If one takes away the recurring crisis which hasgiven Plateau State a negative identity in the last few years, another recurring problem here is frequent strikes always embarked upon by various labour groups. From administration to administration, it has been a tale of strikes by workers mostly over salaries.
If the Jonah Jang Administration which assumed office in 2007 amid a strike by civil servants thought it was a problem of the administration of Chief Joshua Dariye from which it took over, it must by now have realized that the issue goes beyond blaming a particular administration.
In fact, the present administration in the state in its first tenure (2007 – 2011) had a running battle with various labour unions who embarked on prolonged strikes such that at a stage, government officials began to blame the opposition for masterminding the strikes. The unending strikes dragged into the election period, making some people predict that workers might work against Jang’s re-election.
Contrary to this prediction, however, Jang won the election for a second tenure but the expectation that the situation might change for better is fast disappearing. For students of the state-owned tertiary institutions, it has been a sad tale, as the prolonged strike by workers in these institutions has kept them out of school for almost a year.
This has made it impossible for final year students to graduate on schedule. Workers in other sectors especially health have also had a running battle with the state government in the last few years with similar prolonged strikes which crippled activities in government hospitals and other health institutions for months.
While many have blamed the situation on what they termed the ‘unbending’ stance of the state government to issues relating to staff welfare, government has also, while not accusing the workers of being used by opposition politicians, repeatedly blamed the situation on the refusal of the workers to appreciate the reality of ground in terms of the finances available to government. In one of such arguments, the state government accused civil servants who constitute a little percentage of the state’s population of wanting to take almost 80 per cent of available resources. It likened the situation to “robbing Peter to pay Paul” as it would mean neglecting the provision of needed infrastructure for other segments of the citizenry.
As the claims and counter claims continue, the frequent strikes, the latest of which is the one by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) over the non implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage, have continued to take a toll on the socio- economic and political life of the people. The resumed strike by workers in the state has paralysed businesses, health care and academic activities and residents are crying out to government to urgently meet the workers demand in order to restore normalcy. For Plateau State which has been reeling in the negative effects of repeated violence, the effect of the strike is biting harder, what with the involvement of bank workers who were forced to join the strike in solidarity with civil servants?
State NLC Chairman, Comrade Jibrin Bancir, told Saturday Vanguard that workers in the state are on strike because of government’s refusal to pay the accepted relativity structure emanating from the minimum wage template. He accused the state government of insensitivity to workers’ plight because, according to him, the state has the capacity to handle the increment.
Asked if he is not worried about the effects of the strike on the common man, the labour leader said , “it is for their own good, because when civil servants have money in their pockets that is when it can be translated to the economy by paying children’s school fees, patronizing traders and also paying for other services.” The government presented a salary table to us that was not satisfactory and we rejected that out rightly. They still maintained that position and with that we now declared a deadlock in negotiation leading to reactivation of our strike”, he explained.
As a result, many banks within Jos metropolis have been under lock and key, a situation which has brought untold hardship to customers who cannot make needed transactions with the banks. Felix Umeh who owns a boutique at Terminus Market lamented the drastic drop in patronage, a situation he attributed to the ongoing strike in the state, especially the closure of banks. He said, “there is a serious drop, in fact, setback in my business. Nothing is moving, everything is at a standstill. And there is no how I can reduce the price of my wares to gain patronage because I will be at selling at a loss.”
Another trader, Jude Udoji, recounted his frustration saying, “We are not selling at all; imagine, since I opened this morning I have not sold a single item. We are confused because the governor we voted overwhelmingly is not living up to his responsibility. We are not making headway. In fact this strike has affected me to the extent I can’t pay my children’s fees. I had to plead with the school authorities to allow me pay part of their fees and I was given the grace of next week to complete the remaining half. But with the way things are going concerning this strike I don’t think I can beat the time given me.”
A civil servant who pleaded anonymity said “government should look into the issues at stake and promptly address them so that workers will go back to work.”
Similarly, at the plateau specialist hospital only very few administrative staff were seen attending to some functions. Owing to the strike, some people were seen transferring their sick ones out of the hospital to either private hospitals or homes as no one was there to attend to them. The situation is that bad.
The educational sector appears to be worst hit by the series of strikes that has militated against the people. A case in point is the about fourteen months-long strike by the state tertiary institutions which has had negative impact on the system.
Most of those who spoke to Saturday Vanguard decried what they saw as the lackadaisical attitude of the state government towards workers welfare and the future of those especially, young people affected by the frequent strikes. Elizabeth Barminas a final year national diploma student of Accounting at the Plateau State Polytechnic Barkin Ladi expressed her dismay over the situation to Saturday Vanguard. “I would have been through with my ND programme by now but this strike has persisted for too long. My mates in other institutions have gone far ahead of me,” she lamented.
Many of those who spoke on the matter urged government to pay the minimum wage which they saw as law which should not be undermined under any guise.