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Nigerian unions plan warning strike next week over cost of living

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA (Reuters) -Nigerian labour unions plan a warning strike on Tuesday and Wednesday next week ahead of an indefinite action in three weeks in protest at the cost of living, after the government scrapped a costly petrol subsidy, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) said on Friday.

The NLC, which represents millions of workers across most sectors of Africa's largest economy, including parts of the oil industry, said next week's action will "demonstrate our readiness" for the indefinite action due to start on Sept. 21.

Unions had been on strike a month ago over the cost of living but suspended their action following an offer of talks with the government, but those talks did not result in concessions sufficient to placate organised labour.

President Bola Tinubu, who has embarked on Nigeria's boldest reforms in decades, has been under pressure from unions to offer relief to millions of households and small businesses after he scrapped the subsidy that had kept petrol prices cheap but cost the government $10 billion last year.

While the reforms have been seen positively by some investors, unions say they led to soaring costs at a time when Nigerians are already grappling with the highest inflation in almost two decades.

"The federal government has refused to engage and reach agreement with organized labour on the critical issues of the consequences of the unfortunate hike in the price of petrol which has unleashed massive suffering on Nigerian workers and masses," Union leader Joe Ajaero said.

He said union members nationwide would embark on a "total and indefinite shutdown of the nation" later in the month, until steps are taken by the government to address the "excruciating mass suffering and impoverishment being experienced around the country".

Nigeria's presidency and labour ministry didn't immediately respond to request for comments.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Elisha Bala-Gbogbo; Editing by David Holmes)