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Nigeria Union Workers Resume Strike After Talks Falter

Angry youths protest on the streets following the removal of a fuel subsidy by the government, in Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. A union representing 20,000 oil and gas workers in Nigeria threatened Thursday it would shut down all production st

Nigeria’s main workers’ unions are scheduled to resume their strike today (Monday) after the group said talks with the government failed to resolve their concerns over the removal of a popular fuel subsidy.

The spokesman for the Nigeria Labor Congress, Owei Lakemfa, says negotiations failed after the government refused to reinstate the subsidy.

“We felt that the first thing to do is to stop the price increase, which has incensed a lot of Nigerians and pushed them on the streets,” said Lakemfa. “But the government felt that all it needed to do was to offer a price reduction, which wasn’t fundamental to us.”

The unions want the government to return fuel prices to the levels before the $8 billion subsides were eliminated at the beginning of this month.

The removal, union workers say, caused fuel prices to double and led to sharp increases in food and transportation prices.

The groups, which include the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Action Front (JAF) suspended their initial strike over the weekend to make room for talks with the government.

But President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration have refused to reinstate the subsidy, saying it’s unaffordable.

Labor spokesman Lakemfa said the government has been unwilling to resolve their concerns.

“We are saying that the fundamental issues have to be addressed and this has to do with the whole issue about fuel subsidy removal and the issue of prices,” said Lakemfa. “As Nigerians, we should not be subjected to the so-called market forces. We produce oil so there should be some comparative advantage like an oil producing country rather than be treated as if we never saw or produced a barrel of oil in our lives.”

Officials say allowing the market to determine the price will enable the government save about $8 billion for infrastructural development as well as other social needs, claims Lakemfa dismisses as empty rhetoric.

“We have heard that story for three decades now [but] it doesn’t seem like our lives have been improving,” said Lakemfa.

Lakemfa said the union workers will only suspend their strike if the government reverses its stand.

“We think if the government suspends the increase and we suspend the strike, then we can discuss and negotiate and arrive at a consensus.”

He said the sharp fuel price increase has enraged a lot of Nigerians who he says will continue to protest until the government reverses its decision.