The organised labour Thursday insisted that the Federal Government should revert back to the old prices of petrol and electricity tariff, if not the strike will stand.
This is as the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and the President of Trade Union Congress, TUC, Comrade Quadri Olaleye, had a hot altercation over the letter to President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the prices of petrol and electricity tariff.
Meantime, Secretary to the Federal Government, SGF, Boss Mustapha said that deregulation of the Petroleum sector was long overdue, but the TUC President maintained its previous position that government should revert to the old prices before any discussion would continue.
The meeting which took place at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, had in attendance the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, the Minister of Power, the Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, SAN, and some relevant agencies and parastatals.
Sources at the technical session which was under closed-door told Vanguard that the labour has not changed from its previous position that the government should go back to the old prices of petrol and electricity tariff.
In his presentation, the TUC President had told Senator Ngige to withdraw the statement that the centre was not right to write to President Muhammadu Buhari, arguing that as the President of the country all the economic decisions end on his table.
Besides, Comrade Olaleye during his presentation insisted that the TUC stood on its earlier submission that the government should reverse the increases before they would resolve on anything.
He had said, “The most important thing to us today is that we are here, we are engaging with you. Like I mentioned in the last meeting we had here that if we have been having constructive engagement in the past, maybe we would have been able to solve some of these problems.
“But the government turned a deaf ear to us even before the arrival of the world enemy COVID-19, we have written to the government suggesting an alternative way to run the economy, but nobody ever listened.
“And I can send to you many communications from Labour movement suggesting solutions and now we have found ourselves in this situation but the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are suffering and it is our responsibility as Labour centres to fight for their rights, to protect their interest.
“N30, 000 minimum wage was agreed last year and now there is an increase in PMS price, increase in tariff of electricity, the introduction of stamp duty and some other hardship on the workers and their families. We live in a country where a worker is responsible for more than 12 people.
“At least eight from his family and the other six from the in-law’s house. I wonder how N30, 000 will be able to cater for all these but instead of the government to look at a better way to increase our lot, we are the sacrificial animal to make the economy better for few people.
“I heard when the Minister mentioned that the country belongs to all of us, I as a person except you change my impression, I believe the country belongs to the few politicians that take decisions and make policies that are very hard for us to live in this country.
“If the country belongs to all of us, the question is why are people running out of this country, our youths are running out of this country despite all the dangerous obstacles on the road, many have lost their lives.
“Can somebody run out of his father’s house when nothing is pursuing him? So definitely the answer is now. Let’s make the country to belong to all of us so that we can be a bona fide owner of our country.
“Democracy is all about the people, we voted a few people who represent us at the government level and when decisions and policies are to be formed, we are the first to be considered.
“The politicians have scrapped the middle class that we used to have, they have taken away our hope, it’s either you are rich in this country now or you are poor. No more middle class and these are the things we need people to look into if we actually want peace in the country.
“Nigerian workers are suffering, a lot of people have lost their jobs especially during this COVID-19 and the only solution government could bring to their doorstep is that they should pay more for electricity, they should pay more to buy petrol.
“This hardship is getting too much, so whatever solution we are bringing, must be holistic, something that everybody will feel that the country belongs to all of us sir.
“Be that may, the Honorable Minister I wish to call your attention to your regular statement that TUC that TUC did not address the letter to you. I want to disagree with you due respect to your office, we honour your office and we will not do anything to undermine your office.
“But this issue is the issue that Mr President himself has to handle, we are not talking about the minimum wage, increase or any price with government, we are talking about economic issues and we have elected Mr President to lead and that is why we have addressed that issue to him.
“But if you want to insist sir, that because the letter is not referred to you, then TUC can excuse you I know it’s a statement of divide and rule which will not be acceptable to this congress sir.
“I will prefer that you withdraw the statement and let us continue the meeting. If the letter is not addressed to you and you invited us here, I don’t know how we can reconcile this statement.
“So, it’s very important sir that you withdraw the statement and let us continue the meeting then we listen to the government, let us know what solution are you bringing on board.
“But I have to retreat that the submission of TUC as at last week still remains, that you reverse all those increases then you can come up with economic recovery solutions that you have.
“I know many times we have advised you to diversify the economy and we even mentioned the introduction of the issue of modular refineries and we have never had any feedback from the government.
“So we are here to listen to the feedback but it is very important that you address that issue, it is controversial and I see it as divide and rule statement.
But reacting to the call for the withdrawal of his statement, Senator Chris said, “I have been the Minister of Labour and Employment for five years plus. I have attended all International Labour Organisation (ILO) sessions, Governing Board and General Assembly, I have not missed any.
