Nigeria’s recurring industrial actions and decades of lingering agreements
In time past, sealing a memorandum of understanding with employers of labour was enough for industrial unions to suspend industrial action. But not anymore as the partial or non-implementation of such agreements is fast becoming a major threat to stability in workplaces.
While this new trend of ‘labour maladministration’ on the part of the Federal Government is not limited to any particular sector, it is more visible in the health and education sectors.
Incidentally, the two sectors have witnessed more industrial actions than any sector of the Nigerian economy. Again, the two sectors are categorised as ‘social sector’ because of the benefits they offer to the people. Therefore, a few days of strike by hospitals and education institutions are immediately felt because the sectors render social services that affect the everyday lives of the people.
This, perhaps, is the reason government rushes into agreements to ensure smooth operations in the sectors even when implementing such agreements could be cumbersome.
While the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has consistently lampooned the Federal Government for reneging on agreements and threatened to go on strike, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have remained out of work due to the non-implementation of the agreement by the Federal Government.
The General Secretary, Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions (NASU), Peters Adeyemi, bemoaned the unwillingness of government officials to implement signed agreements and said the government’s penchant for signing agreements with labour unions without implementing them under any guise is deceitful and therefore not tenable.
He added: “The negotiations are done in bad faith. If the employer knows that the demands of employees are legitimate, it is incumbent on them to find the resources to fund the financial implication of whatever agreement they enter into in good faith with the unions. But we have contended with the problem of the government and employers of labour in our country abdicating its responsibility and refusing to honour signed agreements.”
The NASU scribe stated that the quantum of industrial crises that happen in Nigeria is a result of the refusal of the government, particularly the Federal Government, to honestly and faithfully implement agreements that they freely entered into with the unions.
“It is becoming problematic because every day, the government signs Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Agreements (MoA). It seems, to a large extent, that such actions are nothing but a fire brigade approach on the part of the Federal Government to get striking workers back to work. They sign these MoU and MoA, when they know they are not going to do anything to address the grievances of unions. I am not sure the Federal Government even knows the number of MoU and MoA they have signed in recent time,” he said.
He insisted that the implication of the path the government has adopted will lead to more strikes and the unions will be legitimately right for prosecuting a strike, saying: “This is because the moment they obtain these agreements, they go back to their members in good faith and the strike is suspended. But many months after that, nothing happens and a new set of agitations will then begin.”
He further explained that the insertion of timelines in agreements was meant to ensure adherence to a timetable for implementation but expressed regrets that that has not also helped the situation much.
His added: “Incidentally even when timelines are attached to these agreements, it does not serve as a motivation to do anything. We have had agreements where timelines of six weeks were agreed upon, but nothing happened after six months and even six years. This shows clearly that the Federal Government willingly enters into agreements knowing full well it is not committed to doing anything.
“For instance, we had an agreement signed by a former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, with research institutes that in six weeks certain obligations would be paid by the Federal Government. As I speak, nothing has been done. This is more than five years ago.”
Adeyemi expressed fears that the strategy employers are now adopting to get workers back to work and then renege on agreed terms will backfire.
“I think the employers of labour have not been fair to the unions. I think there is a need for them to have a change of strategy. This ‘let me just sign and have some peace’ approach will backfire soon and that will be bad for the system.
“In the research institutes, for instance, we are still talking about an agreement that was reached in 2011 but has remained unimplemented in 2021. We have engaged all the governments that have come in the last 10 years and nothing has happened in the last six years. The unions are amazed that the Federal Government has also refused to implement some portions of these agreements that do not require financial implications but mere policy pronouncement. This shows that some of these guys in government are not fit to be in government,” he added.
On his part, President, SSAUTHRIAI, Akintola Benjamin, provided the genesis of the struggle thus: “The consolidated salary structure was introduced into the federal public service by the Federal Government in 2010. Before that time, the research institute did not have a separate negotiation council for salary negotiation. Whatever was approved for the universities was always extended to the research institute. But in 2010 when the salary was increased, the agreement that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had with the Federal Government said the content should not be extended to any other sub-sector in the education sector. That was what forced us to demand our negotiation team which was eventually approved in late 2010. That agreement was concluded on January 31, 2011. Since that time, we have been pursuing the implementation of that agreement.”
According to him, the demands of the unions include the withdrawal of circular on non-skipping of salary grade level 10.
“We have a subsisting judgment in our favour from the National Industrial Court, which is partly implemented. It is implemented in some institutes while it is not in others. That judgment was instituted by the unions under the ministry of health which NASU and SSAUTHRAI were part of JOHESU that took up that struggle. The Federal Government is not implementing that judgment in other ministries. We are saying that the judgment should be implemented service-wide so that it will cut across the entire 14 ministries where research institutes are,” he said.
Another issue is the retirement of 65 years as applicable in Nigerian universities.
He stated that in the universities, the retirement age is 65 years for both academic and non-academic staff and then wondered why the research institutes which run the same scheme as that of the universities will have a separate retirement age.
He explained: “The colleges of education and polytechnics are enjoying the 65 years retirement age. We are asking that both research and non-research members of staff should also enjoy 65 years of retirement age. The academic staff in research institutes are already enjoying it.”
We say it should be extended to all the staff to stem migration from research institutes to other sub-sector.
“We are also asking for the establishment of a regulatory body known as National Research Institutes Commission (NARICOM) as we have National Universities Commission (NUC) for the universities and National Commission for Colleges of Education and others.
“We are agitated by inadequate funding of research institutes. We are demanding that research should enjoy specialised funding to encourage research activities.
“We are seeking review of our conditions of service. We have worked on it and submitted it to the Federal Government but it has not taken any action on it. The one they released to us was manipulated so we rejected it. We are now calling on the government to release the agreed version to us.”
Akintola further disclosed that between 2010 and 2017, the unions had a total of 32 meetings with the Federal Government.
It issued a total number of 11 ultimatums at various times with a total number of 155 days.
He hinted that the unions have had several Memorandum of Understanding, several Memorandum of Agreements which the Federal Government declined to implement.
He said the recent 15-day ultimatum which was issued based on the same demands on 10th September 2021 is due to expire on September 27, 2021, to which the government is yet to respond.
“We are used to the attitudes of the Federal Government. When ultimatums are issued, there won’t be any response until a threat of industrial action is made,” he stated.
Indeed, the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes (ASURI) has been on strike since December last year and up to now, the Federal Government has not taken any action towards ending the industrial imbroglio.
While the Federal Government has invited the union to a meeting, nothing concrete has been achieved towards ending the ongoing strike.
The unions lamented that a series of meetings since 2010 on the same issues have caused them ill-health, huge financial and logistics costs.