As the country prepares for its 57th Independence Anniversary celebrations on October 1, 2017, nationwide strike actions by workers across many sectors are set to grind the system to a halt. TAIWO OGUNMOLA-OMILANI looks at the underlying issues behind the strike actions.
Recently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on an indefinite nationwide industrial action, asking the government to fully implement the 2009 agreement and the memorandum of understanding (MoU) the government reached with them. This has since made students to proceed on compulsory holiday, praying and fasting for both sides to reach an agreement that would end the strike.
Other issues ASUU demanded for are the payment of fractions/non-payment of earned academic allowances, non-release of operational license of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) amongst numerous demands.
As the federal government, through its Ministry of Labour and Productivity commenced dialogue with the striking dons which is still ongoing, but to no avail yet. Resident doctors joined the train going by the notion of some people that the only language Nigerian government understands is strike though, the doctors have since called off the strike.
Some unions are saying that it is paramount for them to demand what belongs to workers at this crucial period as they believe that preliminary campaign for the 2019 general elections would start by 2018. However, the federal government, in its usual practice, has begun dialogue with the unions both day and night, but only few of the dialogue is yielding result.
Resident doctors had begun its strike on Monday, September 4, 2017 to press home their demands. They are asking for payment of salary arrears, stagnated promotion and they were calling for a halt to an alleged diversion of funds meant for them by chief medical directors.
The doctors are protesting the failure of the government to pay their salary shortfall from of 2016 and January to May 2017 and rectify the salary shortfall from August 2017, as well as the inability of the government to circularise house officers’ entry point, among others.
Patients were abandoned in government-owned hospitals, while the strike action lasted. Though consultant doctors were on duty, but the pressure was much on them.
On the heels of resumption of work by Nigerian resident doctors is the a seven-day ultimatum handed down to the federal government by health workers after which they will go on their own strike that would see to a total shutdown of all government health facilities in the country. Nigerian health workers under the aegis of Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU and the National Association of Allied Health Professionals, NAHP issued the ultimatum, which runs from Thursday, September 14 in agreement against the federal government. According to them, failure to address their grievances will lead to all members of JOHESU embarking on an indefinite total strike action. JOHESU comprises the Medical and Health Workers Union, MHWUN, National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, NANNW, National Union of Allied Health Professionals, NUAP, Non Academic Staff of Education and Associated Institutes, NASU, among others.
Reacting to this trend, the Secretary-General of the Association of Senior Civil servants of Nigeria, Comrade Alade Bashir Lawal said that it was regrettable that things are going this way. “I am not holding brief for President Muhammadu Buhari, but he should know that he has no Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF) at the moment. This is the job of the SFG to draw the attention of the president to some of these issues.
In a related development, Association of Senior Civil servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) is threatening to embark on strike soon. The general secretary of the union, Comrade Alade Bashir Lawal said in a statement that the union resolved to shut down the government unless debts owed its members are paid on or before Monday 18th September.
According to ASCSN, “It is regrettable that for more than two years, the federal government had been promising to pay federal officers their outstanding entitlements without doing so. It is rather unfortunate that the same federal government that has given state governments bailouts up to three times to settle the entitlements owed their workers, takes delight in punishing its own employees by denying them their legitimate benefits,” the union stated.
According to the ASCSN, the debts owed federal officers by the federal government include outstanding salaries, promotion arrears, and the first 28 days allowance on transfer from post, mandatory training allowance of OHCSF 2010, repatriation allowances, burial expenses, and death benefits.
It would recalled that the union had written several letters to the presidency to settle the debts owed federal officers but that the government had been dilly-dallying. “Although the federal government had issued two different circulars directing the MDAs to compile the names of their staff that are affected which they did, yet, no payment was made.
“Even when the government directed the Budget Office to raise virement last year for the payment of the outstanding entitlements, there was no cash backing until the virement lapsed,” the union lamented. It posited that two months ago, the Federal Ministry of Labour and employment informed the union that N10 billion had been earmarked to kick- start the payment but nothing had happened.
The union emphasized that the patience of the workers had been exhausted on the matter and that if not for the trade union skills being employed by the leadership of the association, the entire federal public service would have been engulfed in wildcat strike. “Workers have now come to agree that the federal government is not in any way serious about paying them their outstanding entitlements.
“In view of the foregoing, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria has given the federal government a seven-day ultimatum with effect from 8th September 2017 within which to settle all the debts owed federal officers failing which a three-day warning strike will start in all the federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) throughout the country,” the union emphasized.
