Downing tools as option for workers’ fury
• A season of strikes
There are many mechanisms that are designed to resolve industrial disputes among the tripartite members – labour, employers, and government – that subsist in the industrial space with strike as an option of last resort when all other options fail.
However, with the reluctance of government to honour agreements and unending negotiations and renegotiations, industrial strike is fast becoming the only option when the commitment of employers is needed.
For unions that have national spread such as those in the academia and labour centres, the forthcoming general elections present an opportunity to strike industrial deals, as politicians are at their most vulnerable state.
Recently, the Nigeria labour movement suspended a planned nationwide action because of the inaction of the Federal Government on a new minimum wage. The details of the agreement, which was that President Muhammadu Buhari will receive the report of the tripartite committee and forward same to the National Assembly for promulgation into a law is still yet to be fully complied with.
While the President has indeed received the report, he has not transmitted it to the legislators for legislative action. The President’s failure to transmit the report to the lawmakers is a potential issue that can snowball into another round of industrial action.
Also, on the 5th of November, members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), embarked on another strike as a result of the failure of the Federal Government to satisfactorily implement the Memorandum of Action, which was agreed to since 2017.
At reconciliation meeting in Abuja, held last week, aimed at finding ways of resolving the impasse, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, promised good news soon.
He noted that the meeting had identified one area to look for the funds for the revitalisation of the universities, among other critical issues that were discussed at the meeting, which included the issue of shortfall in salaries of some federal universities’ workers and lecturers.
However, on his part, ASUU National President, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, said: “Our own understanding is that we heard promises made on the part of government; we shall await the report on all the issues, and after that we can get back to our members to take a decision.”
Also towing the strike path, polytechnic counterpart, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) began an indefinite work-to-rule on Wednesday, December 12, 2018.
ASUP President, Usman Yusuf Dutse, while addressing journalists recently, said the strike became necessary because of Federal Government’s failure to fulfil the demands it reached with the union as contained in the memorandum of understanding signed.
Earlier in October, the union issued a 21-day ultimatum to the government. It later extended it to November, but didn’t start the strike.
Meanwhile, the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), just suspended its two-month strike.
The union reportedly suspended the strike after an agreement was reached with the Federal Government.
COEASU members resumed lectures across colleges nationwide on Thursday, December 6, 2018.
Moving away from the education sector, the health sector is also not left behind in the strikes, as striking doctors at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), have threatened to shut down activities, if the management fails to pay them their four months salaries.
The doctors, who embarked on an indefinite strike in November, expressed concern at the inaction of the management.
President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), LUTH, Dr. Olawale Oba, said the hospital has not given the doctors any concrete information about the delay in their salaries.
He said going by the government’s “No work no pay” strategy, the doctors deserve their pay for working assiduously to save the lives of patients, in which some doctors had lost their lives, due to hunger and lack of money to take care of their health.
He declared that doctors would not call off the strike until those salaries are paid, because workers have already exhausted what they had saved, even as some have borrowed extra.
But for the intervention of some concerned stakeholders, the nation would have entered a major oil crisis if the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association (DAPPMA), had not suspended its earlier directive to commence shutdown of depots across the country from loading petroleum products effective 12-midnight Sunday, December 9th over N800billion subsidy debt owed them by government.
To avert constant threats of strikes, industrial relations experts said an improvement in the minimum wage policy of the government; reduction in inflation and unemployment rate will reduce the level of industrial crises in the country.
They argued that a sound and harmonious industrial relations in an enterprise is essential not only to employers and workers, but also to the society because efficient production of goods and services depends on it.
Senior lecturers, Evans Osabuohien, and Ogunrinola I.O. of the Department of Economics and Development Studies Department, College of Business and Social Sciences, Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, submitted that a harmonious workplace that guarantees satisfaction of workers’ and employers’ aspirations is very essential for enhanced productivity.
They added that when the interest of either or both of the parties involved in industrial relations is unsatisfied, industrial crisis becomes imminent.
They attributed some of the causes of strikes to the spate of persistent industrial crisis in Nigeria to include, poor infrastructural base in the workplace, low level of motivation, insecurity of jobs, policy inconsistencies and variance in management styles, breach of collective agreements.
Similarly, a professor of Employment Relations and Human Resource Management, University of Lagos, Prof Sola Fajana, said the social partners are pursuing sectional interests, deploying and converting existing situations to their own advantage.
He submitted that strikes, as labour rights may not be completely eradicated, but may be minimised as instruments of last resort.
For Nigeria to avoid ‘seasons of strikes’, he said a comprehensive national policy for industrial relations has become absolutely necessary, noting that the option of delay tactics usually relied upon by government as an employer has become globally obsolete, given the spate of information now made available to workers worldwide.
He said, “strikes are usually deployed at a time when the action would harvest more impact on the people, at least by propagating the existence of a conflict to a wide audience, if for nothing, at least for securing the sympathy and affecting the consciousness of a large number of the relevant and significant stakeholders.”
The Deputy General Secretary, United Labour Congress (ULC), Chris Onyeka, said the Federal and state governments have shown serious impunity in the workplace.
He therefore noted that workers do not have any other option than to embark on strike, because the outlook is still open as a result of negotiations that do not yield results.
When asked if the unions are using the upcoming elections as a strategy to press home their demand, Onyeka said: “No. The minimum wage was long overdue since two years ago, and since we started negotiation, so it is not as a result of 2019 elections. Workers must have to survive in the long run.
“On the ASUU strike, on the issue of new minimum wage, at every notice, you have to go on strike for government to fulfil its promise. It shows this government is irresponsible, a responsible government will not allow its workers to go on strike before they do the needful.”
On his part, the Chairman, NLC Lagos State council, Idowu Adelakan, bemoaned the lack of sensitivity to the plight of workers by government as the cause of strikes in Nigeria.
Regarding the forthcoming elections, he said: “If they don’t do that now, when will they do it? Is it when we elect them into power again? Use your weapon to get what you want at the right time. If you don’t do it now, that is the end of it, you will be waiting for another four years.”
Similarly, the former Deputy President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Olusoji Salako, said the essence of good governance is to make people live happily.
Speaking also, the former president of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Peter Esele, said strikes are a result of systemic failure, and that whenever government refuses to meet workers’ demand, the most productive option is to downtools.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.