ABUJA, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Nigeria’s main labour unions will begin an indefinite strike from Monday to protest an increase in power and petrol prices, the leader of the body said, after a meeting with the government two weeks ago ended in a deadlock.
The Nigerian Labour Congress, which represents millions of workers across most sectors of Africa’s biggest economy, including parts of the oil industry, plans to embark on a general strike starting next week, leader Ayuba Wabba said.
A reversal of the petrol and power price hikes would avert the strike, Wabba said in a statement.
The government has not yet responded to the strike plans.
Nigeria cut costly subsidies this month to allow the petrol price to move with the market and hiked the power tariff. President Muhammadu Buhari has said the increases were crucial because the country could no longer afford the subsidies.
The country has been under pressure for reforms from international lenders such as the World Bank to qualify for budget support loans after the novel coronavirus triggered an oil price crash that slashed the government’s income.
Cheap fuel prices have long been seen by many in Nigeria as a benefit of living in an oil-producing country. Previous attempts to eliminate subsidies were scuppered after riots ensued.
The unions said the increase was ill-timed because the coronavirus pandemic had created economic hardship, with businesses forced to cut jobs. A recession also looms after the economy contracted in the second quarter.
Nigeria has been struggling to boost revenues to fund its record high budget after a crash in the price of oil, its main export. In February, the government raised the VAT to 7.5% from 5% to boost tax revenues, seen as among the lowest in the world.
The unions said the hike would worsen inflation, which is in double digits, and could erode a recently agreed national minimum wage. The central bank, in an unexpected move, on Tuesday cut interest rates to try to stimulate growth.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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