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Subsidy Removal TUC demands increase in minimum wage, tax holiday, others

Aug 15, 2023

4th June 2023

…….NLC absent as talks to continue Tuesday…….FG to raise tripartite committee

From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

The Trade Union Congress at the reconvened meeting with the Federal Government, Sunday night, presented a list of demands in the aftermath of the petrol subsidy removal and hike in petrol price.

The demand include increase in minimum wage to cushion effects of the increase in petroleum prices, tax holiday for categories of people as well as revert to status quo as negotiations continue.

While the government side acknowledged the feasibility of the demands, they stated that the demands would be presented to President Bola Tinubu with immediate effect, assuring that it is actively engaging with the umbrella union body, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which was conspicuously absent at the meeting, which had recently announced a nationwide strike starting from Wednesday this week.

The NLC insists that the government must revert to the previous petrol pump price.

The spokesman for the government's delegation to the meeting, Dele Alake, told State House Correspondents after the meeting that most of the demands "are not impracticable" and they would be tabled before the President whose decisions will be reverted to labour leaders at the next round of negotiations fixed for Tuesday.

Asked if the other demand by Labour that the new pump price of petrol be reversed pending conclusion of negotiations, Alake said that decision would likely be taken on Tuesday when both sides meet again.

Alake on NLC's absence, said maybe they way unable To finalise with the NEC of the union before the meeting.

Nonetheless, negotiations will continue with all labour unions and stakeholders, he said.

Alake told reporters: "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 announced 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."

When asked to disclose the demands, the spokesman 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 reduced 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, but that they are making efforts to reach the congress..

Alake explained: "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."

On whether the meeting discussed the claim by one of Tinubu's spokesmen, Bayo Onanuga's 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."

TUC president, Festus Osifo, in his remarks to journalists after the parley said while some progress has been made with the negotiations, the union would still brief its members ahead of Tuesday's meeting.

He declined to give a full list of the demands presented to government on the grounds that the union wants to continue negotiating in good faith, as government delegation also did not reveal details of its own side of the meeting.

Asked how the meeting went, Osifo said: "As will recall that we were all here on Wednesday last week and after the meeting, after the meeting of Wednesday, government gave us their position and told us the reason why they did what they did, but on our part we did not agree with them. So they presented some of the things they considered as palliatives to us, that we should consider them in the meeting, but we told them no that we cannot consider them in that meeting, that we’re going back to call our respective organs.

"So we went back, called the NEC of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria on Friday and during the NEC meeting, the NEC of TUC decided that because we already told government as at Wednesday that we’re taking their demands back, we want to go and look at them because they asked us for our demands, we said we didn't have the mandate to discuss the mandates as at then. So we went back, we called our meetings on Friday, we had extensive deliberations and our NEC now mandated us with some lists of demands, to come and meet with the government side today. So the meeting we just concluded, we have detailed and marshalled out the list of our demands to them.

"They also in turn told us that when they presented the items to us on Wednesday we told them that we were going back to our principals, so they also need to touch base with Mr President so that we’ll reconvene this meeting again on Tuesday. Topmost in our demands was clearly stated, that for utmost good faith and in the interest of social dialogue, that they should revert to back the pump price while discussions continues."

Asked why NLC was not at the meeting, he said: "Because when you call an organ meeting and organ takes a life of its own, the decision of your organ is what you are expected to implement. All of us here today are agents of NEC of TUC, the NEC of TUC took a decision and that decision is what we’re trying to push through."

On if he was satisfied with discussion so far reached, he 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."

Asked to list the demands, Osifo 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."

Asked if Nigerians will not misinterpret NLC absence to mean they are not on the same page, he said: "It's your function as the press to also help us educate Nigerians to make them understand that when you call organ meetings that the decisions of the organs is what the leadership are bound to push through and to implement."