It urged prominent citizens, royal fathers, religious leaders and other stakeholders in the Nigerian project to prevail on the federal government to pay the debt owed federal officers and not wait until the strike action starts before they begin to plead with the union to call it off.
As if this was not enough, the United Labour Congress (ULC) is also planning to embark on a strike that would compel many Nigerians to sit-at-home. The labour movement vowed to close down airports, shops, electricity companies amongst others.
Addressing journalists on the outcome of a meeting of the Central Working Committee (CWC) of ULC, its president, Comrade Joe Ajaero, expressed regret over the consequences the planned strike would have on Nigerians, especially the masses. Ajaero said that it was the belief of the body that these measures would help to “create a nation that is better governed for the benefits of Nigerian workers and Nigerian masses.
“This course of action, though very painful to us at this time, is the only alternative available to us as we have exhausted all known peaceful processes towards an amicable resolution of the dispute. We, therefore, call on all genuine patriots to join hands in solidarity with us to urge the Federal Government and state governors to be kind enough to meet the demands of Nigerian workers and masses.”
It will be recalled that the body had earlier issued a 14-day ultimatum to the federal government as a result of the decision of the CWC, meeting of the congress on August 22, which expired September 8, 2017. He lamented that the federal government, having responded through the Federal Ministry of Labour through a letter with contents that largely failed to adequately address the critical issues raised in ULC’s demands, the appropriate organ of the congress, having deliberated on the letter considered it grossly inadequate in assuaging the fears which drove the decision of the CWC to issue the ultimatum.
He explained that in lieu of this rejection, “CWC ordered an immediate issuance of a seven–day final strike notice to the federal government, which has already been done and which will expire on Friday, the 15th day of September. We hope that the federal government understands the goodwill contained in this seven days final notice and seizes the opportunity to meet the demands as made on them.
“In the event of federal government’s refusal to accommodate these demands, we shall be compelled to embark on the proposed strike without further warnings. ULC urges all Nigerians to therefore take precaution and stock up basic necessities as the strike will be very effective as we hope to cripple all modes of transportation within the nation; total black out nation-wide; cut-off petroleum products supplies; disrupt banking operations which will make life a bit more difficult for Nigerians.
“We regret these consequences on all of us, but we hope that these measures will help us create a nation that is better governed for the benefits of Nigerian workers and Nigerian masses.” It will be recalled that the group had earlier demanded “the federal government bans the stationing of the Army and Police in our workplaces and factory premises.
“This will stop employers who are now colluding with the Army and other security agencies from setting up garrisons in our factories for the purposes of intimidating and harassing workers in order to deny them their rights and privileges.
“The army and the police should immediately withdraw their garrisons in the different workplaces where they are currently stationed. The government should demand that the Federal Ministry of Labour sets up a task force immediately to carry out factory inspections as most of our factories are death traps.
“An immediate review of the privatization of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to save Nigerians the agony of suffering under the suffocating darkness which the GENCOs and DISCOs have foisted on the nation. The federal government should immediately prevail on AMCON and Barrister Nwaobike (SAN); the receiver manager of Delta Steel Company Ovwian Aladja who short-paid workers by 75 per cent to quickly rectify it and repay the deficit.
“The immediate payment of all the arrears of salaries owed Nigerian workers at all levels of government without exception; the federal government honours its 2009 agreement with university lecturers under the umbrella of ASUU quickly and commence negotiations with them on new issues so that our universities will re-open. The roads leading to all the petroleum refineries and depots nationwide be repaired by the government to avoid the present carnage of lives, wastage of products and properties on these roads.
“That the proposed bill at the national assembly seeking to control free speech couched under the guise of the bill against hate speech but has the real intention of protecting the ruling elite from being held accountable by the citizenry. We therefore demand the discontinuance of that obnoxious bill by whoever sponsored it.
“The withholding of registration certificate of the ULC be stopped and the certificate released forthwith so that the nation’s industrial relations clime will be made more inclusive and robust. The immediate inclusion of all representatives of labour in the various committees, agencies and directorates of government and not singling out just one centre for these purposes negating the tenets of the nation’s laws.
“Any of such appointments that have been done contrary to this, we demand an immediate reversal; The immediate inauguration of the national minimum wage negotiating committee in line with the above so that it can commence sitting instantly.” In a chat with Prof. Ibidapo Obe, former vice chancellor of University of Lagos, said it is sad that ASUU strike is still on, adding that a solution should be found to the menace.
One only hopes that the strike actions would not lead to a sad reminder of the 57th independence anniversary of the nation, which many Nigerians had looked forward to celebrating.