As a measure to curb incessant industrial actions by workers in Nigeria, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, recently announced that the Federal Government was in the process of implementing the no-work-no-pay policy as stipulated in the Trade Dispute Act.
In this Special Report, Nigerians who spoke to our Correspondent, CHINWE MADUAGWU, have condemned the plan describing it as a threat. They also warned that if the Federal Government implemented the policy, workers would approach the industrial court for adjudication, saying “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.”
Strikes are not new to us here in Nigeria. In fact, hardly a year goes by without one sector or another going on strike. Sometimes several sectors embark on strikes or industrial actions at the same time thereby grounding the nation.
Often times, the reasons for embarking on strikes are government’s inability to fulfill promises and/ or agreements reached with workers through their unions. As a way, therefore, to get the government or relevant authorities to do the needful, employees embark on industrial actions.
Rising from the Federal Executive Council meeting early in October, the Federal Government, through the Labour and Employment Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, disclosed that it was fine-tuning the process of implementing the ‘ no work, no pay law ‘ as stipulated in the Trade Dispute Act.
Section 43 of the Act stipulates that workers have the right to disengage from an employer if there is a breakdown in discussions or negotiations. However, for the period that the worker does so, the employer should not pay and those periods are to be counted as non-pensionable.
His comments came as part of government’s responses to the spate of strikes in the academic and health sectors that practically brought activities in those sectors to their heels.
The Next Edition in this report, sampled the opinions of a cross section of Nigerians on the strikes, the no work, no pay law and the way forward.
Dr. Adebayo Sekumade, President, Association of Resident Doctors, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi – Araba, said they were not threatened by the Minister’s pronouncement. He said, “We cannot be threatened by their pronouncement to implement the policy because in as much as the unions have fulfilled due diligence in the way they have approached the government in their agitations, we can’t be threatened.”
He explained that the policy was inserted in the Trade Act to protect both the employers and employees. “The policy is there to ensure that workers are not unduly abusing the provision for industrial actions. But the clause was inserted with the assumption that government would also at all times fulfill it’s responsibilities towards the workers, which are, to ensure that their demands, wherein they are legitimate are clearly negotiated and if possible met.
“In this part of the world, however, you find that government officials are not forthcoming when it comes to negotiating with workers in these demands,” he said.
Dr. Sekumade pointed out that in most organizations and institutions there should be a timetable for meetings between the administrative staff and the unions but lamented that such meetings rarely hold because the administrative staff who are supposed to convene the meeting fail to do so.
“By and large, you find out there is a lacuna on the part of government officials in the way they have been handling these issues. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. If government cannot show clear proof that it has fulfilled it’s part of the bargain, then it cannot in all fairness say it wants to exercise the right to implement the no work, no pay policy.
“In as much as it is a welcome development as a check to ensure that industrial harmony is maintained, government must also fulfill it’s own part of the bargain, which is to ensure the right tools and the right environment are put in place to ensure that workers can discharge their duties effectively and efficiently. If these conditions have not been put in place, then government has no moral justification to say it wants to implement the no work, no pay policy,” he explained further.
He, however, noted that if the government insisted on implementing the policy, workers would also have the option of going to the Industrial Courts for adjudication; “Yes, workers will have their day in court. Judges will look at the cases and ask the question: ‘Have you fulfilled due diligence before you say you want to implement the policy?’
For Dr. ( Mrs.) Ofure Aito, a Lecturer in the Department of English, University of Lagos, Lagos state, we shouldn’t have to deal with strikes if government was sincere in dealing with workers.
“First, the situation of strike should never arise if government is honest in her contractual agreement with labour or the workforce. Question is: what brings about strike if not the failure to keep gentleman agreement or contract. It is sad that it is only in this part of the world that contracts are breached and everyone smiles it away as ok or normal. A breach of contract is a criminal offense that entails a litigation and a court ruling.
“A breach of contract is our way of life here, so why does government consider it an affront when unions embark on strikes to enforce their contract? As the saying goes, respect is reciprocal: if government keeps her side of the bargain, then no one will strike,” Dr. Aito said.
She upbraided government for it’s apparent lack of concern for workers’ welfare. Her words, “Another situation is that government must realise that union members have needs that require financial commitments. You cannot afford to pay N39 million a month to members of the legislature and not keep your bargain with unions asking for mere tokens.”
Therefore, Dr. Aito said that the declaration of ‘ no work, no pay’ is a threat that is liable in an honest court of law.
On the use of strikes as a bargaining chip, the Lecturer was of the view that strike is often damaging and may not yield much results. For her then, the best option to handling a breach of contract is to approach the courts. But she lamented: “Sadly though in Nigeria, we have a biased court that may rule against the unionists. So, you find that the unions face brick walls in the course of seeking justice.”
She summed up her position thus, “what morality does the government have to make such threatening declaration when political contracts or pledges made during campaigns are yet to be fulfilled? In Nigeria, charity begins from outside not inside. Bottom line, we run a hypocritical governance in Nigeria: the governed is enslaved by the government. This is democracy not militarism or dictatorship. Who is afraid of criticism?”
Mr. Michael Nwabufo, a Computer Engineer, does not believe workers should go on strike for any reason and so is in support of the no work, no pay policy.
He told the Next Edition, “if a worker fails to work, he should not be paid. You cannot be paid for a task you have not accomplished as agreed with your employers. Even if you’re being owed salary arrears, sit down and negotiate with your employers. If we continue to embark on strikes even for causes external to our work places, who would bear the cost at the end of the day?”
Again, Mr. Nwabufo noted that most strikes were vindictive and punitive in nature. “We strike to inflict maximum pains and suffering on the populace. On whose behalf are we fighting?”
He harped on the need for dialogue; “we must learn to talk with one another. Whenever we fight and then settle, the bruises still remain. Some become permanent scars. I suppose that brings us back to the core of the matter, that is, Word, Word, not War, War!”
Mr. Cyril Orieke, a former banker, said government should not think of implementing the policy as a way to prevent workers going on strike. “There shouldn’t be any strike at all if the government implements everything it is supposed to do for workers. But because they have been failing in so many agreements reached with different unions, that’s why they embark on strikes. The only way to get government to do some of the things it promised to do is by workers going on strike. There is no other way, especially with the Nigerian government that is always very adamant as far as the issue is about the common man,” he said.
In his views, it would amount to high handedness on the part of government to implement that policy.