Labour officials have faulted the plan by the federal government to implement the 'No work No pay" rule over workers' strikes in Nigeria.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, announced the plan after the meeting of the Federal Executive Council last week Wednesday, against the backdrop of a spate of strikes by industrial unions in the country.
Speaking with State House correspondents, Mr. Ngige said the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation had on April 27, 2016 set up a technical committee on industrial relations matters in the federal public service, following a directive by council.
He said the report the emphasised the need to implement the "No work, No pay" rule.
The no work no pay is, in fact, not a rule, or a policy but a law captured in the Trade Disputes Act of the Federation.
"Section 43 to be precise says that workers have a right to disengage from an employer if there is a breakdown in discussions or negotiation. But for the period that the worker does so, the employer should not pay and those periods are to be counted as non-pensionable times in the period of work," Mr. Ngige said last week.
He said the federal government had to implement the law because of the spate of industrial crises in the country in the last two months.
"The council looked at another recommendation in terms of people who are permanently doing union activities, they are presidents of trade unions for life and they sit tight, criticize those who are trying to do third term or fourth term while they themselves are sitting tight.
"Though we are not limiting any group to two years, three years, what we are insisting is that it should not be open-ended, you ought to give us in your constitution a term limit.," he said.
Reacting to the minister's statement, however, leaders of workers' unions told PREMIUM TIMES that the law cannot be applied in Nigeria.
Bobboi Kaigama, President of Trade Union Congress, said the same law says 'No pay No work", noting that no union goes on strike without giving opportunity for dialogue.
"Most of the cases where we had strike, the employer must have reneged on a collectively agreed agreement, or the employer after agitation by employee will blatantly refuse to sit down with the employee. Therefore the law should be fair.
"In as much as we believe that strike is the last resort, our strikes are generated from due processes of law and as such cannot be termed as illegal," Mr. Kaigama said.
He said trade unions are being supervised by the Labour Ministry under the Registrar of Trade Unions and approves the constitutions of the trade unions.
"If any labour leader overstays his tenure, it is the duty of the Federal Ministry of Labour to penalise such union," he said.
On the 'No work No Pay' issue, Mr. Kaigama stressed: "Even in religious books, a labourer is entitled to his wages and how will you expect someone that did not get paid for six months to one year to react?"
Also speaking, the Nigeria Labour Congress President, Ayuba Wabba, argued that law is an holistic process that cannot be implemented partially.
"If a worker is not paid after 30 days, how can an employer implement a 'no work no pay' law? Strike is not illegal," he said.
He said the labour law views strike as a legal instrument used by the workers to demand their right.
"When we are implementing any law, it should be implemented in its entirety and not picking one aspect of the law and refuse to respect others.
"How can Kogi State governor implement 'no work, no pay' when he is owing its workers for over 21 months?"
According to Mr. Wabba, no court of law has ever pronounced 'no work no pay' law when there is a valid collective bargaining between employer and employee's and the employer violates the agreement.
He said the employer in such a case cannot enforce the' no work ,no pay' law, as he has violated the law that respects collective bargaining agreement.
"Provision of Labour Act stipulates that workers should be paid their salaries after 30 days, while provision of International Labour Convention 87 and 98 says collective bargaining agreement must be respected.
"So if you broke all of these agreements, the worker who is not a slave has the right to use strike as a means of getting attention and for his issues to be resolved.
"Strike is a legal instrument recognised by Nigerian labour law and elsewhere for the worker's right to be respected. And there is a difference between a worker and a slave; a worker is under contractual obligation between him and his employer and all parties must respect the tenet of collective bargaining agreement and matters of the law should be respected."
The NLC president said workers have the right to withdraw their services if not paid, saying this is legal.
"Union is an independent body of workers and every union has a constitution and its organ, which is the decision-making process. Nobody can impose any decision on union outside what their law stipulates," he said.
Speaking in the same vein, the President of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian University, Samson Ugwoke, said strike action is legitimate and the union does not bother about being paid when on strike action.
"To us, it is not acceptable. If government wants to implement no work, no pay, they should be ready for no pay no work," he said.
"Strike is legitimate and any time we go on strike we don't bother if we were paid or not during the period of strike.
"If it is the part of the government that necessitated the strike, they should bear the cost, they should not implement 'no work no pay'. If we go on strike unnecessarily, we pay for it but if government enters into an agreement, it must respect it."
Biodun Ogunyemi, President of Academic Staff Union of Universities, said the 'no work,no pay' law has been tested before and is not workable in Nigeria.
"It's like you are beating a child and you are saying the child should not cry. There is no trade union that goes on strike without giving notice and warnings and every trade union will always try other possible options before resorting to strike," he said.
According to Mr. Ogunyemi, trade unions are always forced to embark on strike action as the last resort, stressing that if the Nigerian government says "no work, no pay" is obtainable in industrialised and western countries, it is because these countries do not ignore their workers when they register displeasure about their conditions of service.
"There is no leader of trade union that will tell you I enjoy going on strike. Labour union leaders would have weighed the options carefully and exhausted all avenues available to reaching their employers.
"We are always under severe pressure during strike and our health conditions are usually affected. Strike action is not a tea party and if the government knows about unions without constitutions or spending more than stipulated time on seat, let them expose such," he said.
"Let us examine ourselves as a country on how we treat our workers. How do we expect workers who have not earned their salaries feed their families? How can you owe me and you do not want me to tell the whole world by going on strike?"