The Nigeria Labour Congress has begun a two-day “warning strike”, their second in more than a month, to protest against the growing cost of living caused by the government’s removal of petrol subsidies.
The union, the largest association of government workers nationwide, on Tuesday threatened to “shut down” Africa’s largest economy if their demands for improved welfare were not met. During a meeting last week, it said the decision of Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu to remove petrol subsidies in May has “unleashed massive suffering on Nigerian workers and masses”.
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Last-minute efforts to avert the strike failed on Monday evening after the labour unions’ leaders shunned a meeting called by the Ministry of Labour. Drawn from all sectors including health and electricity, the workers’ strike is expected to disrupt activities in many offices, further hit by declining government revenues and oil theft.
The president of the labour association, Joe Ajaero, said there would be a “total and indefinite shutdown of the nation” in two weeks unless the government fulfils the workers’ demands including an increase in wages. The union had called off an August 2 strike after meeting Tinubu for negotiations.
At his inauguration in May, the president had promised to reset the economy, raising hope among investors and citizens after a series of policy missteps that led to two recessions under the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari.
Since the subsidy was removed on his first day in office, petrol prices have nearly tripled in Nigeria, angering unions and causing a spike in transport costs. The price increase has also hit small businesses and millions of households who rely on petrol generators for power due to intermittent grid supply. The government’s devaluation of the currency further increased the prices of basic goods.
Critics have accused Tinubu of not acting quickly enough to cushion the effects of his policies.
Tinubu’s administration has taken several steps to alleviate the hardship, including a $5.5m package comprising loans and grants to states. But the workers have said such steps do not go far enough when their wages remain the same.
Many workers are no longer able to pay for transport to work, Ajaero said, speaking of the “excruciating mass suffering and the impoverishment experienced around the country”.
The government, meanwhile, said a strike would worsen the condition of Nigerians and requested more time to find ways to resolve the dispute. “We cannot do this in an atmosphere devoid of industrial peace,” Labour Minister Simon Lalong said.