The industrial strike embarked upon by the National Union of Petroleum and Gas (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) is very worrisome, coming at this time of the year. The action has not only disrupted economic activities all over the country, it is also threatening to shut down the entire system of government administration. According to NUPENG and PENGASSAN, the action followed government refusal to address some of the problems affecting the oil industry. They accused it of not maintaining the refineries and ensuring they had adequate supply of crude oil, as well as neglecting to combat pipeline vandalism. Moreover, they are calling for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), aimed at overhauling the inefficiency in the sector and ending of unfair labour practices. The demands include carrying out turnaround maintenance of the refineries, reduction in pump petrol prices, improvement in the country’s neglected road network, curbing pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, stemming the high rate of divestment and attendant job losses in the industry. Furthermore, the unions insist that their members will not suspend the strike until there is a strong commitment from both the government and operators to resolve the issues. We acknowledge that industrial strike is a legitimate weapon of collective bargaining and negotiation in every democratic society. So, when labour resorts to this option, it is an indication that all avenues for resolution of the conflict have broken down. It is pertinent that the government looks into this barrage of grievances with all the seriousness it deserves. For example, the menace of oil theft and sea piracy in the maritime sector is becoming worrisome, with the feeble attempt to curb the vices. Despite the massive investment in surveillance facilities and other state-of-the-art equipment, it is estimated that the country loses about $25 billion to oil theft annually. Another area of grievance is the allegation that the authorities have concluded plans for the sale of the country’s four refineries. Much as the oil workers reserve the right to strike in order to press home their demands, we make bold to remind them that the timing of their action robs it of all altruism. It has been in the manner of the unions to embark on wildcat strikes, especially during festive periods, in the hope of creating a groundswell of animosity against the government. This ritual has to stop if the unions are desirous of getting the sympathy of Nigerians. On its part, government must not wait until there is a breakdown of communication between it and the unions before it acts to resolve.
*this was published in the Daily Times dated Thursday, December 18, 2014