By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
In a bid to stave off the looming mass action being planned by the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), the federal government has fixed another meeting with members of the organized labour movement for Thursday.
The two labour unions had threatened to commence nationwide industrial action and protest along with their civil society allies from Monday, September 28 to compel government to reverse the recent hike in pump price of fuel and electricity tariff.
A statement signed by the Deputy Director (Press) in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr. Charles Akpan, said the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige “will be hosting a meeting with the organised labour on Thursday, 24th September at the Banquet hall, Presidential Vila by 3 pm”.
Although the agenda of the meeting was not stated, THISDAY gathered that the meeting is a continuation of an earlier one held between labour leaders and the federal government team led by Ngige at the Presidential Villa last week which failed to reach any agreement.
At the dialogue session, Ngige said that 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 meant to consider the state of the economy and events that have necessitated recent increases in electricity tariff and the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS)”.
Also the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Timipreye Sylva, along with the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other heads of agencies in the energy sector tried to justify the federal government’s action.
The federal government team said that the country’s economy could no longer carry subsidy burden with the increased pressure put on it by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But, the NLC disagreed with the reasons presented by the government side, insisting that the new increases in fuel price and electricity tariff, coupled with other increases in Value Added Tax were ill timed.
The NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, regretted that the hike in cost of fuel and electricity tariff by government has further aggravated the economic hardship facing Nigerians.
He said that NLC’s position is that government should put on hold the implementation of the new price increases on fuel and electricity tariff until it is able to address some of the basic issues bedevilling the power and electricity sub sectors.
He said that Nigerian workers who have lost their jobs and means of livelihoods due to Covid-19 imposed challenges are being forced to make further sacrifices through an unbearable increase in prices of fuel and electricity tariff.
The President of TUC, Comrade Quadri Olaleye, who led a team of his executive to the talks, kicked against what he described as an attempt by the government side to shift the discussion from the concerns over fuel and electricity tariff hike to the sliding economy.
He said that workers are presently losing about 15 per cent of their wages as a result of the various price hikes.
Olaleye said that the union still maintains its position contained in its seven-day ultimatum that the federal government should reverse the policies that yielded the increases in fuel and electricity tariff.