By Williams Anuku Abuja
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) on Tuesday told the Federal Government that the recent increase in the prices of petroleum products and electricity tariff were choking workers and Nigerians.
The organised labour also stated that the hikes had erased the gains recorded with the signing of the national minimum wage into law last year by President Muhammau Buhari.
President of the NLC, Ayubba Wabba, during a dialogue with government representatives on the state of the economy, faulted the federal government for unilaterally fixing 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 government’s recent policies which included increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT).
Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige led the government team to the dialogue which held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. It also had his junior minister, Festus Keyamo SAN; Minister of Power, Mamman; Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola SAN; Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva and others in attendance.
The labour team was led by Wabba, President of the TUC, Quadri Olaleye, Secretary General of the TUC, Musa Ozigi-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.
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 that they can be able to have something that can cushion this effect for them?
“Already, the value of the minimum wage have been eroded. The purchasing power parity when you compare with all West African countries we are already on the ground. That is the reality. If Ghana compares their minimum wage with our own you will see their minimum wage.”
He accused the federal government of transferring the “inefficiency in the subsidy regime” to the consumers which they (consumers) have to pay through hike in price.
The NLC president urged the government to fix the nation’s refinery and stop lining the pockets of fuel through a fraudulent subsidy regime.
Wabba said: “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 is 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 tariff on electricity. 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.
“Any time you increase the cost of petroleum product and electricity tariff they will transfer the cost to the consumer and therefore the cost of goods and services will go up. Clearly speaking, what we need to do is to protect these vulnerable group of people- the workers and the citizens.”
On his part, TUC president, Olaleye asked the government to reverse it recent increases and policies which have been biting Nigerians hard.
Although the government team made presentations on its policies, it didn’t specify how the effects of recent hikes in electricity and petroleum products would be alleviated.
The TUC president stated: “Nigerian workers are crying and the populace are also crying. Last year 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 additional 15 percent of what we gained as a result of signing minimum wage.
“For somebody who is paid N6,666 as increment now is losing not less than N25, 000 from his income. The N6, 666 is going additional N15, 000 is added.
“Let us remove the effect of Covid -19, our leaders, our representatives nothing has cc changed. We have not been able to discuss labour matters since February all in the name of there is Covid -19 but people that are signing budget, people that are sharing money on daily basis they meet either on zoom or physically. They meet and share those money but when they come to labour matters we have to remember that there is Covid -19.
“The questions are members are asking is that does it really means that the politicians represent the rich people in this country? Does it mean it is only labour that represent the poor people? Does it mean when we have economic predicament that is when we call Nigerians that we want to hear from them but when we have surpluses we hear nothing about it.
“I cannot remember any time in this country that we had surplus and Nigerian workers or populace will feel it on their Palm or in their pockets but when we have predicaments especially crude oil crash then labour will be called upon, let us see how we can rescue the economy. I think it is high time everybody bear their fathers’ name.”
Sylva stated that the federal government was 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 in presentation made at the dialogue on the economy stated that the reigning cost of petrol is N163 but it is sold for N161 per litre, which indicates that full deregulation is indeed yet to take off in the country.
He said going by the current exchange rate, the products could have been sold at N183 per litre.
He also said the federal government spent N10.4 trillion on petrol subsidy between 2016 and 2019.
The minister also said that the country was losing N1 billion daily to fuel subsidy between 2016-2019.
He added that the country is in bad shape because of the crash of crude oil globally.
“We have not fully deregulated because of the concerns government has for Nigerians. Price of fuel could go up to 183 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.
“Subsidy was not sustainable. Some of the past governments didn’t have political will to remove it.
We know that rise in prices will bring some pains to Nigerians. We are the first to admit that. We have thought of alternatives,” he stated.