Incessant Strikes: Who Suffers? By Labaran Saleh

As things presently stand, strike actions by labour unions across different sectors of the economy appears to be the most topical issue in Nigeria today. Regrettably, as efforts are daily been redoubled to end ongoing strike actions over unresolved union disputes, other workers unions are equally threatening fire and brimstone to begin theirs. It appears all labour unions had met and unanimously agreed to down tools almost at the same period. Undeniably, this development should bother anyone who wishes the country well. Aside economic, social and other loses that comes with strike actions; they are capable of inflicting incalculable damages on a nation’s quest for greatness.

Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan recently promised to end the doctors’ and university teachers’ strike. While receiving leaders of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in the Villa, he promised to do his all to resolve all issues that caused disputes. He said the government attached great importance to the medical and educational sectors.

Without doubts, 2013 will go in history as the year that Nigeria recorded its highest number of industrial disputes which later culminated into full blown strike actions. Some of the strike actions have spanned three-six months in some instances. The situation appears more worrisome across some states where government and Primary and Secondary teachers are always engaging themselves over issues of owed salaries, unpaid allowances and welfare of teachers. In some states, strikes by teachers in public primary and secondary schools have become so regular that parents have no choice but to transfer their wards to private schools, not minding the huge cost.

The situation isn’t any different at the Federal level as labour unions and their affiliates have embarked on a number of strikes in the last five months. The current system has indeed battled with such actions and is still facing a few of them even now. Long before the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began its strike action July 1, 2013, its counterpart in the Polytechnics, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) Polytechnics lecturers are also on strike due to alleged non-implementation of agreements and lack of infrastructure in their institutions. The ASUP strike which lasted for more than two months took the intervention of well-meaning Nigerians for it to be called off. Expectedly, the action had far reaching negative effects on both students and their lecturers. It appears the ongoing strike by lecturers in public universities has defied all solutions so far proffered.

Since the strike action commenced, both the Federal Government and ASUU teams have had a number of meetings which have failed to yield positive result. Nigerians are indeed worried that both parties are yet to find a common ground on the issue. Recently, in its bid to ensure quick resolution of the face-off, the FG detailed Vice President Mohammad Namadi Sambo to lead its team to dialogue with ASUU. As efforts are on to end the ASUU strike, a number of unions in the education sector have equally threatened to embark on what they described as ‘solidarity strike’ with their counterparts in ASUU.

The National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD) also declared an indefinite nationwide and total strike effect over the Federal Government’s failure to implement their agreement on Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System.

From the forgoing analysis on strike actions in the country in the last six months, one thing is very clear. Each time government and labour unions clash over unresolved issues, it is the common man who suffers. It is usually the common who strives daily to make ends meet that suffers. The situation can be likened to the proverbial tussle between two overfed elephants whereby it is the grass that suffers. It is rather sad that both the government and labour unions don’t put the common man into consideration each time they plan to disagree.

Both parties have failed to understand that their actions usually inflict incalculable damages on those they claim to represent and are fighting their cause. For instance, what would a Medical Doctor who chose to abandon a dying patient in his care tell relatives of the patient should he or she dies owing to doctors resolve to down tools? Or what explanation would university authorities or striking lecturers offer undergraduates who have been made to spend extra years in school owing to incessant strike actions?

Without doubts, strike has done more harm than good to Nigeria and its people. While it remains a potent for drawing government and corporation’s attention to welfare conditions of workers the world over, it appears we see it as tool for slowing down development. We cannot continue in this direction. Government, workers unions and the masses stand to gain nothing should the economy is grinded to a halt. So, why do we make haste to down tools even when we have the opportunity of engaging each other in healthy dialogue on contentious issues? We must have a change of heart. We cannot afford to continue in this direction as if the labour union are members of the opposition parties.

As the President disclosed in his interaction with leaders of NMA, the government should manage all critical sectors in such a way that nobody will think of going on strike again. The government should proactively evolve measures that will help to permanently overcome the problems that lead to strikes by health workers, education professionals and other labour organisations. The earlier we realized that incessant strike actions are inimical to our nation’s economy, the better for us. It is our dear country that usually suffers each time workers down their tools.

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