Organised Labour, in the early hours of today, suspended its planned strike and protest following the decision of the federal government to reverse the hike in electricity tariff.
This was the outcome of a marathon meeting between the government and the labour unions, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) and others.
The government and the labour unions reached a compromise over the increase in pump price of petrol as well as electricity tariff hike.
According to a communique issued at the end of the meeting which lasted over six hours, government agreed to provide some palliatives for workers to ameliorate the effect of the increase in pump price of petrol and electricity tariff hike
Addressing journalists after the meeting, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said the palliatives will be in the areas of transport, power, housing, agriculture and humanitarian support.
Ngige who read from the communique said the parties agreed to set up a technical committee comprising Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs), NLC and TUC, which will work for a duration of two weeks effective Monday September 28, 2020.
The committee, according to him, will examine the justification for the new policy on cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments.
The committee, he said, is to look at the different Electricity Distribution Company (DISCOs) and their different electricity tariff vis-à-vis NERC order and mandate and examine and advise government on the issues that have hindered the deployment of the six million meters.
“Within the two weeks the DisCos shall suspend the increase in electricity tariff”, the minister noted.
On the downstream sector, he said part of the compromise reached was government’s agreement to revive the nation’s four refineries with the Port Harcourt refinerie achieving 50 per cent completion by December 2021, adding that government will also facilitate licensing of new modular refineries.
The communique reads in part: “All parties agreed on the urgency for increasing the local refining capacity of the nation to reduce the overdependency on importation of petroleum products to ensure energy security, reduce cost of finished products, increase employment and business opportunities for Nigerians.
“To address above, NNPC to expedite the rehabilitation of the nation’s four refineries located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna and to achieve 50% completion for Port Harcourt by December 2021, while timelines and delivery for Warri and Kaduna will be established by the inclusive Steering Committee.”
Accordingly, the federal government agreed to facilitate the delivery of licensed modular and regular refineries, involvement of upstream companies in petroleum refining and establishing framework for financing in the downstream sector.
It also agreed that NNPC will expedite work on the Build Operate and Transfer framework for the nation’s pipelines and strategic depots network for efficient transportation and distribution of Petroleum products to match the delivery timelines of the refineries as agreed.
LEADERSHIP reports that the federal government had in a last minute attempt to stop the strike action by organised Labour summoned both the NLC and TUC to an emergency meeting yesterday.
The meeting was originally scheduled for 3pm today.
Speaking further, Ngige said, “To cushion the impacts of the downstream sector deregulation and tariffs adjustment in the power sector, the Federal Government will implement the following:
“A specific amount to be unveiled by the FGN in two weeks’ time will be isolated from the Economic Sustainability Programme Intervention Fund and be accessed by Nigerian Workers with subsequent provision for 240,000 under the auspices of NLC and TUC for participation in agricultural ventures through the CBN and the Ministry of Agriculture. The timeline will be fixed at the next meeting.
“Federal Government will facilitate the removal of tax on minimum wage as a way of cushioning the impacts of the policy on the lowest vulnerable.
“Federal Government will make available to organized labour 133 CNG/LPG driven mass transit buses immediately and provide to the major cities across the Country on a scale up basis thereafter to all States and Local Governments before December 2021.
“Housing: 10% be allocated to Nigerian workers under the ongoing Ministry of Housing and Finance initiative through the NLC and TUC. Consequently, the NLC and TUC agreed to suspend the planned industrial action.”
The communique was signed on behalf of labour by NLC president, Ayuba Wabba; TUC president, Quadri Olaleye; General Secretary of both labour centres; president of NUPENG, William Akporeha and PENGASSAN President, Festus Osifo.
On government side, the communique was signed by secretary to government of the federation, Boss Mustapha; Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed; minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo; minister of State for Power, Godwin Jedi-Agba and minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva.
Speaking earlier, SGF Boss Mustapha said that some of the contentious issues the labour was agitating for, including the issue of deregulation, had been resolved.
He said, “When we met last week Thursday, we had a very robust discussion. We had very good insights into issues that necessitated Minister of Labour to engage with the organized labour as to navigating through the agitating issues.
“I believe strongly that we have resolved virtually everything that was on the table in the area of deregulation of downstream sector of the oil and gas and the increase in the pump price.
“With regards to power, there are still outstanding issues that were raised by labour as to the conflicting information they had regarding electricity tariff as it applies in different areas and DisCos. It was at this stage that there should be some kind of validation. It was at this stage that the meeting adjourned”
Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, in his opening remarks, commended the patriotism of Labour for showing up for the rescheduled meeting despite the late notice He said, “I want to welcome you to this emergency meeting which we fixed in less than 5 hours today, but we have a large turnout. This to me shows that everybody is concerned on what is on ground.
“At our last meeting which the press described as deadlocked, I dont think it was deadlocked. I made it clear that we put something on table and Labour centres said they will go and fine tune those proposals to suit their own needs. And in between that, there were some other developments. A Judicial process was served on us by a CSO asking us as defendants to make sure that there is not strike. So, we felt that because of those issues, our date for us to reconvene tomorrow was no longer tenable. I therefore contacted the head of the two labour centres and the SGF and the Chief of Staff to the President and we all agreed that we need to talk and dialogue as soon as possible. That necessitated our invitation which was very urgent.
