Nigerian unions vow to resume strike Monday if no deal

AFP , Sunday 15 Jan 2012

Amid no confirmation of when another round of talks between the government and labour leaders will take place, Nigeria's unions press for a second nationwide strike on Monday if no deal over fuel prices is reached before then

Protesters chant slogans as they march through Ikorodu road during a protest against a fuel subsidy removal in Lagos January 9, 2012. (Photo:Reuters)

Nigeria's unions vowed to press ahead with a week-old nationwide strike on Monday if a deal over fuel prices is not reached before then, but a threat to halt crude production has been put on hold.

Meanwhile, queues at petrol stations stretching for several blocks in some areas formed on Sunday, causing a nearly four-hour wait for drivers seeking to refuel in case the country is shut down for another week.

There was no confirmation of when another round of talks between the government and labour leaders could occur after Saturday's late-night session in Africa's largest oil producer ended without a compromise.

One union official said further talks were expected Sunday.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been largely silent in public since the strike shut down the country starting January 9 and brought tens of thousands into the streets in protest, was also said to be considering a televised address.

The strike and protests have been put on hold for the weekend, but will resume on Monday if no deal is reached, the country's main unions said.

They said in a statement on Sunday that the talks failed the previous night because the government refused to reduce petrol prices to pre-January 1 levels before further negotiations, as demanded by labour leaders.

"We think that the government position will not return the country to normalcy," it said. "The labour movement pledges that whenever and wherever government invites us for talks, we shall be there ..."

Nigeria Labour Congress president Abdulwahed Omar said after the meeting at the presidency involving a range of government officials Saturday evening broke up that talks were "not deadlocked, but we have not reached a compromise."

Asked if they would now begin shutting down oil platforms, he said, "no, we are taking this thing gradually. We are still giving peace a chance."

The country's main oil workers union had threatened to begin shutting down crude production at midnight (2300 GMT Saturday) if a deal were not reached, but also added that their actions would be predicated on talks at the presidency.

A spokesman for the oil union, PENGASSAN, said after the talks that the threat to shut down production remained, but would only be implemented "if the negotiation process breaks down."

He said the union expected further talks on Sunday that they would be monitoring before deciding on further action. Other labour leaders and government officials had not officially confirmed such a meeting.

A move by Nigeria's government to end fuel subsidies abruptly and without warning on January 1 sparked the strike and brought tens of thousands of people out into the streets in protest over the past week.

The move caused petrol prices to more than double overnight, from 65 naira per litre ($0.40, 0.30 euros) to 140 naira or more.

Senate President David Mark, who has been acting as a mediator, 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.

Nigerians have rushed to markets to take advantage of the break in the strike to stock up on food, but they found prices had often tripled -- a mix of sellers taking advantage of high demand and the result of increased transport costs.

Amid the long queues for fuel, some petrol stations ran dry.

Government officials and economists say removing subsidies was essential and will allow much of the $8 billion per year in savings to be ploughed into projects to improve the country's woefully inadequate infrastructure.

But Nigerians are united in anger against the scrapping of subsidies, which they view as their only benefit from the nation's oil wealth. There is also deep mistrust of government after years of blatant corruption.

The main protests in major cities in Africa's most populous nation have been largely peaceful, though at least 15 people are believed to have been killed in various incidents.

The strike and protests have put the government under mounting pressure as it also seeks to stop spiralling attacks blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram, which have raised tensions and led to warnings of civil war.

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