The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) recently embarked on strike to compel government to address their grievances. Though NARD has suspended its strike, JUSUN and ASUP are still at loggerheads with the government, vowing not to return to work unless their demands are met.
The doctors, who commenced their strike on April 1, were demanding, amongst other things, payment of all salary arrears, review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers, and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 allowance, especially in state-owned tertiary institutions.
The judiciary workers, who began their own strike on April 6, had insisted on the implementation of financial autonomy of judiciary, in line with the constitution and other extant laws. They argued that while the Federal Government has allowed for financial autonomy of the third arm of government, state governments are yet to give financial independence to states’ judiciary.
The industrial action by ASUP was over non-implementation of its demands by the Federal Government. According to the ASUP President, Anderson Ezeibe, the strike became imperative after the expiration of an ultimatum it gave the government last year to revamp the polytechnics and monotechnics in the country.
He also explained that the union’s grouse include non-implementation of the 2014 NEEDS Report and non-release of revitalisation funds to the sector despite assurances since 2017. Its grievances also include the non-reconstitution of governing councils in federal polytechnics and many state-owned institutions leading to the disruption of governance and administrative processes in the institutions since May, 2020.
The ASUP president further alleged that members are being owed 10 months arrears of minimum wage since 2019, while promotion arrears for 2017 are still being owed. He also accused the government of failing to inaugurate the National Commission for Polytechnics, stressing that polytechnic is the only arm of tertiary education sub-sector that does not have a commission.
The strikes are unfortunate, especially taking place in key sectors that have direct bearing on the wellbeing of the people. While the action by NARD lasted, hospitals all over the country were deserted and patients were not attended to. In the on-going JUSUN strike, the courts have not been sitting, thus denying Nigerians with cases the rights to justice. ASUP strike is also negatively affecting the academic calendar of the polytechnics and monotechnics as well as the future of the students and their teachers. Coming on the heels of prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and closure of public and private institutions due to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current industrial action by workers in the affected unions is highly regrettable. Nigeria has already lost so much to strikes; it cannot continue to lose more.
The government and the striking unions should find a way out of the impasse through productive dialogue. No nation survives with frequent disruption of activities in its key sectors. The regularity of industrial actions in the Nigerian public sector affects the country’s reputation and the rating of the products of its higher institutions abroad. It is also having drastic impacts on human capital development in the country. We urge the government and the unions to find a middle ground on the issues responsible for the strikes.
We advise that henceforth, matters that lead to industrial actions should be addressed early enough to prevent them from getting out of hand. There should be a feed-back mechanism between the government and the unions in the various sectors to guard against the frequent industrial actions by Nigerian workers.
All tiers of government should at all times endeavour to fulfill agreements they freely reach with the workers’ unions. The labour unions should also be realistic in making demands on the government bearing in mind the prevailing economic hardship in the country. Constant closure of public institutions due to strike by workers is an ill wind that blows no one any good. It is high time the government and workers unions began to apply the principles of negotiation, good offices and other peaceful methods in resolving their grievances. Strike should only be used when other peaceful means of settling the dispute have irretrievably failed.