The Nigeria Labour Congress on Monday warned that its members will commence a nationwide strike without any formal notice if marketers increased the pump price of petrol without concluding the ongoing negotiations.
The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, admonished the Federal Government to stop the falling value of the naira.
The threat by the organised labour followed hints by oil marketers, on Sunday, that the cost of Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called petrol, would rise to between N680/litre and N720/litre in the coming weeks should the dollar continue to trade between N910 and N950 at the parallel market.
The marketers said dealers seeking to import PMS were being forced to put the plans on hold due to the scarcity of foreign exchange to import the commodity.
The warning came barely one week after the local currency crossed the N900/dollar ceiling, with the naira selling at over N945/dollar at the parallel market on Friday.
Oil dealers said the CBN Importers and Exporters official window for foreign exchange, which boasts of a lower exchange rate of about $740/litre, had remained illiquid and unable to provide the $25m to $30m required for the importation of PMS by dealers.
In the aftermath of the fuel subsidy removal in May, the organised labour had attempted to down-tool over the skyrocketing prices of goods and services but the Federal Government secured an injunction from the National Industrial Court barring them from embarking on strike.
In a bid to avert a strike by the labour movement last month, the FG had through the Federal Ministry of Justice secured an order from the National Industrial Court restraining the NLC and Trade Union Congress from embarking on any strike action over issues bordering on “removal of fuel subsidy, hike in prices of petrol and consequential increase in cost of living,” pending the determination of the suit.
The Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Beatrice Jedy-Agba, in a statement, urged the NLC to withdraw the seven-day notice it issued on its plan to commence a nationwide industrial action from August 2, if demands of labour unions were not met.
The justice ministry sternly warned in a statement on July 26 that the planned strike by the union would be contempt of court, an offence that is punishable by jailing.
According to the FG, such an action would amount to a resort to self-help since the matter was already pending in court.
But dissatisfied with the slow negotiation process with the FG and the delay in rolling out palliatives to cushion the pains of subsidy removal, the organised labour declared a nationwide protest despite the court injunction.
The protests which were held on August 2 paralysed economic and commercial activities nationwide, leading to shut down of banks, offices and the courts in several states.
As a payback for the labour leaders’ defiance, the Federal Government initiated a contempt proceeding against the labour leaders, a development that angered the unions.
However, the labour leaders and the Presidency held a meeting where the organised labour was prevailed upon to call off their protests and shelved plans to go on strike.
But speaking at the ongoing African Alliance of Trade Unions meeting in Abuja, on Monday, Ajaero advised the Federal Government to change “those bad economic policies that make workers wages next to nothing.”
He said, “As we’re here now. They’re contemplating on increasing the pump price of petroleum products. But the Minister of Labour for some time now will only go to the Minister of Justice to come up with an injunction to hold the hands of labour not to respond. They have started floating ideas of a likely increase in the price of petroleum products.
“But let me say this: Nigerian workers will not give any strike notice if we have not addressed the consequences of the last two increases in fuel pump price, and we wake up from sleep to hear that they have tampered with the fuel pump price again.
“I want to plead with the government that those bad economic policies that make our wages next to nothing should be checked. If you check those policies that lead to inflation and devaluation of the currency, we will be comfortable even where we are. If naira is at par with the dollar today, we will ask you to leave minimum wage at N30,000.’’
Continuing, the labour leader noted, “If inflation is checked to zero, we will ask you to leave things the way they are. But inflation is flying, and by the admittance of the National Bureau of Statistics, we have over 133 million Nigerians that are multi-dimensionally poor.
“I think these are the issues the government should address. If we go for a wage increase tomorrow, the inflation that will follow suit will destroy it.”
Ajaero complained about alleged undue harassment of the labour unions by the police, alluding to the reported arrest of the president of the National Union of Road Transport Workers in Abuja last week.
He stressed that it was not within the purview of the police to dabble into labour matters.
The union leader further said, “The Nigeria police, the Inspector General is now performing the duties of the Ministry of Labour. The duty of the ministry of labour includes addressing the issue of both inter and intra- union disputes. It is not within the purview of the Inspector-General of Police to go into that area.
‘’And I think there is a need for the Ministry of Labour to educate the police to tell them that they don’t have the right to usurp its functions. If they do that, the Ministry of Labour will go into extinction and there’ll be no basis for the Minister of Labour to remain there.
“We say it is illegal and we demand an apology from the IG of police for arresting or even contemplating arresting the president of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, for whatever reason, on the eve of the election.