The Federal Government has urged the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to advise its affiliate, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), to abide by the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act and call off its ongoing strike.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Christ Ngige, made the call on Monday at the opening ceremony of the 2022 edition of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) in Lagos.
Ngige said this in a statement signed by Mr Charles Akpan, the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations, in the ministry.
“I’m using this opportunity to plead with the NLC to which ASUU is affiliated, to call them to order, make them obey the law, to let them know what the Trade Disputes Act says.
”As university teachers who are even teaching industrial law, to abide by the law. They should call off that strike. That strike is not appropriately instituted.
“I have conciliated and made sure the issues in disputes have been decisively been dealt with,” he said.
Ngige also urged the Council to discuss, as part of its agenda, a workable recipe that appropriately conciliates disputes with associations that are not properly registered as trade unions, to ensure that they fully abide by the provisions of the law.
“What will be the relationship with workers organisations that are not properly registered as trade unions? The labour Act is there and it says the minister can discuss with them. But they do not fully conform with legal provisions.
“This is, especially in terms of style of negotiation and conciliation. NLAC should therefore come to the aid of the country here.
“Even though the Trade Disputes Act permits the Minister to apprehend and deal with these workers that have not been registered as unions, you can also see that when dealing with them, you encounter problems.
“This is because they do not fully understand the nuisances or obey the labour laws as it should be.
“If you are a union, you give adequate notice before proceeding on strike. If you are a union too and your strike is apprehended, you go back to your work while necessary adjustment is made to give you justice.
“The NLAC is expected to get the workers side of the tripartite live up to their responsibilities in this regard,” he said.
The minister noted that some associations in critical sectors of health and education such as Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) are in actual fact, not properly unionised.
According to him, the NMA is not a trade union, the NARD is not a trade union. They are association of workers.
“The university teachers are registered under the Academic Staff Union of Universities and are affiliated to the Nigerian Labour Congress, but that affiliation is only in name. It is not indeed, because they don’t obey the Labour Act as it concerns conciliation.
“For example, ASUU declared a month strike and called it warning strike. It did not notify their employer, the Ministry of Education, neither did they notify me, the Minister of Labour, that there is a breakdown in negotiation.
”I know that they had some discussions which was in limbo but I should be notified properly so that I can arrest the breakdown and bring it forward for proper conciliation.
“Now, I apprehended the dispute in consonance with the Labour Act. They came for conciliation, only for them to go back and continue the strike. This is illegal. The law is that once a dispute is apprehended, everybody returns to status quo ante.
“The law also says that if I arrest a dispute and the party or parties are not ready to conform, I should transfer the dispute within 14 days to either the Industrial Arbitration Panel or to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in line with Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act .
“But I’m concerned that if I do this suo motu, this will not solve the problem; getting our children back to school outright,” he said.
Ngige recalled the numerous benefits of the Council especially as they relate to the review of the labour laws and adoption of the various conventions of the ILO, and commended the Federal Government for moving ahead with global best practices even while working to adopt the conventions.
The minister referred to Convention 102 which is on social security, listing the pillars to include comprehensive medical care, compensation for accidents at work, workers insurance and maternal health.
He noted that the Employee Compensation Act 2010, National Health Insurance Scheme as well maternity and now paternity leave currently being accessed by public servants are in this direction.
He however restated the commitment of the ministry to ensuring regular meeting of the council.
Earlier, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the chairman of the Council, Mr Peter Tarfa, said the meeting was a demonstration of the ministry’s commitment to regular meeting of the NLAC.
He added that this is to strengthen the council in its role as the apex body charged with the responsibility of ensuring industrial peace and harmony as well as sound labour administration practice.
He said “national industrial relation space” has remained turbulent despite government’s effort, hence the need for the collective input of all stakeholders for solution.
“These challenges will therefore require our collective efforts to resolve. To this end, the critical role of the council in promoting industrial peace and harmony must be reinforced to resolve long lasting industrial disputes and enhance national productivity and economic development.”
He added that the ministry has taken necessary steps to forward to the Federal Executive Council two of the Conventions recommended by the Council in 2021 in Owerri.
He listed them as the Violence and Harassment in the World of Work Convention 2019 (No. 190) and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No.187).
According to him, others are in progress.
He regretted the ravaging effects of COVID-19 on the economy which has compounded the challenges faced by the government and opening up more frontiers of industrial crisis.
“If we do not halt this ugly trend, attaining Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals which aims to promote inclusive and sustainable economic development and decent work for all would continue to be a mirage,” he said.
Goodwill messages were presented at the well-attended council by the Country Director of the ILO, Vanessa Lerato Phala, the NLC, TUC and NECA.