Mass strikes are costing Africa's biggest oil producer about $600m a day, the government says [Reuters]

Nigeria's government and labour unions have failed to come to an agreement over high fuel costs, two weeks after the state withdrew subsidies, prompting protests nationwide.

Although Saturday's talks ended without a deal, the dialogue between union representatives and the government was continuing, sources said.

"We have not reached a compromise", Abdulwaheed Omar, the president of Nigeria's Labour Congress, announced outside the presidential palace late on Saturday night.

Asked if they would now begin shutting down oil platforms, as the unions had earlier promised if the Saturday meeting failed, he said: "No, we are taking this thing gradually. We are still giving peace a chance."

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Abuja, the Nigerian capital, said: "They say that all the unions will meet again on Sunday with government representatives.

"They seem keen to end the strike. They don't want to go back on the streets on Monday, say some union leaders."

Talks ongoing

The oil union, PENGASSAN, said the union expected further talks on Sunday morning that they would be monitoring before deciding on further action.

"In the interest of the ongoing negotiations, the PENGASSAN session has alerted all our members at all production platforms to execute the systematic shutdown if the negotiation process breaks down," Babatunde Oke, the PENGASSAN spokesman said, said.

Nigeria, which produces about 2.4m barrels of crude a day, is the fifth-largest oil exporter to the US. While the country has a several-week stock of oil ready for export, the threatened shutdown on Sunday could shake oil futures as traders remained concerns about worldwide supply.

The strike began on Monday, paralysing the nation of more than 160 million people.

David Mark, the senate president, who has been acting as a mediator in the process, said after Saturday's talks that the two sides were on the "right path", but he provided no details on how a compromise could be reached.

Owei Lakemfa, the Nigeria Labour Congress secretary general, said after the meeting that the government was insisting on negotiating on a price while unions are demanding a return to 65 naira.

Lakemfa said the meeting "did not go well for Nigeria because we did not reach an agreement ... because the country is bleeding".

Crisis root cause

President Goodluck Jonathan's government abandoned annual subsidies totalling $8bn that kept fuel prices low on January 1, causing prices to jump from $1.70 per gallon to at least $3.50 per gallon.

The costs of food and transportation also largely doubled in a nation where most people live on less than $2 each day.

Anger over losing one of the few benefits average Nigerians see from being an oil-rich country, as well as disgust over government corruption, have led to demonstrations across the nation and violence that has killed at least 10 people.

Red Cross volunteers have treated more than 600 people injured in protests since the strike began, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday.

Even if strikers are only partially successful, fears of tightened global supplies could raise oil prices by $5-$10 per barrel on futures markets next week.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies