• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Government averts strike, tariff increase faces 2 weeks delay

Labour

Nigeria will suspend the implementation of the higher electricity tariff for service bands A, B and C to allow for a joint ad-hoc committee of the government and labour to review the implementation modalities, it was agreed last night.

It is part of the deal reached at a hurried meeting between government ministers and labour leaders at the Presidential villa, which may have staved off the impending nation-wide labour strike planned to begin this morning.

BusinessDay learnt from senior government officials that the electricity tariff suspension for the three bands would last for two weeks, and it takes effect immediately.

It is believed that labour might have conceded that it cannot press the demand for the reversal of the removal of petrol subsidy given the precarious state of government finances in the aftermath of the crude oil price collapse.

“This suspension of the new tariff regime for bands A, B and C customers is not an indefinite action and has nothing to do with the reasonableness of the policy,” a senior government official told BusinessDay. “It is a compliance review action and recommendations on a fairer mode of implementation will be submitted and the new tariff will thereafter go into effect.”

The government side to the meeting was led by the secretary to government of the federation, and had ministers of Labour, Power, Petroleum as well as the GMD of the NNPC in attendance.

It could be recalled that the House of Representatives on Sunday appealed to the organised labour to shelve their nationwide strike billed to commence Monday, September 28, saying some of their agitations would be captured in the 2021 national budget.

The appeal by the reps came amid intense mobilisation by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), and their civil society allies who were still insisting on the strike, unless the government reverses to the old fuel price and electricity tariff regime, and fully implement the N30,000 minimum wage and its consequential adjustments.

To forestall the industrial action and its impact on the already battered economy, the leadership of the House Sunday met with Ayuba Wabba, president of the NLC; Quadri Olaleye, president of the TUC, and Emma Ugboaja, secretary general of the NLC. Also at the meeting were the deputy majority leader, Peter Akpatason, and chairman, house committee on labour, Ali Muhammed.

At the end of the closed-door meeting that lasted about an hour, the NLC president said as long the demands on the Federal Government were not met; the strike and protests would go on as planned.

He said: “Well if the issues are not addressed, you are aware that we have given a notice and that notice will certainly expire tomorrow. All the action pronounced will take effect”.

While dismissing an existing court judgement restraining labour from embarking on strike, Ayuba said: “We have not been served as I said. In good faith you recall that we are on the negotiation table up till late Thursday night and therefore our expectation is that we should be able to in good faith continue to dialogue not to try to also ambush because we have not received the order as of today we don’t also know the details of any order”.

But speaker of the House Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, at the meeting the meeting, appealed to the organised labour to shelve the industrial action as it would cripple economic activities of the country.

“You know we can’t do this, we can’t go on this strike. We can’t in good conscience, we are on the same page on most of the things and you know that. We, the leadership and the House of Representatives are on the same page with you.

“The consequences of the strike; and that’s the bigger picture. When we have complete government shut down, the people we seek to protect invariably end up holding the short end of the stick. So, it ends up defeating the purpose”, he said.

Gbajabiamila noted that the legislature has been meeting with the executive to review the policies on fuel and electricity prices and called on labour to at least wait for weeks and see the outcome of legislative interventions.

He disclosed that the 2021 budget would be submitted to the National Assembly in a couple of weeks and most of issues raised by labour concerning the welfare of Nigerian workers would be provided for.

“We have had meeting with the Vice President, we have had meeting with the executive on this issue, but the issue of electricity, we told them at least wait till the first or second quarter of next year and that is where we left it.

“The good thing is that, this agitation is coming at the right time in the sense that I believe in the next couple of weeks or less, the budget will be presented. Many of these things have a lot to do with the budget.

“To stop estimated billings, we also need the meters to capture the true cost of the electricity that is being consumed. Now, in metering, we will provide for that in the budget, it is a deficit of about 8 million meters with my understanding, that can be provided for in the budget, if need be”, Gbajabiamila added.