Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Organised labour has threatened that it may embark on strike if all entreaties to get the federal government to reverse the recent increase in the price of petrol fail.
They said they would not honour further negotiations with the government unless it sees reason to revert it to the former pump price.
Addressing a press conference on the fallout of last Sunday’s botched meeting between the federal government and the labour leaders, the Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajero, said the organised labour was surprised at the manner the government went ahead to implement further increase in fuel price while negotiations in the last price increase was still ongoing.
He said for any meaningful dialogue to continue between both parties, the government would have to do the needful by reversing the increase in petrol price.
Ajero said: “The committee on tariff and others are still meeting, and before we could do the next meeting, the government increased the petrol pump prices. The best thing for that discussion to go ahead in good faith is for the government to return at the point we were before we continue discussion, and that was exactly what happened yesterday, and I really don’t think that it is out of place. I think that the government would do the needful for us to continue.”
On whether NLC will embark on industrial action based on the alleged government’s violation of its agreement, Ajero said it had not gotten to that extent, adding that organised labour will first reach out, and that if other means fail, strike might be the last option.
According to him, “On the issue of whether we are going on strike immediately or not, I don’t think we operate that way in the labour movement. Our strike was suspended based on certain understanding and those understanding were being violated, and that was why we raised that alarm yesterday, which led to the walk out.
“We cannot call out here to announce a strike as the next strategy as if the unions are a one-man organisation. Part of what we are doing in terms of engagement is to reach out, and if every channel fails, strike is usually the last option by any union.
“We don’t just at the slightest provocation start talking about strike. I think that that is not what is on the table now. There are certain disagreements which we are trying to address.”
Ajero stated that walk out is not industrial action, nor a go slow, adding that it is not lock out or lock in.
“Walk out is an expression of anger, and means of easing tension instead of us to be on the same table and somebody stands up to insult the other, you take a walk,” he said.
Speaking on the dispute over deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector, Ajero said organised labour can’t accept deregulation that is import-driven, and “that the refineries must work before we think of going into price fixing.
“If we say that we can’t accept deregulation that is import-driven and that the refineries must work before you think of it, and then you go into price fixing.
“Price fixing is not the same thing as deregulation. You cannot regulate in a deregulated market. If they have deregulated the price of product in Sokoto, it will not be the same thing with that of Abuja, there will be variations.”
On whether Nigerians have lost faith in labour, the NLC scribe said: “We did not buy it with money, and we won’t equally buy them reposing that confidence in us with money. I think what has happened in the past is that even in the last agreement, there seems to be government interpretation of it, and may be what we understood in it is that either the two parties, one of them seems not to understand the content of that agreement.”