Talks between the federal government and organised labour on recent hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff ended in a deadlock last night.
This was as the result of the mandate given by the National Industrial Court yesterday, restraining the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), their officers, affiliates and privies from embarking on any strike or stoppage of work next Monday.
The labour unions had earlier given the federal government a seven-day ultimatum to reverse the price and electricity tariff increase.
Both parties refused to budge at yesterday’s meeting between the federal government and the organised labour as they find a common ground on the recent increase in electricity tariff and fuel pump price.
The labour unions insisted they would proceed with the intended protest and industrial action except the government revert the status quo in respect of the price of petrol and electricity tariff.
The secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2015 resisted pressure to deregulate the oil sector because he felt the time was not right.
Boss Mustapha, said in his opening remarks at the commencement of the dialogue between the government’s team and organised labour that : “Five years down the line, that decision has become imperative and cannot be escaped; it is a decision that must have been painfully considered.
“The president has said that no government decision taken is intended to cause any pain or harm. Decisions that have been taken are of utmost interest to all people and working class.
“I had the privilege of working in the presidential transition committee set up by President Buhari and I remember the decisions that were presented to him. One of the decisions by the team considered as low hanging fruit in 2015 was deregulation, and I think President Buhari objected to it. Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report.
“There was the need to consider seriously the issues relating to deregulation of petroleum sector and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency within the power sector on what needed to be done. When the report was submitted to Buhari, his reaction was that the Nigerian people elected him not to inflict pain on them. He said though he considers that economically as a low hanging fruit, he felt that the time was not yet ripe for it, that the important thing is to manage before such decision will ever be taken.
“I am just sharing this reflection in order to put in perspective the fact that the decision was never intended to cause great pain and erode the wellbeing of our people.
“But little did we know that we will be confronted in one or two years – that was after the implementation of the minimum – with a pandemic which hit the entire world and has completely disrupted even the strongest of the economy to the extent that each and every countries of the world today are trying to find a solution to the economic disruption COVID-19 has brought to the entire world,” he said.
Quadri Olaleye, TUC president, blame the current disagreement on the refusal of the government to cooperate with labour.
He claims that labour had written to the government suggesting alternative ways to run the economy, but “nobody ever listened.”
Olaleye said: “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 door step is that they should pay more for electricity, they should pay more to buy petrol.
“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.
“I can send to you many communications from the labour movement suggesting solutions and now we have found ourselves in this situation but the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are suffering and it is our responsibility as labour centres to fight for their rights, to protect their interest. N30,000 minimum wage was agreed last year and now there is increase in PMS price, increase in the tariff of electricity, introduction of stamp duty and some other hardships on the workers and their families,” he lamented.
Earlier, the minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said that the government called the meeting in an attempt to ameliorate the pains that the deregulation of the petroleum price and the increase in electricity tariff may have caused.
He said that the government was determined to persuade labour not to go ahead with its protest and was ready to discuss elaborately.
The minister said: “With that we think that we can resolve issues and nobody will be in the mood to go on strike or go on demonstrations in the street because I want to reiterate that this country belongs to all of us.”
The government team which was led by Mustapha also included the minister of state for Labour, Festus Keyamo (SAN); minister of Power, Saleh Mamman; minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN); minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, among others.
The labour team was led by Wabba; TUC president, Quadri Olaleye; secretary-general of TUC, Musa Ozigi-Lawal; president of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Festus Osifo and the president of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria, Williams Akporeha, among others.
Following their disagreements on the issues, both the government and labour resolved to continue the talks on Monday at 3pm.