The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, on Wednesday, warned labour unions in the country that the Federal Government would no longer tolerate warning strikes.
He said as far as the government was concerned, warning strikes were threats that were unacceptable.
Ngige spoke with State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting.
While saying there was nothing workers could not get by negotiation, the minister urged them to embrace social dialogue and collective bargaining agreements while making their demands.
Ngige stated, “We also have warnings from doctors’ union and ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) as well as NASU. We are discussing with them but we want to appeal to all of them that there is nothing like warning strike.
“There is nothing you cannot get by negotiation and you cannot get certain things by threats. Warning strikes, as far as government is concerned, are threats. I have made it clear to them.
“Government and labour laws make provision for social dialogue and collective bargaining agreements. It also makes provision for the review of the agreements.
“Nigerian unions should imbibe the culture of social dialogue.”
While conceding to the workers the right to go on strike, Ngige said they should also be aware that employers were not under any obligation to pay striking workers.
Payment of striking workers, according to him, should be done by their unions.
He said that was the more reason why workers should learn to approach their employers for renegotiation when some agreements were not complied with.
The minister added, “They (workers) can go on strike after giving the mandatory notices but the same law says in Section 43 that if you withdraw your services, your union is supposed to pay you; your employer will not pay. That is how the issue of no work, no pay came up.
“It is in the country’s labour law. For the period you withdraw your services, it will not count for you in your pensionable times. It is taken as broken service. The unions have the responsibility to lecture their members on this.
“If your employer has not complied with an agreement, you take him back to negotiation table or he can ask you for a re-negotiation.”
Ngige attributed the regular face-off between government and labour unions to the fact that most labour agreements were not backed by appropriation.
He said government at times, because of threats and pressure from the unions, succumbed to certain conditions that were not implementable.
While saying there were a lot of such agreements that were not implementable, the minister explained that that was why university unions would have to go back for renegotiation for the 2009 agreement they had with the Federal Government.
“We want them to give government a chance. Government has a human face; we are humans,” he said.
The minister added that a committee set up on the new minimum wage would submit its report next week.
He said the government was attending to industrial relations issues as much as possible within the strength of the economy.
Ngige stated, “We have cooperation from most of the unions – the NLC and the TUC. We have maximum cooperation from them.
“On the minimum wage issue, we have a technical committee that is working and members of the two congresses are members of that committee. We are almost finishing our work and we are handing over next week.
“Everybody knows that prices have gone up and in some states, workers are not getting salaries. They are unable to pay the minimum wage. These are the things we have taken into account in our discussion.”
But the President of the newly formed Labour Centre, United Labour Congress, Mr. Joseph Ajaero, said workers agreed with the minister on the warning strike and would embark on the real strike instead of a warning strike.
Ajaero, who is also the General Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Wednesday that there was no law in the country which forbade strike.
He stated, “So, I think we agree with the minister that we are no longer going to go on warning strikes but we are going to go on strike and he can’t say that there is any law that forbids strikes in the country.
“So, we will go ahead and do the main strike instead of the warning strike so that he would get the real strike.”
On its part, ASUU declared that it was not moved by the government’s warning against warning strikes, which it described as a threat.
ASUU’s National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday, said, “Such threats are not problems to any union that knows its onions. We are familiar with that and I think the best thing we should be talking about is why people go on strike, whether warning or full-blown.
“They (government) will always tell you that strike is illegal, but it is also an acceptable tool according to the Convention of the International Labour Organisation which recognises strike as a weapon of last resort.”
Also, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Mike Ogirima, said there wouldn’t have been any need for strikes if the government was fulfilling reached agreements with workers.
He stated, “Strike, in any case, whether it is warning or full-blown, is an inevitable weapon employed by unions to demand their rights.
“Of course, whatever law they invoke on the people is subject to litigation in line with the labour laws. If my members are not treated well, we can take legal means to ask for our rights, not necessarily strike.”
A former Vice-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Isah Aremu, said the preoccupation of the government should be the cause rather than the mode of strike.
Aremu, who is the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, advised Ngige to speak as a minister and not as an employer of Labour.
He argued that employers of Labour and the government did not give warnings before they violate workers rights with impunity in the country.
“What warning did the government give for not paying salaries of workers at the state level for months? So trade unions are even more charitable to give a warning. Employers and government don’t give any warning before they violate workers rights with impunity,” he added.
He said that workers had rights under the International Labour Organisation convention to which Nigeria is a signatory to give notice of strike, whether warning or formative.
- Source - Punch