Key Nigeria Unions Start Strike to Back Minimum-Wage Demand

(Bloomberg) -- Nigerian labor unions began a nationwide strike Thursday to protest stalled negotiations with the government over a new minimum wage in an action that involves some workers in Africa’s biggest oil industry.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, said it was joining the action with immediate effect. “However, those on critical and essential services are required to remain on their duty posts,” the manager-level union’s secretary general, Lumumba Okugbawa, said in an emailed statement.

Initial response to the strike call appeared lukewarm with most schools and businesses open in Abuja and the commercial capital, Lagos, with only some government offices shut. Long lines of cars formed at fuel stations as people tried to buy gasoline in anticipation of shortages.

The strike involves public and private sector labor coalitions grouped under the Nigeria Labour Congress, for blue-collar workers, and the Trade Union Congress, for managerial employees. The action follows failed talks on Wednesday in the capital, Abuja, between union leaders and Labour and Employment Minister Chris Ngige.

The “minimum demand” by the unions that the government should take steps toward setting a new wage benchmark for the country haven’t been met, leaving them no choice but to go on with the strike, Ayuba Wabba, president of the coalition known as NLC told reporters. The government said there was no reason for the strike to go ahead, with the labor minister saying a meeting scheduled to hold on Oct. 4 by the parties will resolve outstanding issues.

Oil Unions

The action is to back demands for an increase of the minimum wage to 65,000 naira ($179) a month from the current 18,000 naira, Benson Upah, an NLC spokesman, said by phone from Lagos.

“We’re pressing on with the strike until they meet our demand,” he said.

The strike could involve as many as 4 million workers, including the country’s two influential oil unions, said Peter Ozo Eson, a spokesman for the NLC. Nigeria depends on crude exports for about 60 percent of government revenue and more than 90 percent of its foreign income.

Nupeng, one of the oil unions representing junior workers, supports the strike, its president Igwe Achese, told reporters in Abuja. It wasn’t clear though whether its affiliated workers, which include tanker drivers, would stop working.

No Impact

The strike hadn’t affected oil production and exports Thursday, according to officials of international energy companies operating in the West African nation.

State-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., which runs joint ventures with companies, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp., that pump most of the country’s crude, said in a statement that the government is addressing the concerns raised by the labor unions. It advised against the “panic buying” of fuel, saying there was enough supply available.

The union leaders chose an election campaign season to put pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari’s government over negotiations that had dragged on for months, according to Cheta Nwanze, Lagos-based analyst at SBM Intelligence business advisory. Buhari is seeking a second four-year term in elections scheduled for February.

“The NLC are trying to show they have the muscle to push votes or whip up discontent which could influence the outcome of the election,” Nwanze said by phone. “Whether that will work is another thing.”

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