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Debate On Strike Ballot By Senate: Evidence Of Legislative Idleness And Moral Compromise

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It is shocking that at a time serious-minded Nigerians are waiting for legislative and executive actions on the sleaze uncovered in the oil and gas industry as a result of the last nationwide protests and strike, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria could

 be debating a bill to prohibit strikes not called pursuant to a ballot. There is now no doubt that some Senators are incensed at what they consider as the effrontery of Nigerians in protesting the criminal activities of the rapacious few who inflict punishment on our people under the guise of doing oil and gas business. It is now clear to me that the cabal is fighting back. We may now have an indication of where the arrowhead of the cabal resides: the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria! What impunity?!

The proponents of the bill are certainly ignorant of the existing law on labour relations in this country. They must be told plainly that under the existing Trade Unions Act it is a requirement in one of the schedules for the union rules to have a provision on strike ballots. Effectively therefore what they seek to provide for is already taken care of. Now if they argue that in practice that requirement has been flouted on account that it is not contained in the substantive part of the law, then our position is that it is a requirement that is impracticable, unacceptable and for that reason unenforceable. That requirement is nonsensical precisely because it does not provide for ballot to call off a strike called pursuant to a ballot. Yet there is no fairness or democracy in asking for ballot before strikes and not providing for ballot before strikes can be called off.  Any reasonable member of government knows that it would amount to courting disaster to ask for ballot of all striking workers before a strike can be called off. It would be impossible to call the workers together to call off an ongoing strike as many of them would have been cut off from the headquarters of their labour unions if the strike is effective. The consequence would then be that once a strike has been called not by the executive acting for the members but following a ballot it will never be possible to call off the strike. That is the trap the Senate wants to set for the government unwittingly. Historically, every attempt to castrate the labour movement immediately after a successful or partially successful strike has always made it stronger legally. Ironically the legal strength arises out of childish errors committed due to the desperation of the ruling elite. In 2005 when former President Obasanjo vowed to break the backbone of the labour movement just after a nationwide strike on petroleum prices hike, the government rushed a bill to the National Assembly. That bill stood our work in the ILO Committee of Experts on the Review of Nigerian Labour laws on its head. It was inverse plagiarism at its worse. We had proposed that strikes could only be lawful in respect of disputes of interest and not on disputes of right as is the case in all civilized nations of the world. The version sent to the National Assembly and which has since become law was that only strikes on disputes of right are lawful. The implication of this is that workers can lawfully organise strikes on issues contained in laws and collective agreements which ought ordinarily ought not to be so as such disputes are amenable to judicial resolution.  If the Senate erroneously insists on strike ballots it means that the President would have to prostrate for the NLC President to call off the next strike as the leader of the Congress would simply argue that he is unable to call off the strike as the Congress cannot form a quorum! I dare the Senate to pass the senseless bill into law!!

The Senate is either now fatigued or idle or compromised by the cabal to be debating this sort of bill at a time one expects it to be imaginative in using the instrumentality of lawmaking to confront the problems foisted on our people by the irresponsible elite. It is a big shame. I condemn this fatigued or indolent Senate without any reservation and call on all decent Nigerians to do so. No society can outlaw strikes if that is their hidden agenda. The Bill as Senator Ngige told the proponent is dead on arrival. I cannot agree more with him.

Bamidele Aturu
Chairman, National Association of Labour Lawyers