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One strike too many:Nigerian Workers groan under hardship from unpaid wages

By Funmi Komolafe, Labour Editor
The Nigerian Labour and Civil Society Coalition, LASCO  went on a peaceful rally Tuesday on the streets of Lagos in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, SSANU and Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU demanding that the Federal Government looks  critically into the issues the unions were agitating for.

The group also called on other workers, parents, students, youths, traders, professionals, transporters as well as artisans to support the on-going strike embarked upon by these groups in the interest of the  nation and its  people .

But the unfortunate aspect of the whole story is that, it is not only ASUU that has gone on indefinite strike. Other government sectors including the Health sector, Nigerian Postal Services, NIPOST ,Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN,   National Agency for  Foods and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC,   have also embarked on strike. Only recently, Radio, Television and Theatre Workers Union (RATTAWU)  called off its strike.

Workers of  NIPOST and NAFDAC  embarked on a nationwide strike to press their demand for the payment of monetisation arrears. Across the country, the gates of post offices in different states were closed by security guards as workers in the organisation stayed away.

As it was reportedly carried on the national dailies during the week,  in Dugbe, Ibadan, at the General Post Office,the gates were under lock and key as street traders seized the opportunity to spread their wares across the blocked gates.

It is a similar situation  in Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Bauchi, Osogbo and Jos.

In the Plateau capital, notices were pasted on the gates some of which read “No monetisation, no work” and “Strike is on until wages are paid”.

A member of staff at the Jos post office, who requested that his name should not be used, said they were on strike because they had not been paid their monetisation arrears.

At the main post office in Area 10 and at the Abubakar Argungu House, corporate headquarters of NIPOST in Area 11, Abuja, there were no officials on hand to comment on the situation.

The NAFDAC strike which started Tuesday, according to the workers, is a reaction to the failure of the Federal Government to pay workers monetisation arrears.

Chidi Ezeogu, chairman of NAFDAC workers’ union, disclosed that the strike will continue until payment is fulfilled by the government.

“The monetisation policy started during Obasanjo’s administration in 2003 and was to take care of both civil and public workers. During the period , former President Obasanjo paid himself and all the legislators as well as core ministries and promised to pay other government agencies in October 2005, but did not pay until the current president came into power”, he said.

Ezeogu explained that the monetisation was budgeted for in the 2008 budget, saying the president refused to keep this promise of paying them in the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, in a bid to avert another nationwide strike, Adetokunbo Kayode, Minister of Labour and Productivity recently hosted a meeting  between management and union leaders of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in Abuja.

Members of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, had planned that starting from Monday, July 13, if the management failed to implement an agreement they reached on a salary increase and the implementation of the monetisation policy, they would embark on the strike.

But, the Minister for Power and Steel, cautioned that, it was not for government to determine how much PHCN paid its workers since it was a self-financing organisation and would only be serving as a mediator to ensure that due process was followed.

He said he was surprised that workers of the company were looking for a pay rise in spite of the epileptic power situation. Workers of the PHCN were demanding for the implementation of an agreement they reached with the management for a 150 percent pay rise and implementation of the monetisation policy.

“Nigerians are not happy with the power situation. I feel embarrassed to talk on this. This meeting on salary increase should come in January and not now,” Kayode said.

He said the Federal Government had so far spent N300 billion in its bid to improve the power situation in the country”

Recently, the  House of Representatives has summoned Babatunde Osotimehin, Minister of Health, over the increase in death toll at the National Hospital, Abuja and other government owned hospitals across the country following the nationwide strike.

The reps were worried that  due to the on-going strike, several Nigerians have been left helpless on their sick beds at the National Hospital while several have died due to the ongoing strike .

A lawmaker,  Tunji Adesheye who expressed concern over the closure of public tertiary institutions across the country as a result of the strike action declared by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), and National Association of Staff Union of Universities (NASU) as well as members of the Radio, Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU) noted that, if the strike persists, it might lead the country to a state of disarray.

While on the ASUU, SSANU, NASU rally, the Secretary of Labour and Civil Society Coalition, LASCO, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, who addressed the press alongside other union leaders said that the demands of these unions are beyond  monetisation which government has played up.

