Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)

Organised labour has kicked against the decision of the Federal Government to continue to fix the price of petroleum products in the country.

It said price fixing was not deregulation as claimed by the government.

Petrol price has increased by about four times in 2020. It had risen from N121.50–N123.50 per litre in June and N140.80-N143.80 in July and N148-N150 in August.

The product presently sells between N165 and N168 per litre after the Petroleum Products Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the Federal Government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, increased the ex-depot price of petrol from N147.67 per litre to N155.17 per litre for this month.

Speaking at a joint press conference on Monday, the Deputy President, Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, who doubles as the General Secretary, National Union of Electricity Employees, said government must make refineries work before going into price fixing.

He said: “We say we can’t accept deregulation that it is impulse driven and that the refineries must work before you go into this and then you go into price fixing.

“Price fixing is not the same thing as deregulation. You can’t regulate in a deregulated market. If they have deregulated, the price of petrol in Sokoto will not be the same in Abuja, there will be deviation so if they go into price fixing and call it deregulation, that is not acceptable to us.

“We had an agreement, we are still meeting and before we could do the next meeting you increase pump price. The best thing for that discussion to go on in good faith was to return to the point where we were before we continue discussions and that was what happened.”

Ajaero said organised labour has not considered the option of an industrial action following the walk out on Federal Government during a meeting to resolve the contending issues surrounding the increases in petroleum price and electricity tariff.

He noted that the walkout by the aggrieved union leaders could mean an expression of anger or a means to ease building tensions to reconvene on a later date, given government’s insincerity to the issues under contention.

Ajaero stated that government’s violation of an understanding earlier reached at its last meeting, and proceeding to further increase the price of petrol while its meetings was yet to be concluded as well as embarking on price fixing under the guise of deregulation was totally unacceptable.

Stressing that labour could not on its own declare a strike action without engaging with its members and following due process, he said the proposed September 28 nationwide strike was suspended following certain agreements between the Federal Government and organised labour.

He said: “The issue of whether we are going on strike immediately or not, I don’t think we operate that way in the labour movement.

“We can’t come in here to announce a strike or the next strategy as if it is just a one man organisation

“Part of what we are doing in terms of engagement is to reach out and if every other means fails, strike is usually the next option for any union. We don’t just at any slightest provocation start declaring strike, I think that is not what is on the table now but there are certain disagreements which we are trying to address.

“Walk out is not an industrial action, it is not go slow, it is not lock in. Walk out is an expression of anger, it’s another means of easing tension instead of us to be on the same table and someone stands up to insult the other, walk out also means to reconvene at a later date when the issue that led to the walk out might have been addressed either privately or publicly. Walk out is not a strike and it is not a strike motive.

“On whether Nigerians have lost faith or not, we didn’t buy it with money and we will equally not buy back their confidence with money.

“Even the last agreement there seems to be governments’ interpretation of it; either the two parties one of them seems not to understand the letters appointed to the last agreement.”

Also, Comrade Nasir Idris, Deputy President of the NLC, said based on a signed Memorandum of Understanding, government had no license to carry out what he described as “pain-inducing and life crippling increase in pump price,” especially in a period when Nigerians were passing through difficult times.

Idris who assured Nigerians that the union had not lost its focus nor resolve to act in furtherance of its members and the masses, noted that government’s conduct was in gross violation of fundamental terms of its agreement and in bad faith calculated to frustrate the process of an amiable resolution.

“Indeed, the letter and spirit of the terms and conditions of the agreement presuppose that contemplation of an increase or an increase would constitute a breach of the dialogue process.

“What we reasonably expected was that government would channel its creative energies to deepening stimulus to the appropriate sectors of the economy to kick start growth.

“Whilst the committee was still working, the government had not taken any step to revitalise the local refineries and has flagrantly refused to discuss this with unions in the oil and gas sector.

“It is clear that government is not prepared for a sincere and honest dialogue on finding a lasting solution to the twin issues of petroleum price increases and electricity tariffs. This is in spite of the patriotic understanding of labour which has drawn the flak of the public which think we are not doing enough to protect their interests on the issues of petroleum products and electricity tariffs.”

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