Posted by News Express | 28 September 2021 | 391 times
WORRYINGLY, it looks like every sector of the country has been bitten by the strike bug with devastating consequences to the economy and society. With critical sectors shut down through strike or on the verge of a debilitating strike, the country cannot be on the path of achieving sustainable development. Consideration should be given to the consequent social dislocations, effects on vulnerable people’s lives, such as women and children that strikes leave in their trail, especially in critical sectors like health and education.
The frequent resort to strikes by agitating professional groups to compel an insensitive and unresponsive government to accede to demands and implement agreements, however well-intentioned and justified, is one ill wind that blows the country no good. It should be reconsidered in the best interest of all.
Members of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors have been on strike since August 2 over the failure of the Federal Government to pay their salaries and wages, as well as provide a safe workplace as contained in a signed Memorandum of Understanding. The resident doctors have issued a 72-hour ultimatum for the government to meet their minimum demands. These are payment of withheld August and September salaries, withdrawal of the case against NARD in court, and payment of salary arrears and allowances owed its members in state tertiary health institutions. The association says it will only consider calling off the strike after this. The government on its part claims it has spent over N203.3 billion on the striking doctors’ welfare to end the strike.
Sadly, while the impasse has yet to be resolved, even after the National Industrial Court had ordered the suspension of the strike “with immediate effect,” the Nigerian Medical Association, alongside its affiliate bodies, has also indicated a possible strike action that may completely cripple the entire health sector.
Earlier on August 28, the NMA gave the Federal Government a 21-day ultimatum to resolve all the issues contained in the various agreements signed with its affiliate members – the NARD, Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria, and the Medical and Dental Doctors in Academics. With the expiration of the ultimatum, an Emergency Delegates Meeting to take a definitive decision on the issue has been fixed for October 2. Characteristically, the government has shown indifference to the ultimatum and has not been reported to have taken any action of note to resolve the issues and avert the threatened sector-wide industrial action.
The challenged education sector is not faring better either. The Academic Staff Union of Universities is primed to resume its suspended strike over the Federal Government’s delay in implementing the agreement it signed with the union last year. The Zonal Coordinator of ASUU-Nsukka Zone, Raphael Amokaha, told the media that the union would resume the suspended strike following the government’s tardiness. Amokaha said, “ASUU is no longer comfortable with the government’s delay tactic in implementing agreements they reached with us last year that led to the suspension of the union’s strike in December last year. The union is being compelled to return to industrial action which will not augur well for the country’s education system.
Although these unions have strong grouses, there is a need for them to be more circumspect in always resorting to strikes to resolve industrial disputes. Shutting down an entire sector to make their demands known does not augur well for society and the protesters. It is egregious for trade unions or professional groups to embark on a strike at the drop of a hat with the regularity it is being experienced in Nigeria. Though trade unions pursue self-centred interests by nature, the overall interest of the country should also be considered. How does a shutdown of hospitals for as long as 57 days by protesting doctors help Nigeria? Or, of what benefit to the country will a disjointed university education reeling from interminable strike actions by protesting lecturers be to its development? If regular strikes have not helped their cause, why not change strategy for the general interest of the country? The need for social cohesion and human development should always undergird industrial relations in every society. The poor and vulnerable members of society should not always be made to bear the brunt of the sundry social dislocations arising from the long-drawn strikes in the country.
The attitude of government’s labour managers should also be more temperate when handling trade unions. Government officials should not posture as those at war with the people. In particular, the bellicose disposition of the labour authorities is not helping matters. It is one reason the labour crisis in the country persists. It should be jettisoned. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, cuts the image of a pugilist ever ready for an all-out fight with unionists, not willing to lose ground or face. His utterances and body language at times make it appear as if he is fighting an ego war with protesting unions. This does not give room for industrial peace. Indeed, this makes the appointment of people with good human relations skills into strategic government roles, especially labour, a national imperative for industrial harmony and social cohesion.
Government should not be entering into agreements it does not aim to implement because the moment it signs an agreement with a union, it is bound by it. Besides, it cannot claim to lack the resources to implement agreements when it does not demonstrate prudence, modesty, and transparency in the management of public funds. One option is to drastically reduce the cost of governance to gain the trust and confidence of the citizens.
Ultimately, there is a need for the decentralisation of labour negotiations in the country. An agreement signed by the Federal Government must not be binding on the states. States should be able to separately enter into agreements with unions within their jurisdiction according to their ability to pay. This will bring an end to this national malady of crippling strikes nationwide.
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