The meeting held last night between the federal government and organised labour aimed at averting threats of a crippling nationwide strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to protest the removal of the subsidy on petrol and the consequential hike in the price of the commodity ended in a deadlock, as both sides remained unyielding but have agreed to continue the meeting today at 3 pm.
Sources who participated in the meeting said the unions informed the government team that they would only rescind their resolve to embark on the nationwide strike if it accepted their demands for a review of the minimum wage, improvement in the palliatives to cushion the effects of the fuel price hike on the citizenry, and reconstitution of the board of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
A source said that though the government team acknowledged that their demands were genuine, they informed the union representatives that their insistence on a review of the minimum wage was ill-timed and could not be met due to the precipitous drop of government revenue brought on by low oil prices.
He explained, however, that the government representatives promised that certain palliatives had been included in the 2016 budget to cater to the most needy in the society, but this was rejected by the labour unions who pressed ahead for their demand for a revision of the minimum wage despite repeated reminders that the federal and several states government were finding it next to impossible to meet the current wage bill of civil servants.
The meeting which kicked off at about 6.30 pm had in attendance Mr. Ayuba Wabba, the factional President of NLC, Mr. Joe Ajaero, President of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Mr. Igwe Achese, and President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Mr. Olabode Johnson.
On the government side, the team was led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal; Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, President of the TUC, Mr. Bobboi Bala Kiagama, NLC General Secretary, Mr. Peter Ozo-Eson, and the acting General Secretary of Trade Union Congress, Mr. Simeso Amachree, among others.
Also in attendance were the Edo State Governor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole who was there to mediate between both sides, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, and the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly, Sen. Ita Enang, among others
Emerging from the meeting, which held in the SGF’s office till after 11 pm, Babachir informed journalists who had laid siege on the venue of the meeting that the “discussions were frank and honest”.
He said they decided to adjourn to today to resume talks at 3 pm.
Also commenting, Oshiomhole, who was once a president of the NLC and had led many strikes against fuel price hikes, tried to impress it on the unions that they would need to be flexible.
He said: You’ve organised strikes and those strikes have not helped in increasing wages. So it is time to make tough choices. The president is socially concerned but the fundamentals have changed.”
On his part, Wabba said: “We discussed those issues, including the demands we made. Then government presented its position, but as you are aware, our organisations are very democratic so we need to go back and consult before our meeting tomorrow (today).”
At a separate briefing, Achese said: To us, it’s not a surprise that government is considering deregulation, but our concern is: can we survive it?
“The present minimum wage is not sustainable. Government should have the political will to put smiles on the faces of the people through palliatives; until that is done, we will continue to fight, because Nigerian workers must see the dividend of what they voted for.
“However, whatever gains we realise from this deal, we will be able to invest it in building refineries.”