By NBF News

PRESIDENT of National Industrial Court, NIC, Justice Babatunde  Adejumo, has disclosed that no less than four million, Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand, One Hundred and Ninety-one man-days (4,750,191) were lost to industrial actions in six years in Nigeria.

Justice Adejumo in a paper on Building Effective Conflict Management Mechanism for Sustainable Development in Nigeria, at the 7th National Labour Relations Summit organised by the Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies, MINILS, gave details of the man-days lost in six year as follows: 2004 - 539,809; 2005 - 708,659; 2006 -111,310; 2007 - 2,329,946 ; 2008 - 495,860 and 2009 - 564,607.

He explained that man-days are calculated on the simple logic of multiplying the number of days a strike action lasted by the strikers i.e. the workers embarking on the strike, saying 'in other words, each striking worker's loss of a day is treated separately from that of a fellow worker.'

The NIC's President said the six years 'man-days were computed from the perspective of industry-wide and industry-specific strikes such as those related to education, health service, public/civil service, construction and civil engineering, welding, agriculture, oil and gas, steel, food, communications, transport, chemical, printing and publishing, shipping, banking etc.'

Justice Adejumo reasoned that because of the negative effects of industrial unrests, no effort should be spared in building effective mechanism for the management of workplace conflicts in Nigeria.

Suggesting ways forward, the apex industrial court's President said among other things that Nigeria should have a national policy on labour, employment and industrial relations with input from the federal, state and local governments, representatives of workers, representatives of employers of labour, the MINILS and other stakeholders.

According to him, 'to complement the national policy on labour, employment and industrial relations that I have advocated for, employers of labour, whether in the public or private sector, should endeavour to adopt labour policies, decisions and practices that have human face. Hence, my humble view is that as a matter of categorical imperative, employers of labour should discard all unfair or anti-labour practices.

Every plant, institution or organisation should have workplace resolution policies and procedures. This is the position in advanced countries and has probably contributed to the success stories of their enterprises. Thus, in line with international best practices, we can borrow a leaf from them.

Workers must be properly educated on the available policies and procedures for the resolution of workplace conflicts. Hence, I suggest that workplace handbooks given to workers should contain information on how to resolve conflicts in the workplace.

'Management must not overtly or covertly stifle workplace conflicts. Such steps are usually counter-productive either in the short run or long run. As I have observed in the course of this presentation, when workplace conflicts arise and are properly managed, they can lead to better organisation performance.

It is necessary for the National Assembly to give urgent and priority attention to the passage of labour related bills pending before the National Assembly. In particular, there is a bill pending before the National Assembly which seeks to reinvigorate and strengthen the Industrial Arbitration Panel, IAP.

The passage of this Bill to my mind, should be given priority since what it seeks to do is to make the IAP more responsive and pro-active in the area of workplace dispute resolution. I suggest that the members of the IAP should be made permanent and the office of the Chairman be strengthened.

The IAP occupies a very strategic position in the management and resolution of workplace conflicts and this fact

must be realised. I need to harp on the strategic importance of the IAP as a dispute resolution mechanism more so that the three constituents of the tripartite are represented on the IAP.

I see no reason why the IAP should not be given the powers to enforce its award. Moreover, experience has shown that record keeping practices at the IAP is not too encouraging. Serious efforts must be made to correct these anomalies.

It is also necessary to review or abrogate laws that are considered obsolete and out of tune with modern realities. We need to take a critical look at the Labour Act, Trade Unions Act, Trade Disputes Act and the Factories Act with a view to updating them to meet international standards.

Let me state that Britain from whom we inherited our legal system with its common law tradition has enacted several laws to regulate the law and practice of labour, employment and industrial relations in the United Kingdom.'

Continuing, Adejumo said: 'There is the need for improvement and more transparency in the management of workers' unions in Nigeria. More than ever, Labour leaders and union members need to sharpen and broaden their knowledge, skills, horizon and world view through adequate education.

What is required is more sophistication in the administration of workers' unions. Also, workers' unions must be sufficiently democratized so that decisions reached can gain the desired level of legitimacy thereby avoiding exclusionary pitfalls in the management of unions.

There is need for improved funding of relevant institutions and agencies handling labour issues. It is my candid advice that the funding of this Institute should be improved upon considering what the nation stands to gain from whatever resources are invested here.

The activities of the MINILS are of paramount importance to any efforts at establishing stable industrial climate in Nigeria. Cutting-edge research and teaching from a multi-disciplinary perspective which is the focus of the Institute are of immense relevance to our quest for sustainable development.

I am of the candid view that this Institute should be upgraded to a degree awarding institution. Necessary facilities/infrastructure should also be provided. More compelling is the need to continue to train and retrain the members of staff locally and internationally with a view to enhancing their capacity to deliver on the mandate of the MINILS. It might be necessary to review the curriculum of the Institute with a view to enriching it.'

'Similarly, it is recommended that the National University Commission should consider making labour law a core course in all faculties of law in the universities.

Furthermore, in line with current thinking that university education should be such that can make our graduates self reliant, I advise that labour management and industrial relations should be made a mandatory course that must be passed by every university student. This is a pragmatic way to ensure that an average university graduate has acquired\basic knowledge in labour management and industrial relations.

I suggest that labour unions should as a matter of categorical imperative, be more disposed to constructive engagement as a strategy for the resolution of workplace conflicts. Strike should be the last option. Social dialogue should be given priority attention in the conduct of labour affairs.

If we must go on strike, then all stipulated procedures should be complied with. Employers of labour should also endeavour to comply with relevant labour laws and focus more on improving the welfare of workers. This will enable the workers to appreciate the reasons behind actions taken by management and employers of labour alike.

Social dialogue is must as a strategy towards the resolution of issues relating to or connected with the workplace. Employees and employers in both the formal and informal sectors must realise that open communication and social dialogue are very effective in the management of workplace conflicts. Open and effective communication usually results in a win-win situation.'