UPDATE 1-Nigerian unions call off strike over minimum wage

Wed Nov 10, 2010 11:22am EST

Related Topics

* Union leader says strike ends at midnight

* Banks, schools, transport disrupted

* Threat of further action if government fails to act

(Recasts with strike called off)

By Hannington Osodo and Camillus Eboh

ABUJA, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Nigeria's main labour unions said on Wednesday they were calling off a nationwide strike but would meet again next month to evaluate the government's progress on their demands for a higher minimum wage.

Banks, schools and parts of the transport system in Africa's most populous nation were shut on Wednesday as workers began what had been planned as a three-day strike to press for the monthly minimum wage to more than double.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) want the monthly minimum wage increased to 18,000 naira ($120) from 7,500 naira, citing the rising cost of living.

Inflation has been in double-digit figures for at least two years, driven mostly by food and transport prices.

Promise Adewusi, acting NLC president, said the government had promised to fast track legislation to increase the minimum wage and the industrial action would therefore be suspended.

"After due consideration (union leaders) resolved to suspend the three-day warning strike, given the desired attention the issue has drawn from various organs of government," Adewusi told a news conference.

"The two (unions) will reconvene in the first week of December to take further action should government fail to submit the bill to the national assembly for accelerated passage," he said, adding no figure below 18,000 naira would be acceptable.

President Goodluck Jonathan and a team of ministers held last-minute talks with the unions late on Tuesday, promising to "progressively work towards achieving realistic salaries and wages for all Nigerian workers".

Union leaders said after those talks they would need to meet with their executive councils before deciding whether to suspend the strike action.

The two unions represent members across most sectors of sub-Saharan Africa's second-biggest economy and prolonged industrial action could bring parts of the country to a halt.

It would also be a headache for Jonathan's administration as it gears up for elections expected next April.

Roads in the main commercial city of Lagos and the capital Abuja were quieter than usual as many workers stayed at home and there were long queues at some petrol stations as motorists stocked up on fuel in case the strike was prolonged.

Ministries and government offices in Abuja were closed and state-owned buses were not operating in Lagos, although private minibus drivers exploited the opportunity to demand higher fares for those who did try to get to work.

"It's very difficult, there is no vehicle on the road. In place of 50 naira ($0.33) they are charging 100 naira for the bus, and there is no place to get fuel," said Okpara Adonis, 27, a security guard who managed to get to his workplace. (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, Oludare Mayowa in Lagos, Mike Oboh in Kano, Austin Ekeinde in Port Harcourt; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by David Stamp)

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