Few days to 2014, there are signs that industrial disaffection may define labour relations in the country in the year. At least seven major unions in three critical sectors - education, health and oil and gas - are on the brink of baptising the year with strike actions.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and their non-academic counterpart have been on strike since November, with government yet to meet their demands. For the poor progress in meeting their demands, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) embarked on an industrial action from Wednesday, December 18, 2013. It was a five-day warning strike that will resume full blown by January 6, if issues in the health sector are not resolved. Fuelling the frenzy in the oil and gas sector are the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and National Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), over the federal government's stance on the privatisation of the nation's four oil refineries by the first quarter of 2014.
While we have reservations about government's treatment of staff welfare in the oil and gas sector, we have no doubt that privatisation is the way to go. We maintain our support for the privatisation of the country's non-performing critical sectors bedevilled by waste and corruption. We therefore plead with both PENGASSAN and NUPENG to negotiate their welfare issues thoroughly, so that the procedure for privatisation can have a human face. They should take a cue from the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) in the transfer of the power sector to investors, to ensure that all installations are handed over intact, after entitlements are completely paid to the staff. But we do not understand government's refusal to accede to demands for the administration to upgrade hospital facilities and infrastructure, improve doctors' working conditions and rectify the erroneous feature of the adopted salary payment structure known as Consolidated Medical Salary Structure.
And government should take a stand on the technical education sub-sector's being "malignantly disdainfully" treated and continuously stigmatised, as raised by ASUP. We wonder why polytechnic graduates are not recognised like their university counterparts, as well as at the lack of commitment to adequately fund the development of the subsector. These issues, according to the supervising minister of education, Nyesom Wike, have been resolved 80 per cent. We question what the unresolved 20 per cent includes and why the government is refusing to release the White Paper on the implementation of ASUP demands.
The federal government would be doing its credibility and Nigeria a world of good by sincerely addressing labour-related issues and setting for itself an economic blueprint that would ensure the economy runs smoothly. The display of tardiness in the resolution of issues does not augur well for democracy and a distraught workforce.