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Season of strikes: Economy heading for doom –Industrialists

Health, judiciary crucial to growth -LCCI
No economy thrives under industrial actions –ex-MAN boss

As other parts of the world gradually rebuild their economies devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, Nigeria, which also had a bitter taste of the experience, is working tirelessly to plunge the system further down, following a deluge of industrial actions since the beginning of the year.

With no end in sight for the Federal Government to fully pacify the aggrieved workers spreading across all sectors of the socioeconomic institutions, industrialists have raised the alarm that the country’s economy could be heading for the doldrums, except the development is arrested on time.

In a chat with our correspondent, the industrialists, who are members of the organised private sector, said no country attained growth in an atmosphere bedeviled by recurring industrial actions such as Nigeria has witnessed since the beginning of the year. According to available records, not less than five workers’ unions have withdrawn their services nationwide for various reasons with most bordering on the Federal Government reneging on agreements.

Leading the pack in February was the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes (ASURI), followed by parliamentary workers in March. In the wake of April, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) joined and, within a few days, judiciary workers and lecturers in the nation’s polytechnics followed suit.

Findings by New Telegraph revealed that the reasons for the industrial actions are mainly as a result of government’s failed demonstration of sufficient commitment to meeting workers’ demands such as increased funding of the sector(s), increase in wages, improved welfare packages, infrastructural sufficiency, conducive work environments.

Some of the unions, such as the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), after several attempts to engage the Federal Government, resolved to embark on indefinite nationwide strike to express their grievances. Others were fortunate to have had series of meetings with government, but whichever the case, strike has always been employed as the last resort after a breakdown or deadlock of negotiations or collective bargaining between government and the unions. Although the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, the conciliator between government and the unions,have been undertaking several meetings with aggrieved unions to find a headway in arresting the strike actions, he has not been able to make much success, as the aggrieved workers are adamant to keep off their work stations until all demands are met.

Appearing on Channels Television to make comments on the resident doctors’ strike, especially the unilateral repudiation of the MOA by NARD’s President, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, the minister said such a move was unknown in labour negotiations. “Disowning the MOA duly negotiated is unknown to labour. The two parties to the negotiation signed the MOA.

Four officers from government and three from NARD signed the document and the president, who was not at the meeting, but fully represented by deputies, went to NARD’s NEC and disowned the paper because they were signed by his deputy and secretary general.

“When a trade dispute has been apprehended, no party imposes on the other, a fait accompli. We signed a memorandum that says NARD will go back to its members to educate them on what has been agreed, the timelines placed on them, with a view not to disturb the industrial milieu in the health sector. And we agreed to reconvene after four weeks.” Unfortunately, these strikes are trailed by unpalatable consequences, with the common man at the receiving end. For instance, in the last seven days since the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) embarked on strike, the number of casualties in public hospitals has continued to increase.

Nigerians without the means to patronise private clinics are left stranded as nurses and consultants scramble to control the work load and save lives. Students at the nation’s polytechnics are already lamenting spending more time at home, thus further dampening hopes of graduating at an appointed time. Philip Enemaku, a student of the Federal Polytechnic, Bida, Niger State, laments that the incessant strikes, coupled with the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 outbreak, was dragging students backward.

“Why can’t government and ASUP sort themselves once and for all? I should be in HND II preparing to leave school any moment from now, but here I am still in my HND 1, not knowing when I will proceed to my final year. This is unfair on us.” Worried over the setback of the strike on the education sector, Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, summoned an emergency meeting with leadership of ASUP, hoping the strike would be called off.

“It was not impossible to reach an agreement with the lecturers, as most of their demands were already being looked into, adding that eight out of the 13 demands listed were solvable without much stress. “If I’m not mistaken, I have 13 points that you have read out. The permanent secretary is not here or else I would have asked him why the Rapid Response Committee is no longer holding its meetings. The committee can solve eight of the issues raised,” Adamu said.

Not deterred, ASUP, led by its President, Comrade Anderson Ezeibe, said although the union was open and ready to dialogue, government was yet to demonstrate any seriousness in resolving the issues listed. Speaking on the development with New Telegraph in Lagos, a former Director- General, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Chief Remi Ogunmefun, explained that no economy thrived under industrial actions, saying it was bad development for a country like Nigeria that is still recovering from the impact of COVID-19.

Ogunmefun explained that no country benefitted from industrial action, adding that what the economy needed was growth. According to him, the ongoing industrial actions in this sector need to be resolved with government because it is impeding growth and development in the country. The former MAN Director- General said: “The industrial action in the judiciary and health sector is one way of grounding the economy because it is impeding growth and development.”

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