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Labour rejects FG’s concessions

Posted by YINKA FABOWALE, Lagos, FRANCIS AWOWOLE-BROWNE, JAMES OJO and BASHIR on 2007/06/25 | Views: 361 |

Labour rejects FG’s concessions

Despite government’s concessions to reduce the price of petrol to N70 per litre, from the N75 earlier announced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as reversal of Value Added Tax (VAT) rate to five percent, from 10 percent, the organized labour and civil society coalition say on Tuesday there is no going back on strike.

Despite government’s concessions to reduce the price of petrol to N70 per litre, from the N75 earlier announced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as reversal of Value Added Tax (VAT) rate to five percent, from 10 percent, the organized labour and civil society coalition say on Tuesday there is no going back on strike.

However, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) on Tuesday pulled out of the strike.

The presidents of NARTO, Alhaji Lawal Isa and IPMAN, Olatunde Runsewe, declared at a press conference in Abuja that they would no longer participate in the strike, as they were satisfied with government’s gesture. The groups said they lost about N200 billion within the four days they shut 10,000 filling stations and ordered their 6,000-member workforce to withdraw services.

Reacting to this, labour leaders said the withdrawal of the two bodies would not affect the success of the strike as the two groups were not part of the organized labour.
Indeed, last minute intervention by various top stakeholders and government’s concessions failed on Tuesday to save the day as labour insisted that it would only back down from the proposed strike if price of petrol was reversed to N65.

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Comrade AbdulWaheed Omar and his Trade Union Congress ((TUC) counterpart, Peter Esele, insisted that the strike would go on. They, however, said they were still open to dialogue and gave government up to 12 midnight to meet the demands of risk the strike.

Abuja, the nation’s capital was abuzz with activities on Tuesday as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe as well as the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives made last-ditch moves to persuade labour to shift ground and avert the strike.
President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, on his part, also met with security chiefs, including the Acting Inspector General of Police (AIGP), Mr Mike Okiro and the Director General, State Security Service (SSS) shortly after meeting part of labour’s demands.

The National Assembly leadership also met with labour. Senate President, David Mark, led Senate leaders to the Labour House and met with the leaders. Also, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Olubunmi Etteh met with the labour leaders.
The National Assembly leaders had urged labour to consider government’s concessions and suspend the planned action, promising that all the contentious issues would be considered when the federal lawmakers reconvene.

However, NLC president and his TUC counterpart had explained that they had noted the positions of government and National Assembly leaders but that they were not satisfied with the concession.
Speaking with newsmen at the end of the CWC, Mr. Omar explained that the meeting agreed that since President Yar’Adua had consistently maintained that he would always uphold the rule of law, he should reverse the illegal and embarrassing hike in fuel price to the old level of N65 in the spirit of rule of law. They noted that the removal of the remaining N5 on the price of petrol before 12 midnight on Tuesday was the only panacea to strike.

Said he: "The president should go back to zero increase, Nigerians cannot accept to live in bondage again as in the last eight years. We need to break away from the ugly past of civilian dictatorship."
He therefore appealed for the understanding of the people and urged them to ensure the action was effective, pointing out that: "This action is to salvage ourselves not because we derive pleasure in it."
In his comment, Mr. Esele told Daily Sun that government would not lose anything by backing down completely in line with the wish of Nigerians, arguing that "what is worth doing at all is worth doing well"
Earlier at the NLC secretariat, the Senate President who arrived the Labour House at about 9.30am told journalists, after the parley, that the visit was an intervention to pacify the organized labour from embarking on the strike.

"Ours is just intervention before it happens. We felt very concerned at what is happening to ensure that workers get justice. That is really why we are here. We feel that if the problem is allowed to go on, it will affect the take-off of the new administration.
"We will be regarded as having succeeded in the Senate if the ordinary Nigerians in the street are satisfied. We believe that the situation can only be resolved through dialogue. Ours is to ensure that there is balance on both sides. But at the end of the day, what we seek to achieve is that workers get justice," he stated.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Etteh, who also met with the labour leaders, assured that government would keep its parts of the bargaining on any agreement reached with them on the contentious demands.
"This government would not betray labour. I can assure you that government would honour its promises. That is why we are pleading with labour to give government some time to address any grievances. This administration will not do anything that would add to the suffering of the people," she assured.

Speaking through his Special Assistant on Media Affairs, Mrs. Dupe Ajayi Gbadebo, after meeting with the labour leadership, which ended in a stalemate, the SGF said Labour should accept the concessions and understand that government had other equally pressing commitments. He said government had bent backward to meet the four-point demand of the workers. He said government could not decide immediately on the issue of the sale of the refineries as it involved international contracts.

"It is not something you sell yesterday and wake up today and say we are not selling any more. They have to go and look at the papers and see which areas can be worked out. If they see that the 51percent has been wrongly sold, then government is prepared to support them. But it is not something we are revoking immediately, no, it is impossible. You don’t do contract like that or else it becomes a breach."
Reports from states, including Plateau, Delta, Niger and Benue said labour leaders spent Tuesday mobilizing their members for the strike and seeking public support.

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