Nigerians woke up Tuesday, July 21, 2015, after what some would have been termed a peaceful Sallah celebration, to read in some newspapers a 21-day ultimatum had been issued by the leadership of the Petrol Station Workers (PSW) Branch of NUPENG to petrol station owners in the downstream sector, NNPC retail outlet (mega stations), major marketers filling stations and independent marketers filling stations (PEDAN, MOMAN, IPMAN, NNPC, RETAIL OUTLET, LTD) to accede to its demands or have its members working in all filling stations nationwide withdrawn from work. One of such publications appeared as a paid advertorial at page 44 of Vanguard Newspaper of Tuesday, July 21, and signed by Comrades Roland Abu and Abass Adegoke; Branch Chairman and Secretary of PSW of NUPENG respectively.
Any discerning reader, who had the patience of reading through not only that ill-conceived but also unnecessary polity pollutant, as presented in that write-up by the Petroleum Station Workers, would, no doubt, agree that the nation, at this stage, can no longer be threatened with strikes, withdrawal of workers, etcetera by any branch in the oil sector, as there has been one too many in recent months, resulting in great pains for Nigerians and adversely affecting the economy.
This goes to show that the state of the trade union in Nigeria is lamentable. The PSW leadership has lost focus and has become completely disconnected from the workers they claim to be representing. Instead of the union leadership maintaining a class position and take responsibilities that will better the lot of the entire citizens of the country while engaging in the efforts to move the economy forward, it issues needless threats. To say the least, the union leadership has abandoned its core responsibilities as shown in international best practice of the trade union movement- providing training for members, equal right for employees and welfare programs for members, etc.
From the publication, the crux of the matter, according to the PSW, are as follows: The inability of the afore-mentioned bodies to (1) “Allow their workers exercise their fundamental human rights; to freely unionize… and (2) “…Non-existence of salary structure and collective bargaining agreement for its workers in the downstream sector of the economy…”
Fuel scarcity
The implication of the strike threat is that Nigerians should get set for another round of fuel scarcity in the weeks ahead should the concerned stakeholders refuse to accede to their demands, even as many cities in the country are experiencing fuel scarcity as a result of the actions and inaction of some oil sector unions.
It is disheartening that at a time the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is saddled with managing an economically weak, and virtually impoverished country; at a time Nigerians are divided along ethnic and religious lines perhaps more than ever before, a wobbling ‘federal’ structure showing the inability of most federating units to function, security of lives and property across Nigeria at its lowest ebb, an oil-dependent economy in the doldrum due to corruption and the fall in global oil prices, and more than 50 per cent of the population living below the poverty line; at a time the President is seeking international help to end the threat of Boko Haram and the recovery of the nation’s looted funds; at a period that all attention is focused on how to ensure that our refineries are working again and producing for our local consumption; a season that joblessness and unemployment have forced Nigerians to take to begging, it is something of great concern that the leadership of the PSW is threatening to withdraw its members from their source of livelihood just because they must unionize.
While this is not aimed at preventing any Nigerian worker the right and freedom in accordance with the extant labour laws of the country, it is, however, unfortunate that the way some of these rights and policies are pursued and exercised have not only left a sour taste in the month to the workers but also brought pains to Nigerians while our union leaders sit and clap with sadistic inclination. It is nauseating to see the pains the union leaders are causing to the employers of their members and the people.
The lamentable state of the trade union has left doubt in the minds of Nigerians as to when and how some trade unions affiliates should be trusted because the perception that these bodies are the government of the masses has been long eroded. Why? They feed mostly on the sentiment of the majority (people who understand next to nothing about policies) to mobilise against policies that potentially could benefit all. The result of this is that, at the end of every fight, the masses come out worse than they were.
From history, in the so-called battles to ameliorate the plight of the masses, the same masses will still be at the receiving end. For example, the loss of the minimum wage, to fuel subsidy removal and conducting election amongst themselves-they have not only failed themselves but also the masses.
Anti-people stance
Nobody is paying anybody minimum wage in the country today. We are all witnesses to the fiasco that followed the National Council of State (NCS) meeting of November 2010 which okayed the N18,000 minimum wage demanded by the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). Economists are still baffled at the arithmetic the labour used to arrive at that figure for workers across the country, including states that could barely generate enough income to buy petrol for their governors vehicles.
Gabriel is an Abuja-based journalist and public affairs analyst

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