If the threat of strike by the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and its Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) counterpart is carried out, then Nigerians will be in for another round of gruesome struggle to source petroleum products. Those two unions have threatened to shut down the nation’s petroleum industry because they perceive that the plan by an oil major, Chevron Nigeria Ltd, to sack thousands of contract workers will hurt those to be affected who are also their members. These workers are engaged by Manpower Services Providers, and Chevron, according to speculations, is about to terminate the contract of the service providers.
To demonstrate their seriousness, leaders of NUPENG and PENGASSAN have already put their members on standby in anticipation of a development from the oil major that will not be in the interest of their members. The unions explained that the affected workers are thousands of their members who are contract workers on M15 and H15 Contracts in Lagos, Warri and Escravos who, they claim, are on the verge of losing their jobs in spite of the ongoing intervention of Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment as well as the established Labour Contract Staffing Guidelines in the oil and gas industry.
As the face-off lingers, the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr Maikanti Baru, is taking it upon himself to mediate before it reaches crisis levels. He is appealing to the unions to restrain themselves and put on hold any plans that are likely to escalate the situation. He is concerned that an industrial action by the unions at this time is capable of having a disruptive effect on the pervading industrial harmony in the sector, a development, he said, is capable of wiping the gains achieved so far.
Just by sounding a strike warning, there are already panic signals in the public space with consumers wondering what next. NUPENG and PENGASSAN have perfected the use of strikes as instruments of blackmail even against governments and their agencies. NUPENG in particular, with its trucks, has rendered the highway to the ports in Lagos and elsewhere almost impassable. When the government makes moves to restore sanity in the area so that other road users can have access, they would begin to threaten to block the road with their vehicles. Even when the police attempt to clear the menace they have caused, they resort to unruly behaviour.
We understand the important role NUPENG, in particular, is playing in the downstream sector of the industry especially as they ensure that petroleum products get to the consuming public in real time. But they must also appreciate the fact that Nigerians they are wont to inconvenience at the slightest misunderstanding with either the police, their employers or even other members of the society, who complain openly about their bad manners, are also playing their defined roles and they are getting fed up with their shenanigans. They deserve to be told in clear terms that the envisaged strike is one too many and will not be tolerated.
For the avoidance of doubt, this newspaper will not bat an eyelid if any of the oil majors gets submerged in the high seas. Their business ethics can only be tolerated in a country like Nigeria. When they are not despoiling the environment and calling the host who dare to complain names, they are treating their Nigerian staff as sub humans. With all the money they are creaming off Nigeria, and with their penchant for maximising their profits, they consider any aspect of their operations that is likely to touch a fraction of their huge profits unacceptable.
Chevron can accommodate the peanuts they pay those contract workers in the interest of industrial peace and harmony. But no, they are always concerned about profit maximisation. The profit target must be met even if it means dispensing with the services of the Nigerian staff who slave for them.
Having said this, it is our opinion that NUPENG and PENGASSAN must begin to realise that the effect of the strike they are planning to embark upon will be felt more by Nigerians who will be made to suffer the effects of shortage of fuel and the stress it imposes on Nigerians. These unions must also realise that industrial action is not the first option in the event of a dispute between them and their employers. Their quick resort to strike at all times is making them lose public sympathy even when their cause is just. We urge them to feel compelled to adhere to the admonitions of Dr Baru who will be called upon by Nigerians to clear the mess left behind by over-pampered unions and insensitive oil monopolies riding roughshod on the sensibilities of Nigeria and Nigerians.
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