“I am also a member of the Governing Board of ILO. The statue of ILO is very clear to me and the Labour laws of the country are very clear to me. In the ILO Presidents and head of states are invited as honourary members to come and address.
“The competent authority of every country is the Minister of Labour. In many climes, it’s Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Minister of Labour and Public Civil Service Affairs and Minister of Labour and Social Investment.
“The Minister of Labour is the competent authority of any country. In those countries too, labour matters are first addressed to the Minister of Labour.
“We have not tried to enforce this rigidly as it should be but in other climes, all labour and industrial matters and social security are channelled to the government to Head of State through the Minister of Labour.
“So my friend, the new President of TUC, I don’t want to start altercation before we start our technical session but I want to put the record straight for you so that in case your Secretary-General has not educated you properly, then let him do so.
“You have no business with the President of Nigeria. Your place of business is with the Ministry of Labour and Employment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You have talked about that the issue is not labour dispute such as wage negotiation but in the same vein, you have talked about your earnings as workers being eroded.
“If you want to address social and socioeconomic issues, the Civil Societies and Political Parties are there. You can belong to those ones and then you can write to Mr President and castigate him but when you talk about the working class in Nigeria and their welfare, erosion of their wages and anything that has to do with them and their families concomitantly, you address it through the Ministry of Labour.
“So, there is nothing to withdraw from my earlier statement and I still stand by it and also say by a correspondent of Communiqué sent to me by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), they have affirmed to me that they are doing this with their sister organisation. You don’t address Minister of Labour on the social media. I needy my letter.
“You must respect my office and I will also respect your own too but if you don’t respect my office I will not respect your own, simple.
“I don’t want this to continue. I have raised it with the TUC President before. The TUC President after being elected did not see his Minister of Labour, he did not correspond to Minister of Labour about the election, he went ahead to book an appointment to see Mr President and Mr Vice President.
“I will not sit on this seat and allow this to continue. All correspondence to government, President should come to the Ministry of Labour, that is the channel. If I don’t react, you can report me by doing a reportage to a higher authority but as far as Nigeria is a concern, I’m the competent authority here on labour matters.”
Speaking earlier in his opening remarks, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha said that deregulation of the Petroleum sector was long overdue.
He said that the policy was not to inflict hardship on the masses, adding that at the end of the day the people will be better for it.
He said, “The president has said that no government decision taken is intended cause any pain or harm. Decisions that have taken is utmost interest to all people and the working class.
” I have the privilege of working in the Presidential Transition Committee set up by President Buhari and I remember the decisions that were presented to him. One of the decisions by the team considered as low hanging fruit in 2015 was deregulation, and I think President Buhari objected to it.
“Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report. There was the need to consider seriously the issues relating to deregulation of the petroleum sector, and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency, within the power on what needed to be done.
“When the report was submitted to Buhari his reaction was that the Nigerian people elected him not to inflict pain on them. He said though he considers that economically as a low hanging fruit, he felt that the time was not yet ripe for it. That the important thing is to manage before such decision will ever be taken.
“Five years down the line, that decision has become imperative and cannot be escaped, it is a decision that must have been painfully considered.
“I am just sharing this reflection so that in order to put in perceptive the fact that the decision was never intended to cause great pain and erode the wellbeing of our people.
“But little did we know that we will be confronted in one or two years, that was after the implementation of the minimum, with a pandemic which hit the entire world and has completely disrupted even the strongest of the economy to the extent of each and every country of the world today are trying to find a solution to the economic disruption COVID-19 has brought to the entire world.
“Nigeria does not survive in isolation. We as a government and as a people and those of you that on the other side of the divide are part of the government because you are leaders in your own right in the places you operate and in the spheres that you exercise influence.”
President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba said that Labour was the only organisation that is pan-Nigeria and that the best way to address challenges, whether social economy or labour issues was to try to proactively engage Labour and have its perspective.
He said, “We are here to continue with the dialogue that started last week. As you are aware, after the dialogue, we were able to update all our members
“We are here to find a lasting solution to the perennial issue of the twin challenges of the increase in pump price in the name of deregulation and also the issue electricity tariff increase, which we have explained the impact on Nigerian workers, but importantly the larger Nigerian society
“The last time we were here, we also had a lot of discussion about what we expect that should have been done. If we have been on the same issue for over 30 years. All of us could recall that in the analogy we gave in the last meeting, this particular issue started in 1988 under Babangida under the name of deregulation or subsidy removal.
“I think the argument has been the same – people want to see a reduction in those prices which will then improve the lives of Nigerians, particularly workers.
“Clearly, part of the challenges is that this new increase has also reduced our purchasing power and eroded the gains that we have been able to make with the minimum wage, whereas we speak, many states are yet to implement.”