The meeting between the Federal Government and representatives of organised labour over the recent increment of electricity and fuel tariffs ended in a stalemate on Tuesday.
The meeting, which was held at the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari, lasted for eight hours at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, without any concrete agreement reached between the government and labour teams.
While the organised labour was demanding the reversal of the hikes in the price of petrol and electricity tariffs, the Federal Government pleaded for understanding, saying it could not sustain the fuel subsidy.
Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, led the Federal Government team, which also had Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment; Saleh Mamman, Minister of Power; Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Works and Housing; and Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, in attendance.
The labour team was led by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba; President of the TUC, Quadri Olaleye, Secretary-General of the TUC, Musa Lawal, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria President, Festus Osifo and the President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria, Williams Akporeha, among others.
Ngige said the meeting was “a bilateral dialogue between us as Nigerians to consider the state of the economy and events that have necessitated recent increases in electricity tariff and the price of Premium Motor Spirit”.
However, Wabba argued that the high prices of petroleum products and electricity tariff had erased the gains of the minimum wage.
He said the government unilaterally increased the prices of electricity and petrol without consultations with Nigerians.
He said: “The question now is what do you have on the table to actually cushion the effect on workers and their families because they have been pushed to the wall. They are already enraged.
“Do you have anything for us so that we can say yes, despite this challenges, this is what I have for Nigerian workers so that they can have something that can cushion this effect for them?
“Already, the value of the minimum wage has been eroded; that is the reality. If Ghana compares their minimum wage with our own, you will see their minimum wage.”
The labour leader accused the Federal Government of transferring the “inefficiency in the subsidy regime” to the consumers which they (consumers) have to pay through the hike in price.
“I agree with Mr President that subsidy is a fraud but do we address it or transfer it to the customers? That is where the issue is. We don’t need to transfer it to the customers.
“More than 90 countries of the world actually have minimum wage on this. Those are the issues that are biting very hard and workers and citizens are crying aloud that there is much burden on them.
“We have increased VAT, we have increased some taxes, we have increased now the fuel price and the electricity tariff. An ordinary worker can’t pay those charges. In fact, higher-level officers are complaining seriously. This is the predicament we are in.
“Therefore let us also look for solutions. How do we mitigate this impact which is very pronounced on workers?”
Following the inability to reach a conseus at the meeting, both parties agreed that the labour unions should go for consultations with their executive council members and return for the second leg of the meeting at a future date.
The labour unions are expected to hold an expanded meeting today on Wednesday, take a final position on the issues raised at the dialogue and revert back to the government.