] Issa Aremu, What about Industrial Relations? (II)
With posthumous apology to Chinua Achebe, there was certainly once a Nigeria with abundant data on valued added activities (productivity) and work related relations in general. For instance industrial disputes statistics and the associated man hours, sorry (to be gender correct-) human hours!) losses were once part of national statistics. There was once a productive Nigeria in which industrial progress was valued and the inherent industrial relations between employers and employees and even employees and employees are captured in quantitative and qualitative data. Value addition through productivity or any value subtraction through strikes and industrial disruptions were measured in terms of times and money. For as long as it lasted, the moribund Federal Office of Statistics (FOS) was very active in compiling useful labour market data in the 60s up to the 80s, and even up the 90s.
These data in turn served as useful guide in managing industrial relations. Same for the Annual Reports of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Undoubtedly Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) under the able leadership of the Statistician General Dr Yemi Kale has truly modernized. We now have an on-line e-Library of statistics to match! I am therefore surprised to have searched in vain for some basic data on industrial disputes for instance in its posted Annual Abstract of Statistics of 2011. For a country that daily muddles through from one avoidable industrial dispute to the other, it is not clear why NBS is labour disputes data blind. If we cannot count it (read; labour dispute!) we certainly can hardly tame it! Even the quick links on Socio Economic Data indicate nothing on industrial disputes. The Bureau that remarkably assembles good data on capital flow, inflation, and exchange rates and even on once-inmany-life times development agenda paradigm such as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) inexplicably has little on offer on industrial relation. NBS seems to assume that only the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity should gather the labour data. This smacks of class bias. Data on labour are needed just as data on other factors of productions are readily available. One of the challenges of industrial relations therefore is paucity of data on critical industrial relations especially on industrial disputes. Participants of Senior Executive Course (SEC) 36 must impress on NBS to add robust industrial relations data to its Abstract. Statistics are urgently needed on national Productivity, Collective Bargaining and collective agreements, job classifications, wages and settlements, Industrial conflicts and conflict resolutions, Pension and Social Security, Occupational health and safety, grievances at work and all that make up industrial relations. These data must also be disaggregated between private and public sectors for informed judgments on policy.
The point cannot be overstated! Nigeria is hunted by a spectre of (in most cases) avoidable industrial relations crises. Primary school teachers and Academic lecturers are periodically on strikes. These strikes average 3 months annually in the last two decades. In certain years universities are shut for 6 months! Currently 7 months’ old strikes of the polytechnics seem forgotten. So much then for primary and tertiary educational service delivery! The health sectors at Federal and state levels have been in industrial turmoil of varying dimension as doctors, nurses, pharmacists had to go on strikes at different times. Hitherto the blue collar workers in the private sectors were known for work stoppages given the precarious nature of private sector caused by employment based on morbid exploitation for maximum profits by the owners of enterprises. However in recent times, the private sector seems relatively more stable given the entrenched process of collective bargaining and conflict resolution put in place over the years. Work is also getting precarious in the public sector making it strike prone. Even the so-called essential services such as the Police attempted strikes in 2002 during OBJ first term. Interestingly too, the labour unions are also getting strike fatigue. Just last week, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) under the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Abdulwaheed Omar, in Abuja counselled the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) against an abuse of strike weapon by the petroleum marketers who are at war over leadership of (IPMAN). Nigeria parades remarkable labour market institutions and significant labour laws that should regulate industrial relations. These institutions include tripartite National labour Advisory Council (NLAC) made up of trade unions NLC and TUC, employers’ Association (NECA), states and Federal governments), Industrial Arbitration Panel, IAP, National Industrial Court, NIC. There are scores of collective bargaining councils in the private sector. These institutions are to mediate and reconcile labour market actors in disputes. Nigeria has also ratified and indeed domesticated core labour conventions 87 and 98, 151 and 154 dealing with terms of work covered. Participants of Senior Executive Course (SEC) 36 have the singular research task of explaining the gap between robust institutions and rules and industrial relations performance. Speaking on the 2013 ministerial mid-term report platform, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Emeka Wogu reported a total of 398 labour related grievances and trade disputes between 2011 and 2013. Unofficial statistics would reveal that labour related disputes are in thousands within these periods. And at what costs? We are inundated with corruption as distinct from development narratives. Therefore it is easier to quantify billions of naira lost to fuel subsidy robbery, pension and crude oil thefts. But we should also acknowledge the lost of billions of what the great Political Economist, Paul Baran in his classic; Political Economy of growth called potential surplus due (in this case) to human hours lost to strikes and work stoppages. Next week we conclude by looking at the causes of these strikes. The issue is not a blame game among labour market actors but to point out that whoever causes them the result is the same; productivity haemorrhage for an economy striving to overcome massive poverty and willing to be part of leading 20 developed economies in 2020!