The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) claim of bias against Senator Chris Ngige, minister of labor and employment, has been attributed by Dan Nebragho, a former director of productivity measurement and labor standards at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, to the historically lax enforcement of labor laws.
NewsReport that Nebragho, who was also Nigeria’s representative at the African Regional Labour Centre Headquarters, Zimbabwe, observed that Ngige’s decision to resort to strict implementation of the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act and Trade Union Act hitherto treated with levity is the reason for the criticism from ASUU.
He said, “From my observation of the ASUU dispute with the Federal Government, the Minister of Labour and Employment has done nothing illegal or deployed personal whims to conciliation.
“What he did was to frontload a strict observance of the provisions of the labour laws, since efforts of the tripartite and tripartite-plus dialogue could not provide a solution and convince ASUU to call off the action.
“He (Ngige) strictly deployed the relevant provisions of the Trade Disputes Act and Trade Union Act to put perennial strikes on the back foot. And such strict implementation of laws that were lax previously would surely attract criticism. Previous Ministers would usually stake over this, even Ngige at a point. The reverse is why ASUU is tackling him.
“It takes political will to make certain decisions. Ngige dusted sections that mandate him to take certain actions. The issue of withdrawal of certificates of any union on account of non-rendition of annual audited accounts as contained in section 37 of the Trade Union Act, which demands that unions must submit audited accounts on or before June 1 every year, is an example.
“ASUU, from available records, is in default from 2018 to 2022 and the penalty is that the Registrar of Trade Unions should cancel such registration. I do not see how this is the making of the Minister if this happens.”
Nebragho further said the pro-rata deduction for a period of the strike is obtainable worldwide, citing the United Kingdom where for example, a three-day quantum pay would be deducted from the emolument of a worker on three days strike.
He said the workers’ union would however reimburse such a worker from its special strike fund. He argued that this is majorly the reasoning strike does not last long in such climes, since the purse of the unions can’t sustain long action.
He added, “This is part of ‘no-work, no-pay as contained in section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act, Cap T. 8 Laws of Federation of Nigeria. This was invoked by the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) in 2018, ASUU in 2020, and the National Association of Resident Doctors in 2021.
“The only difference is that the government reversed itself in clemency on ASUU in 2020. But this neither renders this law defective nor in perpetual abeyance. This section is implied by Convention 87 of the ILO that grants employees the right to strike and the employer, the right to withhold payment.”
He further said it was a wrong interpretation of section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act, Cap T8 that made ASUU accuse the Minister of taking the union to court, whereas transmitting a dispute to the National Industrial Court was the next stage in a collapsed conciliation process.
“As it is, section 17 ties the hands of the Minister by providing he should, within 14 days of the collapse of talks, transmit the dispute to the higher body which is either the Industrial Arbitration Panel or the National Industrial Court. That is exactly what the Minister did. In fact, he was in breach of the law by delaying the transmission from 14 days to eight months.
“And you can see that the National Industrial Court became the tiebreaker, the last straw that broke the camel’s back, otherwise, ASUU would have still been on strike,” he said.