Fuel Subsidy; Labour threatens indefinite strike, gives Federal Government one week ultimatum
The organised labour has again threatened to begin an indefinite strike should the Federal Government fail to meet its demands at the end of a 21-day ultimatum which will expire in approximately one week’s time.
As reported by The PUNCH, the workers union said the proposed strike was necessary following the failure of the Federal Government to provide palliatives to assuage the Nigerians hardships as a result of the fuel subsidy removal.
The Nigeria Labour Congress said the industrial action which may commence any day from next week would lead to an indefinite shutdown of commercial and economic activities across the country.
Speaking on Tuesday, the National Assistant General Secretary of the NLC, Mr Christopher Onyeka, said the FG was wrong to share a bag of rice to a dozen citizens while reportedly giving N100m palliative to each member of the National Assembly.
The union had on September 1 handed down a 21-day ultimatum to the FG over the delay in sharing of palliatives, saying it might be compelled to declare an indefinite labour action if its demands were not met.
“If the government fails to provide the appropriate responses to our demands, we encourage you to maintain your steadfast resolve. The same passion and determination that fuelled this warning strike will be crucial if we find ourselves compelled to embark on an indefinite nationwide strike,’’ the labour body said in a letter to the FG.
To demonstrate its seriousness, the NLC mobilised workers for a two-day warning strike on September 5 and 6, partially grounding social and economic activities in several states with banks, ministries, agencies and departments closed to the public in some states.
The NLC leadership had said the action was in preparation for a total shutdown which would start at the expiration of the ultimatum next week.
Among other demands, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress were asking for wage awards, implementation of palliatives, tax exemptions and allowances to the public sector workers and a review of the minimum wage.
Though the FG made a commitment to restructure the framework for engagement with organised Labour on palliatives, the eight-week timeframe set for the conclusion of the process expired in August with no action whatsoever.
The committees were given eight weeks to conclude their assignment and hasten the implementation of the framework in cushioning the effect of petrol subsidy removal on Nigerians but weeks after the timeframe expired, the sub-committees had yet to meet or actualise their mandates.
President Bola Tinubu had since June 19 set up the Presidential Steering Committee and various sub-committees to discuss the framework to be adopted on the palliatives.
The sub-committees had been created to implement FG’s palliative package in areas such as Cash Transfers, Social Investment Programme, Cost of Governance, Energy, and Mass Transit and Housing.
This was a fall-out of the President’s closed-door session with the leadership of the NLC and the TUC during a nationwide protest by the organised labour.
Giving an update on the planned walk out following the lukewarm attitude of the government, Onyeka insisted that the FG had absconded from the negotiation table, noting that it had also failed to meet the workers’ demands.
The union leader hinted that the strike would not notify the government before carrying out any action it deems fit.
He said, “We sent the letter to the Federal Government on September 1, 2023, so by September 22, 2023, the 21-day ultimatum will end.
“We have made it clear that the Federal Government has abandoned and absconded from the table for negotiation; that government is no longer negotiating with Nigerians and there is no good faith negotiation that is going on.’’
“President Bola Tinubu promised Nigerians on his own on the television with the President of NLC, Joe Ajaero, that he was going to restructure the committees, but he did not do that, and since then the committees have not met and there has been no negotiation that is on-going. As it is, NLC is not negotiating with the government,” Onyeka said.
The Assistant General Secretary said Nigerians were insulted by the inadequate palliative being given.
He lamented, “Can you see the insult that a ward would share a bag of rice and the government calls that a palliative? It is an insult to Nigerians, whereas the government gave legislators N70bn and each of the legislators gets over N100m in a country where Nigerians are suffering.
“The FG is buying cars and houses of over N100m for each person and Nigerians are keeping quiet as if what is going on is a normal thing. NLC calls Nigerians to join hands together because they cannot do it alone.
‘’When NLC calls for action, people should come out, they should because it is a collective effort to make the government yield to the desires and the interest of Nigerians.”
Workers who spoke to our correspondents said they have been badly affected by the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy, urging the government to quickly cushion the pains.
In order to beat the harsh economic situation, civil servants said they have been devising various survival strategies, including skipping work as well as engaging in farming and trading to augment their incomes.
Some workers in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Lagos revealed that their organisations have reduced the number of work hours and days.
They further noted that their organisations had also adopted the work-from-home model which became popular during the lockdown period following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
An Abuja-based civil servant, Judith Obiora said, “Most of the offices at the Federal Secretariat are no longer filled up as they used to be before the fuel subsidy removal. Now, we only come to the office twice or thrice a week.”
A civil servant who is planning to relocate abroad said he could no longer cope with the high cost of living.
He said, “The situation in Nigeria is very terrible because the minimum wage no longer meets the cost of living. Civil servants are suffering because the prices of things have increased, and it is tough to cope these days.
“By the time you weigh everything, you will see that it is not worth it. Even as a businessman in this country, getting customers to patronise you is difficult, and getting your profit from the work you are doing is hard.”
A worker, who identified himself as Friday, said he had been going to work three times a week to cut costs.
He said, “It has greatly affected me because I can’t afford to go to work Monday through Friday anymore. I go three times a week. Even if the directors have their ways, they won’t show up.
“The effect of the subsidy removal is general. The bus provided for my area is an 18-seater bus but we have over 50 staff living in Kuje, and the senior staff always get preference over the junior staff.
‘’The junior staff members are left behind. I don’t even try boarding the bus because I don’t want any senior staff member to talk to me anyhow (disrespectfully).”