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Feasibility of strike and ‘no work, no pay’ rule

MOSES JOHN looks at the arguments for and against the planned ‘no pay, no work’ rule of the federal government and concluded that parties should be guided by the national interest.

 

When the Trade Dispute Act law of the Federation captured the ‘ no work, no pay’ rule,   perhaps the author envisaged a situation where workers might want to withdraw their services due to industrial disputes.

 

Trade Dispute Act

Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act of the Federation states that; “workers have a right to disengage from an employer if there is a breakdown in discussions or negotiation. But for the period that the worker does so, the employer should not pay and those periods are to be counted as non-pensionable times in the period of work.”

Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, while briefing State House Correspondents, after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, declared that the federal government will implement the no work no pay law.

This might not be unconnected to the recent pockets of strike witnesses across the country. As at the last count,  Academic Staff of Universities Union, Joint Action Committee of  Non Teaching Staff in the Universities,  National Association of  Resident Doctors, Joint Health Sector Unions and a host of others  grounded activities in the respective sectors.

The pronouncement for invoking the law followed the report by a technical committee set up by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) on industrial relations matters in the federal public service.

This committee was set up precisely on April 27th, 2016, chaired by the SGF and co-chaired by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, with the membership drawn from National Salaries, Wages and Income Commission, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Science and Technology and Office of the Attorney General of the Federation.

Besides, the minister also hinted on plans to tinker with tenure of union leaders. “We have to do that because of the spate of industrial crisis we have suffered in the last two months, when we had plethora of strikes all over the place. So council has said this should be re-emphasised to workers so that they will know.

“Meanwhile, for the strike embarked upon the last time, we will see what we can do about that because there is a law in place.”

 

Tenure of union leaders 

The minister also hinted on plans to tinker with the tenure of union leaders, saying “they are Presidents of trade unions for life and they sit tight, criticise those who are trying to do third term or fourth term while they themselves are sitting tight.

“It was agreed that my ministry should continue with our work in terms of fishing out the unions that don’t have constitutions that prescribed time limit for their elected officers. Such unions should be made to comply with the law, so that people elected serve out their term and other people will take their place. That is democracy in account.”

On agreement emanating from collective bargaining the government noted that such agreements are not usually signed, and when signed , it is usually done by the wrong persons.

 

Labour wants ‘no pay no work’

But the organised labour is insisting such a rule cannot work, accusing government of also guilty of not implementing collective bargaining agreements.

Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Peter Adeyemi,  said such policy will not work, because most industrial actions by workers are caused by the government.

He said Nigerian governments are insensitive to workers’ welfare, warning that implementation of ‘no work no pay’ would not stop strike unless government keeps to its part of the bargain.

Adeyemi vowed that workers will fight against this policy and any other policies that are anti-workers.

“Governments have been the cause of all strikes.  It is a policy and decision that will surely  not going to work. Most of the strike actions have been the fault of government failure to fulfil its own part of the bargain.

“Government will only call you when there is a strike action and promised what they cannot fulfil. They will sign an MOU because they want to immediately arrest the strike and enter into MOU they are not going to honour.

“The implementation of no work no pay will not stop the strike, government should  do  what they are supposed to do because workers have not been paid salaries for eight, nine months and government is saying they will implement ‘no work no pay.”

In a similar reaction,  TUC President, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, said government should know that the law also makes provision for ‘no pay, no work.’

“Let them talk about ‘no work, no pay,” and also ‘no pay, no work’. They should be fair and unbiased when it comes  to the welfare of Nigerian workers, because the law has made provision for ‘no pay, no work’  just like the law has made provision for  ‘no work, no pay.’  “What  we are saying is that there are circumstances where there is an agreement between the employer and employee,  when one flouts the law, then what happens?  They  have not thought of that instead they are talking about ‘no work, no pay.’

“Most times it is a case of employer flouting the subsisting agreement. So when someone defaults on its agreement what the law says, does the law punish an innocent person? What you are supposed to have asked the government is; who flouts the collective bargaining agreement, who flouts the issue of payment when it comes to the right of workers? Workers only start agitating where their welfare packages are infringed upon.”

“Ordinary Nigerian workers have been patient with their employers.  So, if you pay their salaries and entitlement,  workers have no business with what you do. But  when you don’t promote and take care of their welfare, then they start agitation.  These are genuine agitations.

How can you say you will punish a worker for an offence he never committed? So, government should talk about ‘no pay, no work’ before ‘no work, no pay.”

 

Legal opinions

Commenting on the development, legal adviser of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Comrade Placidus Nnamani, said everybody has a right and  implementing the law should not be one way.

“The legal implication of this is that, everybody has a right, just like the federal government has a right, so also the workers. So it is the question of court interpreting it.

Also on the issue, former Attorney General of Nasarawa state, Innocent Lagi advised workers to approach the National Industrial Court for issues related to industrial dispute, rather than resulting to strike.

He said federal government cannot implement the ‘no work, no pay’ because it fails on meeting its obligations to the workers.

“Government can’t implement that because the right for association, prohibition and slavery and the rest of them are conventions of the ILO which give workers the right to protest against their work environment.

“Also, a lot of workers have not been paid for months. These are obligatory role of government to the workers which is not adhered to. Workers don’t have the courage to approach the establishment, we have the National Industrial Court and in any kind of contract, there are no exceptions but the unions will rather talk or go on strike instead of taking strategic step to get the issues resolved. If I have to advise the workers is to change their tactics towards solving these issues.”

 

Doing it right

However, analysts are of the view that there are always two sides to a coin. According to them, if government can apply the no work, no pay rule, they should, as a matter of natural justice, also implement the no pay, no work, putting in mind employers who, for reasons best known to them, owe workers salaries for months.

Whatever the parties do, they must at all times factor  national interest in order to ensure a high-level productivity.

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