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Fuel Subsidy: NLC Absent As FG, TUC Agree On Wage Increase For Workers To Cushion Effect

Government says TUC’s demands not impracticable, to set up tripartite committee, oarties to reconvene Tuesday to finalise discussion.

The Nigerian Labour Congress ( NLC) was absent  on Sunday evening  at the reconvened meeting between the Federal Government  and representatives of the organised labour centre at the State House, Abuja.

The first meeting held last Wednesday to discuss the contentious issue of the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy was attended by representatives of both the NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) but at the reconvened meeting on Sunday, representatives of the NLC failed to turn up.

At the resumed meeting, the Trade Union Congress  presented a list of  demands to government, with minimum wage review topping the list.

Speaking with newsmen after the meeting held at the Conference room of the Chief of Staff’s office which lasted for about two and a half hours, both sides disclosed that negotiations would continue from Tuesda when the federal government side, which said it would be taking the demands to President Bola Tinubu, is expected to come with answers to labour’s myriad of demands.

Apart from the demand for a review of the minimum wage, the TUC also demanded a tax break for Nigerian workers even as it said it would leave the remaining items on the list undisclosed until the government representatives must have relayed the list to the President and come back with positions.

Spokesman of the government’s side, Mr Dele Alake, expressed satisfaction at the proceedings, giving a hint that the demands by the TUC were not impracticable, but noted also that the President must be allowed time to consider them.

According to him, government will look into the issue of minimum wage, since the removal of subsidy has the immediate consequence of reducing the purchasing power of the people.

He added that government would be putting a tripartite committee together to study all dynamics relating to the subsidy.

His words: “Well, as you all know, we had this reconvened meeting today as we promised you few days ago when we had the initial meeting with the Labour movement. We said we were going to reconvene today to keep the engagement on, in order to diffuse the tension in the land as a result of the withdrawal of subsidy, which is a reality. Now, we are very happy to announce to Nigerians that this engagement has been very productive.

“The TUC that attended today’s meeting presented a list of demands and those demands we have studied and we are going to present to Mr President for his consideration. But those demands we can announce to Nigerians that a lot of the items on the list are not impracticable. What we need to do is to study the numbers very well, then we have asked the TUC to also give us a leeway to consult very exhaustively and reconvene on Tuesday to actually look at the numbers’ viability, practicability of all the items that have been presented to us. 

“Now, most important and top priority on the list, which the government is also looking at very seriously and the President has announced before, is the issue of the minimum wage, which the Labour movement has demanded is the consequential impact of this removal of subsidy. 

“So, government is look at that and Mr President is most likely going to constitute a tripartite committee that is a committee of federal government, including the state and then the organised Labour and the private sector. 

“Now, this is a tripartite arrangement, it will be a committee that will study all the dynamics of a wage increase in percentages, the numbers and the categories that will be affected. So by Tuesday, when we come back to reconvene to meet with the TUC again, we should have very concrete items to present to the world. But the most important thing for today is that we are making appreciable progress with the Labour”.

Asked what the TUC demands are, he said

 “it is a list but we are not going to be listing all of them now. The most important is the minimum wage that is increase of minimum wage. Because, when this thing is removed, the argument of Labour is that there is an immediate impact on the workers, on the purchasing power because price of fuel has gone up. 

“So, that will necessarily reduce the purchasing power of the average worker. So, the next thing of immediate consequence is to increase the purchasing power of the worker. So, that to me and to all of us on this side is the top most priority on the list. There are other things like the tax holidays which some categories of workers will be beneficiaries. But the most important is the minimum wage”.

On whether the team is also negotiating with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Alake said “no. We are not, but we are making efforts to reach NLC. We all agreed that we are going to meet here, but again, in this game there are dynamics. Sometimes, they could be meeting with their own executives and not able to meet with us, or they could want to postpone or they have not actually articulated their list of demands as the TUC. But we cannot second guess why they are not here. But efforts are being made to reach them, we are not isolating them at all”, he said.

Asked if the meeting discussed the claim that NLC was working for the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the just concluded elections, Peter Obi, Alake declared “no not at all. It has no relevance to the discussion on the concrete terms of the welfare of the workers. Our discussion was majorly on the welfare of workers, how to cushion the impact of this subsidy removal on workers that’s all. Not on any political partisanship.”

Also speaking to reporters, President of the TUC, Festus Osifo, said his team attended the meeting as directed by the union’s National Executive Council (NEC), saying they had submitted their list of demands and would be expecting a feedback by next Tuesday.

Asked if his union was satisfied with the discussion so far, Osifo said “yes, we have presented the list of our demands to them and they received it in good faith that they will go back to their principal and come back to us on Tuesday. 

“So we’re hopeful that the demands that we have presented will be reviewed in the best interest of Nigerian workers and the entire Nigerian masses”, he said.

On what the spefic demands of TUC are, he said “the demands are so long, they are so many, part of it is the demand for a (review) of the minimum wage and we stated that for us, quite apt that the minimum today is not a living wage, as we all know. The value of the minimum wage since it was negotiated, has plummeted to a very abysmal level, as it is today. 

“Because they are going back to Mr President, we also think that we should also give them that benefit of doubt because the things we presented to them the last time, they did not also reveal it before the press so it is also quite apt for them to go back, maybe when we meet on Tuesday, we can dissect them one after the other and be much more specific”, he said.

The federal government’s team to yesterday’s meeting was  led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume. Others are the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefie; former Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; and the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari.

Also at the meeting were the Executive Secretary of the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), Zacch Adedeji; Executive Vice President, Downstream, of the NNPCL, Yemi Adetunji and Hon James Faleke, among others.

The seven-man TUC team was led by Osifo.

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

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