The meeting between the federal government, labour unions and civil society groups over the increase in petrol price and electricity tariff, again, ended without a resolution.
The Thursday meeting ended hours after a court granted an interim order barring the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) from embarking on a protest or strike over the price hike.
The Thursday meeting is the second in one week as the government moves to placate the labour unions not to embark on strike over the price increase. A previous meeting held last week was also inconclusive.
The latest meeting took place at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa between 3 and 9 p.m. on Thursday.
Speaking after the meeting, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, appealed to the unions to put off their planned strike.
“Some progress was made and both sides had agreed certain palliatives should be put in place to cushion the harsh effect of the increases on the citizenry. Fruitful meeting. They are going back to their organs. When they consult their organs tomorrow, next tomorrow maybe they will take a new decision,” he said.
He said the meeting has been adjourned to September 28 to allow all parties consult their members over issues raised at the meeting.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how labour unions threatened to embark on a nationwide protest on September 28, if the federal government fails to revert the prices of fuel and electricity tariff.
Electricity distribution companies hiked their tariffs from about N30.23 to about N62.33 per kWh after the federal government said it would no longer subsidise electricity consumption.
The price of petrol also increased from about N145 to about N161 per litre after the removal of subsidy.
During the meeting, Mr Ngige said the President Trade Union Congress (TUC), Quadri Olaleye, did not follow the due process in communicating the resolution of the union to embark on an industrial action. He said that rather than communicate with his office, the unionist did so through social media.
“I will not sit on this seat and allow this to continue. All correspondence to government, President should come to the Ministry of Labour, that is the channel. If I do not react, you can report me by doing a reportage to a higher authority but as far as Nigeria is concerned, I am the competent authority here on labour matters,” he said.
“So my friend, the new president of TUC, I don’t want to start altercation before we start our technical session but I want to put the record straight for you so that in case your Secretary-General has not educated you properly, then let him do so. You have no business with the President of Nigeria. Your place of business is with Ministry of Labour and Employment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.
In his reaction, the TUC president disagreed with the minister.
“I want to disagree with you with due respect to your office. We honour your office and we will not do anything to undermine your office but this issue is the issue that Mr President himself has to handle.
“We are not talking about the minimum wage, increase or any price with government, we are talking about economic issues and we have elected Mr President to lead and that is why we have addressed that issue to him,” Mr Olaleye said.
The unionist said the government’s policy was inflicting hardship on Nigerians.
“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,” he said.
“No more middle class and these are the things we need people to look into if we actually want peace in the country. 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 doorstep is that they should pay more for electricity, they should pay more to buy petrol,” he said.
Speaking after the meeting, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, simply said: “meeting adjourned”.
Mr Wabba refused to speak on the discussions held and the NLC’s next line of action, even though the next meeting has been scheduled for the day the NLC planned to embark on its protest.
Earlier, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said the removal of subsidy on petrol and electricity was in the interest of Nigerians.
He said the decision “though perceived as harsh, was never intended to cause great pain or erode the wellbeing of the citizenry.”
He said President Buhari had in 2015 rejected the deregulation of the petroleum sector when it was presented to him by the presidential transition committee.
“Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report. There was the need to consider seriously the issues relating to deregulation of the petroleum sector, and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency, within the power on what needed to be done,” he 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. But little did we know that we will be confronted in one or two years, that was after the implementation of the minimum wage, with a pandemic which hit the entire world and has completely disrupted even the strongest of the economy to the extent of each and every country of the world today are trying to find a solution to the economic disruption COVID-19 has brought to the entire world,” he said.
While the meeting between the government team and labour leaders was ongoing, the National Industrial Court in Abuja, granted an order of interim injunction restraining the NLC and the TUC from embarking on any strike.
The judge, Ibrahim Galadima, also restrained the NLC and TUC from stopping work in whatsoever form as planned from September 28 or any other subsequent date pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice.
The court also granted an order of interim injunction restraining the unions 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 September 28, or any other subsequent date pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.
The judge gave the order following an ex-parte application filed by a relatively unknown group called Incorported Trustees of Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association through their counsel, Sanusi Musa.
The court ordered the police and the State Security Service to ensure no one seeking to go to work on September 28 is prevented by the two labour unions.
The court order was given while the meeting was ongoing and it appeared none of the attenddees at the meeting had been briefed about the order as none of them spoke about it.