Labour insists on strike as FG unveils palliatives

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FILE: Minister of Education, Professor Adamu Adamu (left); Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige; President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba; Deputy President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Victor Osoduko and President ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi
FILE: Minister of Education, Professor Adamu Adamu (left); Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige; President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba; Deputy President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Victor Osoduko and President ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi

Organised labour is pressing ahead with its planned anti-fuel price hike strike across the country tomorrow despite spirited efforts by the federal government and the 36 state governors to stave off the strike.

Not even a list of palliatives offered by the federal government to the workers seems to be making any impression on them.

A peace meeting convened on Saturday in Abuja by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) with labour representatives yielded no fruit.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC), which is organising the strike with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said yesterday that there was no stopping the action.

Civil servants at federal and state levels declared their readiness for the strike despite the Friday warning by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Folasade Yemi-Esan, to workers on the payroll of the federal government not to join the planned strike.

Mrs. Esan cited the National Industrial Arbitration Court’s interim injunctions restraining the strike’s organisers from proceeding with their plan.

The President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Innocent Bola-Audu, responding to the warning yesterday, said that federal workers “are joining the strike. It is as simple as that.”

The federal government, in a last gasp effort to prevent the strike, has offered five categories of palliatives to the workers, including the extension of the N500 billion COVID-19 intervention funds to them.

But labour says while it remains open to resumption of talks with government tomorrow, it is not “too keen” on the palliatives.

A highly-placed government source said: “The government has worked round the clock to put some palliatives in place to mitigate the effects of fuel price increase and the hike in electricity tariffs.

“We have limited resources but we are bending backwards to adjust to accommodate the workers’ demand without hurting the economy.

“For example, Nigerian workers will benefit from the N500 billion set aside for COVID-19 intervention funds in one form or the other. This is why we are also engaging the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in the talks with labour.

“The agriculture loans we are giving to 240,000 workers will be interest free to enable them augment their salaries. The nation’s constitution allows workers to own farmlands.

“Our appeal to Labour leaders is to avert any strike action which will further compound our economic challenges. We have lost so much to the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to leave the economy grounded.”

The source listed the palliatives as follows:

  • 240,000 workers to benefit from government agriculture loans
  • 50,000 civil servants (Levels 01-04) to get N2.5 billion cash transfers meant for urban poor.
  • Mass housing scheme for workers through Micro-finance and Federal Mortgage Bank
  • Solar power for 5 million homes
  • Mass gas-powered transit buses to convey workers to offices and for public use
  • Hasten action on emergence of modular refineries

A labour leader confirmed the palliatives offer to “meet one of our conditions’, but said: “We know that it is a game or a bait to stop us from going on strike.

Continuing, the labour leader, who requested not to be named, said: “This is not the first time the government will come up with palliatives which will be implemented haphazardly.

“The last time they imported buses from abroad, the policy did not last. All the buses have been grounded along Kubwa Highway in Abuja.

“They have also failed to realise that this agitation is not about workers but about the plight of all Nigerians.

“At our session, we took note of the palliatives, but we said before we get to this stage, suspend the implementation of electricity tariffs for one month to enable the technical committee to complete its assignment.

“On modular refineries, we said we are interested in order to check wastage of scarce resources on the turnaround maintenance of the nation’s moribund refineries.

“In fact, the government delegation claimed that two or three modular refineries will soon come on stream. They said the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has gone to inspect one of these refineries.

“We are for the deregulation of the oil sector, but with a human face. We supported the government’s position on withdrawal of oil subsidy, but we must look inwards to produce the fuel we consume locally.”

Labour Minister Chris Ngige was optimistic, when contacted yesterday, that the strike could be averted.

He said: “I am a conciliator between the two parties. I am aware the government has presented its proposed palliatives to the Labour leaders.

“We are hopeful that we will find solutions to all the demands in order to save the nation the agony of any strike action.

“We are hopeful that there will be truce at the end of the day. This is our nation; we have to work collectively to help it to wade through the present economic challenges.”