Some banks, schools and parts of Nigeria’s public transport system were shut as the country’s two main unions launched a warning strike to press demands for an increase to the monthly minimum wage.
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 industrial action is 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, Reuters reports.
“It’s very difficult, there is no vehicle on the road. In place of 50 naira 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.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) originally threatened a three-day warning strike from Wednesday followed by an indefinite stoppage in Africa’s most populous nation.
But President Goodluck Jonathan and a team of ministers held last-minute talks with the unions late on Tuesday, promising to work towards a new minimum wage, and union leaders said they would consider calling off the strike later on Wednesday.
“We will meet … by 3 pm (1400 GMT) and we will announce the outcome of our meeting, whether or not to call off the strike,” acting NLC president Promise Adewusi told reporters after the meeting with Jonathan’s team.
The unions want the monthly minimum wage more than doubled to 18,000 naira 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.
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.
Unions affiliated to the NLC and TUC include bodies representing civil servants, medics, teachers, telecoms and bank workers, road and air transport workers, and employees of the mainstay oil and gas industry.
The senior oil workers’ union PENGASSAN said it would call out only office workers rather than engineers and site workers and there were no reports of any disruption to production.
Widespread industrial action has been rare in the past few years in Nigeria and previous walkouts tended not to last more than a day or two in a country where much of the population get by on $2 a day or less and can ill afford to stop work.
Workers from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), the state-run electricity firm, were also on strike, although power supply is so erratic at the best of times that few people noticed the difference.