Nigeria’s labour unions call indefinite strike over cost of living

Unions have announced a strike beginning on October 3 after President Bola Tinubu scrapped a decades-old subsidy on fuel.

Nigeria’s two biggest workers’ unions plan to start an indefinite strike next week to protest against a cost of living crisis after the government scrapped a popular but costly petrol subsidy, union leaders have said.

The National Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the biggest unions, said on Tuesday they would begin the strike on October 3.

“It’s going to be a total shutdown … until government meets the demand of Nigerian workers, and in fact Nigerian masses,” the union leaders said in a joint statement.

“The Federal Government has refused to meaningfully engage and reach agreements with organised labour on critical issues of the consequences of the unfortunate hike in price of petrol which has unleashed massive suffering on Nigeria workers and masses.”

Unions have been pushing President Bola Tinubu to reverse his decision in May to scrap the decades-old subsidy that had kept fuel prices low but was draining government finances.

The government had urged unions to continue negotiations instead of resorting to strikes, saying this would hurt an economy grappling with double-digit inflation, foreign currency shortages and low oil production.

Prices have risen sharply, including the cost of food, transport and power as most businesses and households rely on petrol generators for electricity.

Tinubu has defended his two biggest reforms – removal of the subsidy and foreign exchange controls – saying although this would lead to hardships in the short term, they were necessary to attract investment and boost government finances.

Africa’s largest economy has seen living and transport costs heavily impacted after the government ended a petrol subsidy and also freed the naira currency, leading to a sharp devaluation of the local money.

Inflation is at 25 percent while fuel costs have tripled since Tinubu came to power in May.

Tinubu’s administration acknowledges the difficulties and says it distributed funds to state governments to help offset the impact of the economic reforms. Other measures include providing transport options and small business loans.

The NLC brings together unions for many industries from nurses to road workers and printers while the TUC represents senior bank workers and high school teachers among others.

It was not clear how much traction next week’s industrial action would gain.

The NLC and TUC called a strike in August over the same issues, with many businesses, government offices, markets and banks closed for a day in the capital Abuja. Strike impact in the economic capital Lagos was more mixed.

Nigeria, a member of the OPEC oil exporters’ organisation, is a major crude producer but lacks refining capacity and is forced to import most of its fuel requirements.

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