Labour Suspends Strike
The call off of the four-day old strike followed the sealing of an agreement by representatives of labour led by President of NLC, Adbulwahed Ibrahim Omar, President of TUC, Mr. Peter Esele and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, representing the Federal Govern-ment.
A personal appeal by President Yar'Adua via a letter to Labour was said to have broken the ice between both parties and led to softening of positions that eventually paved way for the resolution of the dispute. (See full text of President's letter on Page 8).
A joint statement signed by Omar, Esele and Kingibe at the end of the concluding meeting in Abuja yesterday endorsed the reversal of the N10 per litre increase in the prices of kerosene and diesel.
But the N10 per litre increase in the pump price of petrol was reduced to N5 per litre, meaning that petrol will continue to sell at N70 per litre, which concession the Federal Government had made in the wake of the strike.
The 10-point statement read by former Managing Director of Federal Mortgage Bank and Presidential Aide-designate, Alhaji Tanimu Yaqubu Kurfi, however, assured "there will be no review of this new price level of N70 per litre for petrol for the next 12 months."
Other agreements reached between Organised Labour and the Federal Government include:
•The increase in the VAT (Value Added Tax) rate from 5% to 10% is revoked. VAT rate is now reverted (to) 5%.
• Government will set up an expert Committee to examine the pricing mechanism of petroleum products and make recommendations, bearing in mind the strategic nature of the products and the impact of their price levels on the economy and the social life and livelihoods of Nigerians. Both the NLC and TUC would be represented on the Committee.
•Government will establish an Expert Committee to examine the recent privatisation/concessioning exercises, especially the sale of the 51% Government equity in the refineries and the proposals for the power sector. Labour will fully participate in the work of this Committee.
•Government will implement the 15% salary increase for Federal Employees with effect from 1st of January, 2007. The modalities for spreading the payment of the arrears for the first quarter will be worked out by Government.
•No staff or worker shall face disciplinary action arising from their participation in the strike action.
•In the spirit of the strategic partnership between Government and Labour enunciated by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in his letter of June 23, 2007 to the NLC and TUC, both sides futher agree(d) on the need for a mechanism for structured, proactive and routine interaction between Government and Organised Labour towards a qualitative development process.
Organised labour alluded to the role played by the President's letter in its own statement yesterday calling off the strike.
The statement signed by Omar and Esele, Presidents of NLC and TUC respectively said that additional impetus for its interest in dialogue and "finding the middle ground was provided by the personal appeal made by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua."
It noted that the appeal by Yar'Adua was backed by "an additional concession made by the Federal Government, in the form of a guaranteed moratorium on future price increase for one year."
The NLC and TUC said that virtually all its objectives for embarking on the strike including the "withdrawal of the one hundred per cent increase in VAT, which has since taken effect in many sectors; the implementation of the 15% increase in salaries with effect from the 1st of January 2007, with a proviso for the payment of the arrears; complete reversal of the price of diesel and kerosene; and revisiting of the privatisation of the refineries," have been achieved.
It observed that by the additional agreement to ensure that there would be no further increases in the price of petrol for the next one year, the "Federal Government has brought in renewed goodwill to its engagement with labour."
Organised labour said that it was also motivated to suspend the strike following appeals for moderation and compromise made by Nigerians including leadership of the National Assembly, traditional and religious leaders, the media, social movements and millions of its countrymen and women.
"We were also conscious about the need to manage our concerns and demands in a way to minimise the adverse impact of a strike on the public and the economy," the NLC and TUC said.
Consequently, labour directed workers to resume work with effect from Monday. It, however, said that all places hitherto shut down can re-open immediately.
The NLC and TUC while apologising to those who may have suffered "momentary loss of income," said that "we must remain strenghtened in our conviction that we need this kind of collective action and solidarity to end bad governance."
It noted that good governance cannot evolve if the citizens do not impose control over leaders through strikes and protests, among others.
It hailed Nigerians from all backgrounds for their support and participation and the sacrifice and understanding they showed over the four days of the strike.
Labour paid tribute to President Yar'Adua for the "statesmanship he has demonstrated," noting that "it is impressive that he has risen beyond the temptation to dismiss the strike and use draconian measures, as would have been the case in the past."
Labour particulary singled out for commendation some eminent Nigerians who offered to intervene in the crisis including Senate President, Senator David Mark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar, former NLC President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and lawyer and rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN).
It appealed to businesses in both the formal and informal sectors, who have increased their prices and tariffs to return prices to the level of 5% VAT in compliance with the agreement.
Labour expressed its determination for continued partnership with Government to ensure successful implementation of all agreements reached.
In particular, Organised Labour called on relevant state governments to take immediate steps towards the implementation of the 15% salary increase in line with the agreement.
Kingibe while reviewing the events of the past four days, decried the colossal waste arising from the nationwide strike. While acknowledging that there were no winners or losers between the Federal Government and Labour, he, said Nigerians and the economy are the real losers.
President of NLC, Omar said that the only panacea to incessant strike action is continous engagement between Government and Orgsanised Labour.
The TUC President, Esele said the events of the last four days were not meant to inflict pains or hardship on the people, but to make "our country better."
He said it was gratifying that Government thought it wise to establish a broad-based Committee that will examine petroleum product price variations.
THISDAY gathered that as at early yesterday morning, the government was ready to dare labour because some top officials of the Presidency were not happy that labour shunned the overtures made by government through the series of concessions announced Wednesday night.
Government backed down from its ‘no-more negotiation stance' following the intervention of Senate President David Mark, Speaker Patricia Etteh and former NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole, all of whom held series of discussions with both sides at different times.
Oshiomhole was said to have had long discussions with his former colleagues in the labour during which he shared his experiences with them. He was the one who later appealed to government to re-open discussions with labour.
When contacted to comment on the suspension of the strike by labour and the promise made by the President not to increase fuel price in the next one year, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Chairman of PPPRA asked, "What happens if crude oil hits $200 who foots the bill?
THISDAY: Maybe government
Gbadamosi: Ha! (Laughs) ok. Alright.
THISDAY: What is your reaction on the impact this strike has had on the economy?
Gbadamosi: My dear, some people have done the computation based on the GDP you must have seen the figures yourself but I am not an econometrician (laughs). What someone has done on a streamline basis is to take the GDP figure for the entire country and then do some apportionment whereby the shut down all the sectors that must have been affected and then use the rule of the thump and then knock off that portion of it. You deduct what you think is the fallout from the GDP and then calculate the loss for three days based on the days the strike lasted".
Labour and government have been locked in disagreements over the price of fuel currently on N70. While Labour insisted it must come down to the former N65, government however insisted having made concessions on VAT and wages for its employees, it could no longer bend backwards.
Meanwhile, Associated Press reports that oil settled back above $69 a barrel and gasoline futures also rose Friday on concerns about Iran's nuclear capabilities and on news that talks to end a general strike in Nigeria had failed.
The news about Iran and Nigeria sent light, sweet crude for August delivery up 49 cents to settle at $69.14 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and gasoline for July up 4.01 cents to settle at $2.2868 a gallon.