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A season of strikes … workers battle for benefits

By Funmi Komolafe &Victor Ahiuma- Young
It is a season of strikes. It is being felt by the poor and the rich. From the postal services to the essential hospital services, employees of the federal government are on strike. One common chord runs through the various sectors; wages. It is all about wages, be it monetisation or pay rise.

For over a week now, post offices across the country have been shut down. Hospital services suspended as members of the National Union of Posts and Telecommunication Employees ( NUPTEE), Medical and Health Workers Union, National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, Non Academic Staff Union of Universities commenced a strike last week.

President Musa Yar'Adua
President Musa Yar'Adua

Also involved in the strike are members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Radio and Theatre Television Workers (RATTAWU), Amalgamated Union of Public Sector, recreational services employees (AUPTRE).  Consequently, broadcast stations and the News Agency of Nigeria had their services disrupted.

The strike by this group of workers coincided with the strike by members of the Academic Union of Universities (ASUU).

It was the timely intervention of the mediating ministry; the ministry of labour and productivity that saved the nation a strike which employees of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) had threatened.

The strike was however called on Monday evening following confirmation that the government had started crediting the accounts of its employees. However, what is being paid is 50% of the amount owed while the balance would be included in the 2010 budget

Senior government officials for the first time  in the life of  this administration took the strike issue so serious that the personally attended the meeting of the striking unions and the senate committee on information.

The general secretary of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, Comrade Marcus Omokhuale told Labour Vanguard that the strike was called off when the union leaders confirmed from Zenith Bank, Abuja that accounts of  the affected workers was being credited.

For the strikers, they  now have more money in their pockets  with the hope that by  next year, they would be paid the balance of what they are being owed.

ASUU Strike – Government has met some of ASUU demands. For instance, ASUU asked for an upward review of retirement age from 65 to 70 which Information minister, Professor Dora Akunyili said the government has met.  Government,  she said has also granted the universities autonomy which ASUU demanded. Late last week, Dr. Gamaliel Onasode chair of a government  team which had meetings with ASUU previously said the federal government had agreed to raise the pay of varsity lecturers on its pay roll.

However, the president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Awuzie Ukachukwu said the strike would continue because pay rise was not the only issue.  Besides, he said, ASUU cannot accept a unilateral pay rise as announced by the government. He said the government had by its action contravened the principles of collective bargaining.

So far, there hasn’t been a government circular to direct the implementation of what Dr. Akunyili said the government has conceded.

ASUU demand also includes better funding for education.

For labour minister, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, this is not the best of times. His ministry has the task of mediating in this strikes which are hinged mainly on political decisions.

At this time,the lessons of the 98th International Labour Conference would be useful. Dialogue. The only way to resolve the lingering labour disputes cannot be anything but dialogue. In a season of recession, ILO members including Nigeria are aware that at this period of recession labour disputes could be on the rise.

Government and Workers must be ready to make concessions for the nation to move forward and this can only be done by consultation.

Meanwhile,the federal government has inagurated a tripartite committee to negotiate a new national minimum wage.

Chaired by Justice Alpha Belgore  the committee has representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Nigeria Employers Consultative Associations.


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