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Labour shelves strike after FG suspends electricity tariff hike for 2 weeks

...deregulation stays as government rolls out palliatives for labour

The anxiety over the planned industrial action and mass protests by Organised Labour scheduled to begin Monday morning has been doused with the suspension of the strike by the Labour unions.

Labour had planned to embark on an indefinite nationwide strike beginning September 28 if the Federal Government did not reverse the recent increase in electricity tariff and hike in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise known as petrol.

But after a bipartite meeting between the Federal Government and the two Labour centres – Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) – at the Banquet Hall, State House, Abuja, Labour agreed to shelves its planned strike,

The meeting which began around 9pm Sunday ended in the wee hours of Monday.

Announcing the outcome of the meeting via his Twitter handle @fkeyamo in the early hours of Monday, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, said Organised Labour called off its planned strike after reaching an agreement with the Federal Government.

Keyamo said the electricity tariff has been reversed albeit temporarily while the deregulation of the oil sector was retained.

“Federal Government and labour reach agreement at 2:53am. Deregulation to stay as government rolls out palliatives for labour (details in two weeks),” Keyamo wrote on Twitter.

“Electricity tariffs suspended by government for two weeks with a joint committee headed by Keyamo to examine the justification for the new policy. Strike suspended,” he tweeted.

A source from the labour movement also confirmed the development, stressing that both sides signed a document to suspend the strike and gave the government two weeks to implement details of the agreement.

He, however, said the unions will not need to issue a notice again to re-convene if the need arises.

This agreement was the last-ditch effort by both sides after several attempts at resolving the impasse had failed.

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) led by its president, Ayuba Wabba, and his counterpart in the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Quadri Olaleye, had earlier insisted on the reversal of the hike in fuel price and increase in electricity tariff.

Also according to a communique jointly signed by labour leaders and the Federal Government representatives, and read by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, at the end of the meeting, “the parties agreed to set up a Technical Committee comprising Ministries, Departments, Agencies, NLC and TUC, which will work for two weeks, effective Monday, September 28”.

“The committee will examine the justifications for the new policy, metering deployment, challenges and timeline for massive roll out,“ the communique said.

The Technical Committee has Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, as chairman, while its members include Godwin Jedy-Agba, Minister of State Power, James Momoh, chairman, National Electricity Regulatory Commission, Onoho Omhen Ebhohimhen, NLC, Joe Ajaero, NLC, Chris Okonkwo, TUC, a representative of DisCos, and Ahmad Rufai Zakari, SA to the President on Infrastructure, as secretary.

Terms of reference

The Technical Committee’s terms of reference include to examine the justification for the new policy on cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments and to look at the different electricity distribution companies (DisCos) and their different electricity tariff vis-à-vis NERC order and mandate.

Others include to “examine and advise government on the issues that have hindered the deployment of the six million meters, and to look into the NERC Act under review with a view to expanding its representation to include organized labour”.

“The Technical sub-committee is to submit its report within two weeks.

“During the two weeks, the DisCos shall suspend the application of the cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments,” the communique said.

The meeting also resolved that a number of issues of concern to Labour should be treated as stand-alone items.

These include: “The 40 percent stake of government in the DisCo and the stake of workers to be reflected in the composition of the DisCos Boards.

“An all-inclusive and independent review of the power sector operations as provided in the privatization MOU to be undertaken before the end of the year 2020, with Labour represented.

“That going forward, the moribund National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) be inaugurated before the end of the year 2020 to institutionalize the process of tripartism and socio dialogue on socio-economic and major labour matters to forestall crisis,” the communique said.

Government promises palliatives

On the increase in petrol price, the government made available some palliatives to the labour.

These palliatives are meant to cushion the impacts of the downstream sector deregulation and tariffs adjustment in the power sector.

The Federal Government agreed to unveils “a specific amount” in two weeks’ time which “will be isolated from the Economic Sustainability Programme Intervention Fund and be accessed by Nigerian workers with subsequent provision for 240,000 under the auspices of NLC and TUC for participation in agricultural ventures through the CBN and the Ministry of Agriculture”.

The timeline will be fixed at the next meeting, the communique said.

“Federal Government will facilitate the removal of tax on minimum wage as a way of cushioning the impacts of the policy on the lowest vulnerable.

“Federal Government will make available to Organized Labour 133 CNG/LPG driven mass transit buses immediately and provide to the major cities across the country on a scale-up basis, thereafter to all state and local governments before December 2021.

“Housing: 10 percent be allocated to Nigerian workers under the ongoing Ministry of Housing and Finance initiative through the NLC and TUC.

“Consequently, the NLC and TUC agreed to suspend the planned industrial action,” the communique said.

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