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Labour, civil society damn govt, begin nationwide strike tomorrow

Posted by By FRANCIS AWOWOLE-BROWNE, Abuja on 2007/06/19 | Views: 1571 |

Labour, civil society damn govt, begin nationwide strike tomorrow

Organised Labour and civil society groups on Monday, in Abuja, rose from a joint meeting, resolving to call out workers and Nigerians on a national strike beginning from Wednesday.

•Senate wades in

Organised Labour and civil society groups on Monday, in Abuja, rose from a joint meeting, resolving to call out workers and Nigerians on a national strike beginning from Wednesday.

Leadership of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as well as the Civil Society Joint Action Forum, said they decided to declare the action following a perceived desperation of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua to claim paternity of the Olusegun Obasanjo regime’s punitive policies, with his insensitivity to the workers’ demands.

Addressing a joint press conference at the Labour House, Mr Abdulwaheed Omar, the president of the NLC, argued that the nation and her people had been pushed to wall and therefore, had no option than to react, saying: " Nigerians can no longer continue to suffer in the midst of plenty. They no longer want to live under sub-human conditions; the time is now.

"So with effect from Wednesday, 20th June, 2007, an indefinite general strike and mass protest by Nigerians will commence. All offices, ports, banks, petrol and business premises will be shut down. All schools, airports, official and semi-official business premises will be closed. Vehicles, particularly, commercial ones are to be off the roads," he noted.

Labour said the strike and mass protests would be peaceful, warning, however, that any bank, fuel station, factory or office that defied the directive would be fully responsible for its action.
The labour leader advised parents not to send their children to school or allow them to roam the street, as teachers have given a firm commitment that they will not teach.

Lending his voice, TUC President-General, Mr Peter Esele, who is also the president of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN), disclosed that it would be a total shut down in the oil and gas industry as both the TUC and its association have been fully mobilised to ensure the effectiveness of the strike.

Oil platforms and installations, according to him and his NUPENG counterpart, Mr. Peter Akpatason, would be shut down in order to tighten the noose on government and make it responsive.
Mr Omar and Esele maintained that though labour was still open to dialogue anything short of full compliance with the demands of the workers would be unacceptable, adding that the strategy of tokenism to make labour call off the strike would not work this time.

The demands of labour, which must be met before the action could be suspended, according to Omar, include, a reversal of the N10 per litre increase in prices of petrol and kerosene; a reversal of the 100 per cent increase in Value Added Tax rate (VAT); payment of the 15 per cent salary increase for workers, which government had earlier approved, with effect from January 1.

The fourth demand, as reeled out by labour, has to do with the legion of anti-people policies, including the sale of the country’s power generating plants, like Egbin and the refineries to friends and allies of former President Obasanjo.

Labour acknowledged that meetings have been initiated by government to resolve the matter, but that they were never fruitful, while the unbearable suffering continues.
Chairman of the Joint Action Forum and former President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Dipo Fashina, said the civil societies were with labour on the issues, adding that they were fully mobilized for the action, especially the mass protests.

Omar argued that Labour was particularly embarrassed by the claims by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that fuel was supposed to be sold at N230 per litre and that even if NLC embarked on strike for one year, it would not change government’s position.

The NLC president said Labour had refused to be provoked by the NNPC’s position, saying the corporation planned to derail the democratic process in the country.
Leaders of the affiliated unions took turn to declare their support for the strike, saying the effects of the disputed policies were having a biting effect on the people while government appeared not ready to listen.

Presidents of National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (NUBIFIE) and Maritime Workers Union, Messrs Adeleke and Irabor respectively, told Daily Sun that they had sent out memo declaring the strike, saying no banks would open and activities at the nation’s seaports would stand still throughout the duration of the action.

Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) had given government a 14-day ultimatum within which to reverse the hikes in fuel price, VAT rate and the sale of refineries in Kaduna and Port-Harcourt, all of which were effected two days to the exit of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the President.

The also asked for implementation of the payment of the 15 per cent salary increase for civil servants,
Meetings between government and labour had ended in stalemate, as government continued to give reasons the fuel price could not remain at N65 per litre. At a point, the government claimed that even at N75 per litre it was still subsidizing fuel to the tune of N30 per litre, making a total N200 billion in a year.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Monday initiated moves to mediate in the labour and government face-off.

Chairman of defunct Senate Committee on Labour, Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw, who was at the Labour House moments after labour leaders declared strike to commence on Wednesday, conferred with the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC).
Daily Sun gathered that the senator brought an invitation to labour leaders for a meeting with Senate leadership to discuss the issues and find a common ground to avert strike.

It was not certain, as at press time, whether or not labour will honour the meeting. Mr. Owei Lakemfa, assistant general secretary of the NLC, said he was not in position to give an answer.
Confirming the Senate’s effort to avert the strike, Deputy Senate President, Mr Ike Ekweremadu, said the upper legislative house was making effort to meet with Labour to ensure that there was a way out.

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