Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The federal government Wednesday in Abuja took a major step towards halting incessant strike actions by members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other labour bodies by resolving to henceforth apply ‘no work, no pay rule.’
Briefing journalists at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in the State House, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the decision was in compliance with Section 43 of Labour Act which he said the National Industrial Court (NIC) had earlier upheld.
Ngige added that the decisions were contained in a draft White Paper submitted by a 10-man committee that he chaired which he said was constituted in 2017 to come up with a White Paper on an earlier technical committee report meant to stem the tide of industrial disputes.
He said following the approval of the White Paper, the council ordered that the White Paper should be gazetted.
According to him, whenever workers are on strike, they are not entitled to salaries as long as the industrial action lasts, recalling that the committee which recommended the implementation had been constituted by the federal government to put under control the degree of incessant industrial conflicts between the workforce and the federal government or employers.
He also said the White Paper as approved by the council in accordance with another sub-section of the same Section 43 of Labour Act which, prohibits locking out workers without following due process.
He said following the approval, the federal government would take action against any employer who locks out his workers by ensuring that every due benefit for such workers during the period of the lock-out is paid to them.
“These contentious areas are the enforcement of Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act Law of the Federation 2004. This is the section that deals with lock-out of workers by their employers without declaring redundancy appropriately because the same establishment especially in the private sector workers are locked out by their employers.
“So the law that says that if you lock out your workers without passing through the normal channel, due process for the period of the lock-out, the worker is assumed to be at work and will receive all remunerations and allowances and benefits accruing to him for the period and that period will also be counted to him as a pensionable period in computation of his pension.
“But when workers go on strike, the principle of ‘no work, no pay’ will also be applied because that principle is enshrined in that same Section 43 of the Labour Act. That section says for the period a worker withdraws his services, government or his employers are not entitled to pay and the period for which they were absent will not count as part of his pensionable period in the public service.
“So, council accepted it as a white paper recommendation that should be gazetted because even the National Industrial Court has made pronouncement on that law and said that it is clear,” Ngige said.
Ngige also said the White paper banned the idea of government employees leaving their primary jobs to serve full time in labour unions and remain there for life forgetting that they were first employed as public officers.
According to him, the White Paper will checkmate this trend by henceforth ensuring that trade unions submit their constitutions to the government which he said must spell out term limits for labour leaders that must not exceed two terms.
“Another area is that of public servants remaining permanently in the executive bodies of trade unions. Government realises that some persons in the public service go into trade union executive positions, hold offices and they do that for life for as long as they are in the service. And in doing so, they will refuse postings and redeployment under the guise that they are doing trade union activities. Government says no.
“You have to be a public servant first before you become a trade unionist. Therefore, if you are there, the public service rules should also be applied to you and in doing so, government says establishments will look at issues and give it a human face in order not to disrupt trade unionism and in furtherance to this, government has also said that there must be tenure stipulations because people stay there without tenures.
“Many organisations give people union positions without tenure. Government says there is no office that doesn’t have a tenure. Trade unions now should give us Constitution that must have tenures, at least maximum of two tenure for any elective position.”
Ngige who also said the White Paper had fixed seven years of training for resident doctors, noted that the matter had become contentious, pointing out that some medical doctors go for resident training, only to join professional bodies and become permanent unionists in contrast to the rule.
He said in a bid to put paid to this, seven years had been fixed for resident training and any medical doctor who fails to pass his examinations within the period must quit the programme forthwith.
“The next point is the issue of resident training for medical doctors. The medical training for resident doctors has been contentious. Some medical doctors come into the training and become professional unionists and stay there as permanent job.
“The residency training is actually not a permanent job as such, it is a conveyor built arrangements by which you stay and drop off. Another people come in. So, government has fixed a tenure for resident training. Seven years within which you can pass all your exams. If you don’t pass all your exams after seven years, you are off,” Ngige said.
He also said the White Paper seeks to end situations where after collective bargaining, one group begins to circulate fake information that was not contained in the resolution reached at the meeting.
He said in its bid to put paid to this misdemeanour, “government therefore says all collective agreements must be authenticated by the rightful authorities and domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.”