Strikes and their Devastating Effect: A Review of ASUU-Federal Government Face-off
For almost a decade, there has been regular, intense and devastating workers strikes and other kind of industrial unrests in critical sectors of education, health, and oil and gas. These industrial unrests have rocked the political and economic foundations of Nigeria, so much that if something drastic/urgent is not done to check the losses in man-hour, profit and corporate development, the result could be catastrophic for the nation.
Unfortunately, when such catastrophes occur, it’s not only the government, companies or other employers of labour that suffer. The workers and the general populace also suffer. These industrial unrests have been described by commentators and public policy analysts as “akin to the ‘harmattan’ wind that blows nobody any good”.
Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, the Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU), embarked on indefinite strike to press home their demand. The strike is still on, even after the ease of the lockdown. During the lockdown, the resident doctors in the Federal Medical Centers, hospitals and teaching hospitals embarked on strike to demand for an increase in hazard and other sundry allowances. Series of meetings and negotiations were held to pacify the striking doctors.
Fortunately, the industrial bargaining and negotiations paid off, the resident doctors went back to work. Unfortunately, during the strike, some patients were left unattended; those with critical health conditions died while those patients that sought care in private health facilities were meant to pay huge medical bills. In the oil and gas sector, the NUPENG and PENGASSAN also had their own share of industrial disputes. PENGASSAN embarked on strike due to mass sack in the oil and gas industry. It also protested against oil multinationals’ other unfriendly labour practices, such as outsourcing services that can be provided through local content. Nigeria’s oil production for export dropped during this period, thereby resulting in a decrease in foreign earnings.
Also, during the NUPENG strike, the masses suffered untold hardship; they engaged in panic buying and bought petroleum products at exorbitant cost. These were among challenges the masses passed through.
The ASUU-Federal Government face-off has remained intractable, and crippled the university education in the country. The Nigerian students are suffering; parents too are suffering. In fact, the entire country is suffering. ASUU is demanding better funding for the universities, adoption, and enrollment of members into its unique payment system, known as UTAS. According to ASUU, UTAS platform will ensure transparency and accountability in the payroll system and management of university funds.
The Federal Government had insisted that members of ASUU must enroll in the IPPIS, a platform meant for civil servants. ASUU had argued that its members are not civil servants and are not governed by civil service rules. It has also faulted IPPIS, decried its vulnerability to yielding to corruption, an avenue to rip off the nation’s treasury. Moreover, some sections of civil servants (workers )are complaining of discrepancies in salary due to anomalies associated with IPPIS. Both ASUU and the Federal Government have refused to shift ground, thereby worsening the already battered university system.
It’s a fact that strikes are legitimate means by which workers show dissatisfaction over inappropriate work conditions; but does it mean that ASUU and the FG cannot resolve this present industrial dispute? How long will the strike last? Concerned Nigerians are agitating for the adoption of ASUU’s UTAS platform as a way to end the strike, thereby save the public university education system from total collapse. As I write this commentary, there’s a trending hashtag in the social media to end ASUU strike (#EndAsuustrikenow).
It must be acknowledged here that, what both parties in the face-off are proposing or rather had proposed are institutional interventions to improve the workings of the employment relationship and to protect workers’ rights.
Within industrial relations, two camps: the pluralist, and the Marxist-inspired critical camp differ in their opinions on employment relationships. The pluralist camp sees the employment relationship as a mixture of shared interests and conflicts of interests that are largely seen as methods for balancing economic efficiency. In contrast, the Marxist-inspired critical camp sees employer-employee conflicts of interest as sharply antagonistic and deeply embedded in the socio-political-economic system.
Hence, the pursuit of a balanced employment relationship gives too much weight to employers’ interest. For this reason, deep-seated structured reforms are needed to change the sharply antagonistic employment relationship that is inherent within capitalism. Whichever camp, ASUU or the Federal Government subscribed to in their employer-employee relationships, the need to instill peace and achieve effective industrial harmony in the universities in the only interest both parties must strive for at this critical period. There’s a need for industrial peace. This can only come through better understanding and mutual respect between Federal Government and ASUU. These can, of course, only become realities through effective dialogue and steady two-way flow of communication between FG and ASUU.
The period we are in, now, is an abnormal period or hard-time due to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Therefore, the period of adopting antagonistic or tough position in resolving industrial dispute should be jettisoned by both parties. Let each party shift ground. And in doing that, the universities’ autonomy should be respected. Let us restore the image of our public university system. A stitch in time saved nine.
Dr. Achor is a Researcher, Public Relations Expert, Consultant, and Political Marketing communicator.