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60 years on: Time for fresh start in industrial relations

Published by The Nation on Wed, 30 Sep 2020

Kanmi AdemiluyiSIR: Tomorrow, Thursday October 1, Nigeria will celebrate its diamond anniversary. There is obviously a lot to be grateful for. However it is also a time to look at the structural and the attitudinal imbalances of the post-colonial state.The current industrial relations imbroglio is one area deserving of attention. Not a great deal has changed from the post-independence days of the labour leader number one the irascible Michael Imoudu. Like much else, industrial relations in the post-colonial state is still frozen in time and space going all the way back to its emergence in the colonial era.Both organised (when it was given the legal space) and unorganised labour played a sterling role in the struggle against foreign occupation, racial domination and the erosion of self-esteem. Sixty years on they still earn a central place in the pantheon of national liberation heroes, creating a veneer free of ethnic suspicion, a really national group.Unfortunately now with millions of Nigerians below the poverty line, the centrality and effectiveness of labour must be called into question. From a cynical perspective, labour after independence with the advent of the post-colonial state has simply become an aristocracy of labour. To be honest this is an offensive depiction. Nevertheless the issue inconvenient as it is has to be faced.The inconvenient issue of an aristocracy of labour has to be looked at from a perspective of a perceived increase in living standards for the labour leadership and declining perhaps pauperization of those they claim to represent. The turbulence of the past few days brings the dilemma once again to the fore. If labour must accept a part of the blame for the erosion of living standards, it must also be central in answering the eternal question what is to be done' .Too many institutions are frozen in the space of the colonial era, banking (focused on the short termism of the inherited AngloSaxon banking model), a police force which has not transited into a service but still bears the mindset of the enforcers of the orders of a colonial state and the labour leadership itself fixated on adversarial cut and thrust. From the perspective of the country industrial competitiveness, labours role is tragic. Nigerias post-colonial state to give an example has a hideous record on industrial safety. The safety ordinances are observed in the breach oftentimes in a way that will shame a colonial administration.When you juxtapose this with plunging living standards, 60 years on, it is time for a change. The age old adversarial model must be reworked. The empirical evidence is unambiguous, it has not delivered. A comparative analysis with the efficacy of other models in particular the Nordic and post war German model is instructive. In the era of the unexpected intrusion of the novel Covid-19, their solidity has once again been demonstrated.After so many decades of watershed debacles not least the tragiccomedy of the Udoji Awards, we really have to start afresh. Headline grabbing monetary awards inevitably ends in disillusionment. We must look at the alternatives.The present industrial relations tussle over tariff increases will be sorted out but we do 60 years on have to face the stark realities of a socially combustible erosion of living standards and work out new partnerships through which governments, labour, the private sector as well as civil society can work hand in glove create to a new competitive economy while creating sustainable development and delivering ever increasing living standards.Kanmi Ademiluyi,Osogbo, Osun State.
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