Except any intervention by the Federal Government, Nigerian workers will tomorrow commence a nationwide strike to protest the recent increase in the price of petrol, hike in electricity tariff and non-implementation of the new minimum wage in some states. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had earlier issued a two-week ultimatum to the government to reverse the fuel price increase and hike in electricity tariff or face an indefinite industrial action by labour from tomorrow.
According to the NLC President, AyubaWabba, labour, in collaboration with other unions and civil society allies, will ground economic activities in the country as the strike begins. The decision to embark on strike was unanimously taken by the chairmen of the 36 states and FCT chapters of the NLC. In the same vein, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which extended its seven days strike notice to September 28, will join the NLC for a united labour action against the government’s insensitive and ill-timed decision.
The National Executive Council (NEC) of NLC has directed the councils at the 36 states and Abuja to mobilise workers and other Nigerians for the industrial action. Ayuba, who described the mass protest as inevitable, advised the government to reverse the price hikes in the interest of industrial peace and social order.
While the government based its action on the need to deregulate the economy, we condemn the timing and the wholesale implementation of the price increases. We believe that the decision will aggravate the sufferings of the people who have borne the brunt of government’s anti-people policies for a long time.
The fuel price increase, the hike in electricity tariff as well as the increase of VAT (Value Added Tax) to 7.5 per cent and other taxes will invariably impoverish the people the more now that Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world. Moreover, the price hikes are coming at a time of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has adversely affected all sectors of the economy. The lockdown induced by the pandemic has made many families financially weak and vulnerable. It has also rendered the new minimum wage, which about eight states are yet to implement, useless.
The increase in fuel price and electricity tariff has led to sharp increase in the prices of goods and services. In a nation where there are little or no safety nets, the government should strive to subsidise the price of essential products including food, petrol and electricity. Unfortunately, the government did not put any palliative measures in place for the masses before hiking the price of petrol and electricity, the two commodities that affect the lives of all Nigerians.
Despite the privatisation of the electricity sub-sector seven years ago, power supply has remained irregular and epileptic. It is sad that some industries are closing down owing to high production costs associated with poor or non-existent electricity supplies and high tariff. The price increase is coming at a time unemployment and downsizing of workers are on the increase, while youth restiveness and insecurity are soaring high.
We urge the government to resuscitate the nation’s four refineries and build new ones as a response to perennial instability and hike in the pump price of refined petroleum products, particularly petrol, diesel and kerosene. Since the economy solely depends on oil, any price hike on petroleum products will have adverse effect on Nigerians. We call on the state governments yet to implement the new minimum wage, which was signed into law on April 18, 2019, to do so forthwith.
To avert the nationwide industrial action and protests, we urge the government to return to the status quo and dialogue with the organized labour over the contentious issues. Securing an order of the National Industrial Court stopping the strike will not end the crisis. It is like postponing the evil day. If the matter is not resolved and the strike eventually holds, at this time of economic uncertainty, this will make matters worse for the government and all Nigerians. The government should stop saying that “there is no going back on the hike.” It should be reminded that such rhetoric, which is reminiscent of the old days of military dictatorships, has no place in a democratic dispensation. We believe that a democratic government has the capacity to avert the strike by engaging labour in a frank and productive discourse.
The present administration has, more than any other regime in recent memory, enjoyed the massive goodwill of labour despite frequent upward adjustments in prices of petroleum products and others. Therefore, let government and labour use dialogue to resolve all matters and avoid shutting down the economy, which the planned nationwide strike will engender.