Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Preventable Labour Crises

IS there governance in Nigeria? I asked this question against the backdrop of the harvest of industrial actions currently going on in many sectors of the Nigerian economy. At the last count, different unions cutting across the Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Health are on strikes.
In my own opinion, this is a preventable situation. For instance, if government had planned very well before embarking on the monetisation exercise, it will not owe its workers upward of two years arrears. The fact that National Medical and Health Workers Union and their counterpart in Radio, Television and Theatre Workers Union (RATTAWU) and Nigeria’s Postal Services (NIPOST) are being owed monetisation arrears portrays government as unserious and uncaring.
Nigerian government has spent the last two and a half years negotiating its 2001 agreement with Academic Staff Union of Universities! Not even ASUU’s warning strike could make the government to work round the clock to avert labour crisis in the education sector. According to information from ASUU and Nigeria Labour Congress, the situation in Nigeria’s education sector is so deplorable that of the over 90 universities in Nigeria, none of them is among the best 1, 000 in the world nor among Africa’s best 60. Any wonder why many affluent families now send their children and wards abroad to study? However, where does that leave the majority of parents who go through thick and thin to even send their children to public universities?
To show the height of irresponsibility and callousness on the part of federal government, N22.791 billion of the 2009 budget for education and health sector in the Federal Capital Territory was recently vired to road construction in the nation’s capital. Yet many of the hospitals and schools in the FCT are grossly understaffed and ill equipped.
The excuse of government about the global financial crisis and fall in the price of crude oil being responsible for its inability to meet its contractual agreement with labour unions does not hold water; many of the issues that made the workers down tools happened during the oil boom era when a barrel of crude oil was sold for as high as $147. If government cared for the welfare of its workforce, then the issues could have been laid to rest long before the global recession.
The way out of this mess is for the government to find the resources with which to resolve the protracted industrial crises once and for all. The socio-economic cost of the current strikes is of gargantuan proportion, though we may not realise it yet.
Government needs to remember that the glory of a king is the welfare of his people and if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.