By Williams Anuku, Abuja
In an apparent move to restore public confidence in labour struggles, especially in the light of recent increment in fuel and electricity tariffs, leaderships of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress have explained why they staged a walkout on a meeting with government representatives on Sunday night.
According to the apex labour bodies, their actions were necessitated by a breach of trust on the part of the government.
At a joint press conference to justify their actions, on Monday, in Abuja, Deputy President of NLC, Muhammed Nasir Idris said they felt slighted by government, because part of an agreement that culminated in the suspension of a nationwide protest on September 28, 2020, was to create a framework for fixing the existing refineries, entrusting them to efficient managements including creating enabling environment for new refineries to be built and palliative schemes that would enable citizens to bear the brunt of these economic policies.
Nasir regretted that rather than taking immediate steps to address these issues, the government unilaterally endorsed the increase of Premium Motor Spirit, from N161 to between N168-170 per litre.
“From the foregoing, it is clear that the government is not prepared for a sincere and honest dialogue on finding a lasting solution to the twin issues of the petroleum price increase and electricity tariffs. And this is in spite of the patriotic understanding of labour which has drawn the flak of the public which think we are not doing enough to protect their interests on issues of petroleum products and electricity tariffs,” the Deputy NLC President told reporters at the gathering.
Meanwhile, Joe Ajaero, now Deputy President of NLC, also ruled out any strike by the organised labour, at least for the interim, insisting that they were only registering their displeasure against a government which claims it has enshrined a system of full deregulation of the downstream oil industry, only to go behind and be fixing prices for petroleum products.
To buttress labour’s position, Ajaero said, “our earlier proposed strike was suspended based on certain understanding and we felt it was being violated, part of our actions is to reach out and register our displeasure over that breach of agreement, it does not mean we are calling for a strike, the strike is usually the last option on the table.
“Regarding the loss of interest or fate in the labour movement, we didn’t buy that trust with money and we will not trade it for money too, if the government says it can regulate in a deregulated market, we have clearly said that is not acceptable to us, our response is what matters.
“We had an agreement with them for which we were still meeting, and the government went ahead to increase the price, that is a violation of our initial agreement, a walkout is an expression of anger, its another means of easing tension, we could re-convene at a later date, it is certainly not a strike notice”.
Recall that following a lengthy negotiation between the government and labour stakeholders, earlier in September this year, the latter had shelved it proposed strike and protest to the disappointment of many Nigerians on the 28th of September 2020 on allegations that the labour movement may have been cowed.
Labour said it was compelled to toll that path on the understanding that government will take immediate steps to fix the existing refineries, entrust them to efficient managers, and do things that would ensure enhanced and sustainable local refining capacity.
Nasir said, “you would recall that following our notice to government to protest the increase in the pump price of petroleum products and electricity tariff, government reached out to labour not to proceed on its nationwide protest, that was slated for 28th September 2020.
“Terms and conditions for putting the protest on hold were clearly spelt out in the Memorandum of Understanding. The conditions include fixing the existing refineries, entrusting them to efficient managements, creating an enabling environment for new refineries.
“Furthermore, the Government/Labour Committee was set up to review the increase in electricity tariff. Nothing in the agreement gives government license to embark upon a pain-inducing and life-crippling increase in the pump price of petroleum products at this difficult time.
“Indeed, the letter and spirit of the terms and conditions of the agreement presuppose that contemplation of an increase would constitute a breach of the dialogue”.