No deal in Nigeria strike talks

2012-01-15 08:17

Abuja - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and labour unions failed to reach a compromise over government-subsidised fuel prices, but the unions said oil workers would not shut down crude output while the two sides kept talking.

"The meeting is not deadlocked but we have not reached a compromise," Nigeria Labour Congress president Abdulwaheed Omar told reporters after a meeting at the presidential villa went on until late on Saturday night.

"We will meet and return to talk with the government. Our position is that they should suspend the increase in the pump prices and then we will suspend the strike and start negotiations."

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets and staged strikes for five successive days last week in protest against the removal of a fuel subsidy on January 1 that raised the price of petrol at the pump to 150 naira ($0.93) per litre from 65 naira.

Workers in Nigeria's two million barrel-per-day oil industry - it accounts for 8% of US oil imports and is also a key source for Europe and Asia - had threatened to halt production by Sunday.

"Pengassen [the oil workers union] will not shut down oil production as earlier planned for Sunday," said Omar.

But the union itself said in a statement that it would shut down production immediately if talks broke down.

"All Pengassen branches and members at all the production platforms ... [will] execute immediately the systematic shut-down of oil production should the negotiation with the government break down," it said.

Industry officials doubt unions can stop crude oil exports completely because production is largely automated and Nigeria has crude stored in reserves, but even a minor outage could have a significant impact on the economy.

It was not clear when talks would resume but it seems unlikely a deal can be reached before strikes are due to restart on Monday.

"We are going to continue our deliberation at our organisation level and then maybe we will see the way forward," said Omar.

Unions suspended strike action for the weekend because of Saturday's talks.