He said  there are  other issues including adequate funding of education by 26 percent which is  UNESCO’s standard which the government has failed to meet.

According to him, other issues which the unions are agitating for are:  the scraping of all fees including Law School fees, payment of education maintenance allowance and the  recall  of all victimised students and staff.

The unions are also demanding  the rights of students to unionise  free and quality education at all levels.

Speaking critically on the issues of ASUU-SSANU-NASU, Aremu demanded that Nigerians should disregard the government that has refused to give a listening ear to the demand of the people.

He said, while a better condition of service is part of their demands, the struggle of ASUU in particular, is to create an enabling atmosphere for quality and affordable education at all levels.

His words: “Nigerians must join forces with ASUU-SSANU-NASU to demand that the government of Yar’Adua should immediately sign the agreement and implement it to the letter in order to stem the growing decay in public education and brain drain in our universities”.

Reiterating that, the union is insisting on proper funding up to the 26 percent budgetary allocation as recognised by international instrument to which Nigeria is a signatory.

‘We demand that government at all levels should implement all agreements reached with academic and non-academic staff unions in the education sector including the Nigeria Union of Teachers”.

He said many  state governments are yet to implement the 27.5 percent pay rise agreement for primary and secondary school teachers under the Teachers’ Salary Scale, TSS, and urged state governors to respect the agreement reached with the Nigeria Union of Teachers.

It would be recalled that in 2001, the federal government reached agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Senior Staff Association of Universities, SSANU and Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU which contained a clause that should be reviewed every three years.

The agreement was due for negotiation in 2004 but the government refused to renegotiate until pressure from the unions compelled it to set up the Gamaliel Onosode- led Committee  in 2006.

The union went into the renegotiation after the FG assured them of full mandate from the government and that agreement reached would be binding.

In May 2008, the Onosode FG team reached agreement with SSANU on a new salary structure and revalidation of the 2001 agreement enabling SSANU members to retire at age 65 among other issues.

But for NASU, the critical issue is the government’s recognition of the important role of NASU  in the education sector, payment of monetisation arrears, implementation of the 65 years retirement age for NASU members, abolition of casual labour and contract employment, stoppage of discriminative policies in staff disciplinary matters and stoppage of staff retrenchment.

Other labour unions who were present also spoke on the need to continue  the strike.

For most of them, there  is no better way of approaching a deaf government like the ones at  the helm of affairs in Nigeria.

However the implication of the strike action embarked upon by all sectors in the country could hinder the country from achieving its vision 2020.

It is against this background that Saturday Vanguard  went to the streets to sample opinions of stakeholders including lecturers, parents, students, practitioners at all levels .

For Dr. Samuel Jegede, a lecturer at the University of Lagos, “if we want vision 2020 to yield result,we must invest on the people but when the workers are not satisfied, it is difficult to be talking about vision 2020 because it is the same human resources that would have been used to actualise the vision 2020 that has been jeopardised.”

He however noted that the effect of the strike could be painful but insisted that, there is need to carry out such action considering the fact that Nigerian government could only understand such language.

“What we are asking for is not a token. It is for the betterment of Nigerian education.

Yar’Adua’s government is a deceptive one. It is a government where nothing is working. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most inept government I’ve ever seen.

“If there must be a change, all hands must be on deck to pay whatever penalty that might come thereafter. Although, the effect might be harsh,  there is nothing that can be done.

When you are talking to the deaf, you don’t need a good voice. You speak to the deaf in the language he or she understands. This is the language this deceptive government understands.

“It’s funny when this government dishes out information that is not real, saying that it has signed a 40 percent salary increment. It’s a total package of lies.

A government that has a total package of agreement with its unions should be able to live up to expectation but not our government.

Rather,  officials are flaunting money like  father Christmas, doing party and celebrating. If they have signed the agreement, why are they scared of standing by it?

“It is the same old story and package of lies. The same thing happened in the Niger Delta. After promising billions, they denied. If they are sincere, they should sign the agreement.

“There is no reason to believe a perpetual liar. The only time, you would believe a liar  is when he confirms himself as a lair.”


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.