How does our strike culture affect the economy?, By Cheta Nwanze
The fundamental reason that unions embark on strike is to show their displeasure about a particular circumstance or situation that they are passing through. The end result of the strike is usually to effect a change and turn around in that situation. In most civilised countries, strikes are for limited time periods. However, whenever there is a strike in Nigeria, regardless of the sector involved, it means “NO GOING TO WORK”. Businesses are shut down, government offices are closed and work is brought to a total halt, usually for an indefinite period. This has become the predominant culture of industrial dispute resolution in this country, and to the minds of most Nigerians, is the only way to solve labour disputes.

In some other countries, an upgraded strike culture exists. Instead of refusing to go to work, they go to work and provide the services for free to citizens. This has in many cases forced the hands of the government, or private companies to address the underlying root causes of such industrial action, often expeditiously.

A recent notable example will be a good starting point. On May 11, 2018, protesting bus drivers in the sleepy Japanese city of Okayama continued plying their routes but refused fares from passengers. The dispute between workers and the Ryobi bus company reportedly began after a rival bus service launched in April, offering cheaper fares on some routes overlapping those of Ryobi. As a result, Ryobi drivers asked for improvements to their job security with the added competition. When that wasn’t agreed, they covered the ticket machines on buses and refused to take fares from passengers.

This is not the first time transit workers took this kind of action. Last year in Sydney, Australia, bus drivers from 12 depots conducted a “fare-free day”, turning off card machines as part of a dispute over government plans to privatise services. Brisbane bus drivers tried a similar tactic on July 28, 2017, leading fare-free days as part of action calling for increased wages, improved safety on buses and better rosters.
North America has not been left out of this innovative protest fever. In New York, a group of activists reacted to a hike in subway fares in 2013 by using unlimited passes to swipe in other commuters.

The most prominent protests however, have come from Brazil’s Movimento Passe Livre, which argues that paid-for public transport creates social exclusion. Starting in 2003 in the city of Salvador, when thousands of Brazilian students and workers closed roads to protest against rising transport fares, the movement climaxed in nationwide protests in 2013. The targets of the demonstrations broadened from transport fees to corruption and poor public services in general – and as many as a million people took to the streets.

On a much smaller scale, a group in Sweden has been advocating for free transit across cities for almost two decades. Formed in 2001, Planka encourages people to dodge fares, helping members pay any penalty fees through a group fund.
They share videos offering guidance to citizens in Stockholm and Gothenburg on how to jump barriers and keep watch for ticket inspectors. “Mobility and class are tightly linked,” the group insists. “A society based on the current mobility paradigm … contributes directly to the increase of economic and social injustice.”

Over the last three decades at least, whenever the NLC has embarked on nationwide strikes, the whole country is brought to a standstill, with no time limits. Businesses lose money, workers stay at home. The all-round effect of such strikes hurts the growth of the national economy. This is Nigeria’s strike culture.

On April 19, this year, the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), declared an indefinite strike to press home their demands for improved working conditions and an adjustment of the salary structure. The strike was promoted by what they termed as the government’s blatant refusal to implement the agreement it reached with the union on September 20, 2017, on the salary structure adjustment among a host of other demands.

As health workers excluding medical doctors are on an indefinite nationwide strike, government hospitals have shut down, leading to citizens being deprived of access to healthcare of any sort in public hospitals. This has in turn led to an increased number of deaths by citizens who do not have enough funds to access private health facilities, which are very pricey. Scores have been reported dead following the unavailability of quick healthcare intervention in the public hospitals.

Nigeria, land of many economic contradictions which need vigorous interventions from organised labour and civil society, cannot be left behind. The attractive selling point of these emerging protest initiatives is that in cases such as Okayama and Sydney, management cannot use the labour stoppage against the protesters, appealing to the public that they are putting their own needs before the community’s, which is what the Ministry of Health is currently doing to JOHESU.

The moral lesson is that we need adopt these smarter measures that aim to secure more economic equality, without actually damaging the ailing economy we already have.

News Reporter

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