution companies increased their tariffs .

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