The Federal Government reawakened a very contentious issue that had been sleeping for three decades when it announced last week that the principle of no work, no pay will henceforth be applied to public sector workers that go on strike. Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity Dr. Chris Ngige announced soon after last Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council [FEC] meeting that government would enforce Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act 2004, the validity of which he said the National Industrial Court [NIC] recently upheld.
Ngige made it clear that the measure is meant to reduce incessant strike actions by the Nigeria Labour Congress [NLC], Trades Union Congress [TUC] and other labour bodies in the country. University lecturers, resident doctors, other health workers, judiciary workers and non-academic staff of tertiary institutions and research centres are particularly amenable to frequent and often prolonged strike actions in this country. According to Ngige, the decisions were contained in a draft White Paper submitted by a 10-man committee that he chaired, which was constituted in 2017 to draft a White Paper on the report of a technical committee that was meant to stem the tide of industrial disputes in the country. FEC approved the white paper and it will now be gazetted, he said.
In effect, workers that henceforth embark on strike are not entitled to salaries for the period the industrial action lasts. Government’s clever stance was that Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act 2004 prohibits salary payment to striking workers and also makes workers who are locked out by their employers without following due process entitled to their pay and other benefits. Both provisions are now to be enforced. Nigeria Labour Congress’ [NLC] president Ayuba Wabba immediately kicked against the measure, saying the right to strike is what differentiates a worker from a slave. He also said, “It is morally and legally wrong to apply a phrase in a body of law without respecting all other provisions of the same law. Same law being quoted provided that a worker’s wage is due after 30 days. Where this and or any collective bargaining agreement is violated, it is legally and morally justifiable for unions and workers to go on strike,” which he said the law recognizes.
The fact is, no work no pay has been in our statute books since the 1990s but whenever trade unions negotiate an end to a prolonged strike, they insist on a “non-victimisation” clause. This includes payment of salary for the period when there was no work. Clearly, this is not the practice in either the private sector or across the world. In fact, trade unions in other climes maintain a strike fund out of which they pay members their salaries during a strike.
Yet, Wabba has a point in that it is unjustifiable to withhold a worker’s salary when the reason for the strike was a violation of the same law, e.g. non-payment of salary. It becomes a different matter however when public sector workers embark on prolonged strike actions over other, less open and shut issues such as university autonomy, percentage share of earned academic allowances, increase in fuel prices etc. Unions that call out prolonged strikes over such issues should be prepared to pay members their salaries. While we strongly condemn the tendency at all tiers of government to trample on workers’ rights and violate laws that they themselves made, we also believe it is time to curb incessant strike actions in this country. Implementing no work, no pay is one way to go.