Fuel price increase: Divisions in labour threaten to weaken opposition



…As ACCI, NECA warns private sector to stay away from proposed strike

Oscarline Onwuemenyi

17 May 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – Divisions in the labour movement have threatened to undo efforts by organised labour to protest the recent hike in the price of fuel introduced by the Federal government.

Already, there are signs that workers in the private sector would not participate in the planned strike action beginning on Wednesday, a factor which may greatly undermine the protest of the new price regime.

Also, there was mild drama on Monday at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) during a meeting convened between: the organised labour and the Federal Government to resolve the brewing crisis caused by hike in fuel price when the leadership of labour threatened to boycott the meeting if the factional leader of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero, was allowed to be part of the meeting.

The meeting earlier slated for 3:00pm did not start until 7:10pm when the SGF led other members of the negotiating team to the conference hall.

The government delegation was led by the SGF, David Lawal and it included Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kackukwu, Minister of State for Solid Minerals, Abubakar Bawa Bwari, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed and the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang.

The labour delegation included President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, President of the Trade Union Congress, Bobboi Kaigama, General Secretaries of both the NLC and TUC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson and Comrade Simeso Amachree, Deputy President of the NLC and TUC, Najim Yaseem and Austin Etafo and the President of PENGASSAN, Comrade Francis Olabode Johnson.

However, the factional leader of the NLC, Ajaero and his deputy, who is also the president of NUPENG, Igwe Achese, who were present at the SGF office were not allowed into the meeting as they were asked to stay out and wait their turn to meet with the government team.

The presidents of NLC and TUC-led out their team from the conference hall of the SGF office, insisting that Ajaero and his team should not be part of the meeting since the issue for discussion was not about electricity and pleas by Dr Kachikwu to get them into the meeting proved abortive.

Addressing the meeting before going into a closed-door section, the SGF said the decision to deregulate the petroleum sector was taken in the best interest of Nigerians, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari empathises with Nigerians over the short time consequences of the decision.

Meanwhile, The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association has warned workers in the private sector not to participate in the planned industrial action by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria over the increase in fuel price.

In a statement on Sunday, the Director-General, NECA, Mr Olusegun Oshinowo, warned the labour unions not to impose their positions on other stakeholders but rather focus on how to improve the welfare of their members through discussions on appropriate wages.

Oshinowo enjoined the private sector employees to “ignore any directive from the NLC/TUC and should go about their normal duties.”

He reminded the private sector workers to understand that it was in their interest and that of their employers to ensure and sustain business survival as their wages were not dependent on government’s budgetary appropriation or monthly allocations.

Oshinowo warned that their involvement in the planned industrial action would jeopardise their jobs and income security.

“Beyond applying the law of no work, no pay, employers will take strong exception to any employee that fails to report for work as from Wednesday,” he added.

He averred that the policy was a crucial first step in the resolution of the perennial dependence of the country on imported petroleum products.

A faction of the NLC had warned the Federal Government to reverse the pump price of petroleum to N86 before midnight on Tuesday or face an industrial action.

Speaking at a press briefing, the President of the faction, Joseph Ajaero, demanded a meeting with all stakeholders, comprising the unions in the oil and gas sector and the NLC if it planned to take action that would have an impact on all Nigerians.

Meanwhile, the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Sunday called on the NLC to shelve its nationwide strike scheduled to commence on Wednesday.

The President, ACCI, Mr Tony Ejinkeonye, told reporters that the planned strike would affect the economy negatively.

He said since the economy had in recent times been under-performing, any further industrial action would make it suffer more crisis.

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