“I dont think we will not waste much time, we know where we stopped last time. So when we go into the interactive section, we will take some quick decision that will enable both parties to know that thisbconciliation process is temporarily at an end of a stanza.
In his address, NLC president, Ayuba Wabba however said labour wasn’t aware of any court order stopping the peaceful protest or strike action.
He said, “When we met here on Thursday, we could not conclude the discussion. First is the fact that government presented their positions, we also presented ours. Therefore, it was concluded that there was need for consultation and the meeting was adjourned till Monday.
“As you said, this particular session was conveyed under emergency circumstance because all of us are committed to social dialogue, that is why we are here. Some of our colleagues missed their, so, they could not join us. Flight of some of them were cancelled.
“I think it is good for me to respond to one or two issues. One is the judicial process that the honourable minister of labour mentioned. Let me say clearly, that as we sit here, labour has not been served any process.
“Let us not forget that because, we labour unions are passionate about this issue, particularly the hike in electricity tariff, remember we had to seek judicial pronouncement and as I speak here, there is still a subsisting court judgement, Federal High Court in Lagos that said the increase is illegal, therefore, it should be set aside. I’m not sure that judgment has been respected up till today.”
TUC President, Quadri Olaleye said, “We accepted to be here because it is the culture of Labour that whenever we have issues with any party, we always focus on resolving the issues, and why we find ourselves in this situation is because we have been calling government attention to all those things but government is not giving attention. So, I want to appreciate government for coming to table to dialogue with us, and giving us the attention that we required. I think we have a stake in this country too because I have mentioned in the past that if we are part of the country, the government would have listened to us earlier before now.
Earlier yesterday morning, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila had made frantic efforts persuade the leadership of the organised labour to shelve the strike.
But the labour unions insisted that the industrial action slated to commence today would continue as scheduled if the federal government refuse to grant their demands.
Gbajabiamila had appealed to the labour leaders to suspend the proposed strike scheduled and allow more time for further negotiation in the interest of the nation.
The speaker made this appeal during a meeting with the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Ayuba Wabba, president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Comrade Quadri Olaleye, and NLC secretary-general, Emmanuel Ugboaja at the National Assembly.
But Wabba, while fielding questions from journalists shortly after the meeting, said, “If the issues are not addressed, you’re aware that we’ve given notice, and that notice will certainly expire by tomorrow. All the actions we have pronounced will certainly take effect.
“The bottom line is that we want this burden that has now been shifted to Nigerians as consumers also be lifted so that we can have a decent life.”
When pointedly asked about the effect of the injunction by the National Industrial Court (NIC) stopping the planned strike, Waba said, “Are you not aware also that there is a court judgement stopping the tariff? This is a valid judgement from the High Court stopping the tariff increasenand that judgement is still. Are you not aware of that? And on the issue of the court judgment, we have not been served as I said because in good faith, you’ll recall that we were on the negotiation table up till late Thursday night.
“And, therefore, our expectation is that we should be able to in good faith continue to dialogue, not to try to ambush because we have not received the order as of today, and we don’t know the details of any order.
“Clearly speaking, we cannot speak on something that is not before us. The reality is that, on the issue of electricity tariff, we have a court judgement, not a court order, that has nullified the increase in tariff and, therefore, we believe that the rule of law must always prevail. And in this case, also, we want the right thing to be done.”
Gbajabiamila had at the commencement of the meeting noted that the consequence of strike action would be counter-productive, as it would affect the Nigerians which the government and the organise labour seek to protect.
He explained that the leadership of the House left the meeting to the last minute as it was safe to assume that the ongoing talks between the organised labour union and the Ministry of Labour would yield result.
“So, I was so sure that at the end of the day, wiser counsel would prevail on both side for the good of the country and go the good of the common man who will all seek to protect. But unfortunately, talks seem to break down and it is incumbent upon us as a House and elected representatives to see how we can come in, mediate and perhaps a third voice would be able to broker some kind of amicable resolution.
“I must commend the labour union for doing what you have been doing for so many years, for being the watchdog of the government and the society, protecting the common man and the workers out there. But you know we cannot do this.
“We cannot go on this strike. We cannot in good conscience. We are on the same page on most of the things and you know that. We, the leadership and the House of Representatives are on the same page with you.
“But what is the consequence, and that is the bigger picture of going on strike. When we have a complete government shut down, the people we seek to protect invariably end up holding the short end of the stick. So, it ends up defeating the purpose”.
On the issue of stopping estimated billings, the speaker said Nigerians needed the metres to capture the true cost of the electricity that is being consumed.
“Now, in metering, if we need to, if we must, we will provide for that in the budget, it is a deficit of about 8 million metres with my understanding, that can be provided for in the budget, if need be.
“The tariff, I do not know what your position is. The government is saying that the tariff is considerably low and it is the lowest perhaps anywhere in the world, so have heard.
I do not know if you have been able to do that research that we are laying the lowest tariff, if that be the case, if it is true, then we need to agree on the cost-reflective tariff, nobody is in the business to lose, the tariff has to be cost-reflective”.