The Federal Government has asked 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 by calling off its ongoing strike.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, made the call when he spoke at the opening ceremony of the 2022 edition of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) in Lagos, yesterday.
The minister, in statement by the ministry’s spokesperson, Charles Akpan, in Abuja, 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 they fully abide by the provisions of the law.
He said: “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 don’t fully conform with legal provisions, 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 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. NLAC is expected to get the workers’ side of the tripartite to live up to their responsibilities in this regard.”
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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. NMA and NARD are not a trade union. They are an association of workers.
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“The university teachers are registered under ASUU and are affiliated to the NLC but that affiliation is only in name. It is not, because they don’t obey the Labour Act as it concerns conciliation.
“For example, ASUU declared a month-long strike and called it a warning strike. It did not notify its employer, the Ministry of Education, nor did the union notify me, the minister of labour, that there is a breakdown in negotiation. I know they had some discussions which were 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 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
“So, 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 and 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 dealt with.”