The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has told members of the National Assembly, particularly members of the House of Representatives, that it cannot gag workers with the proposed bill that was meant to outlaw strikes and other industrial actions, particularly by health care workers under the umbrella of Joint Health Sector Union.
A Member of the House of Representatives from Enugu State, Simon Atige, had presented a bill titled, ‘An Act to amend the Trade Disputes Act, cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004,’ meant to prohibit medical practitioners in the employment of federal, state and local governments in the ‘essential service’ sectors from embarking on strikes.
The bill was also meant to accelerate administrative and judicial proceedings in the determination of trade disputes involving them and related matters.
In their reaction, the NLC said the move was a deliberate attempt to gag the workers and legally weaken their strength, so they can lose legal backing to pursue their legitimate rights which mostly come from strikes and other industrial actions.
NLC President Ayuba Wabba, who addressed journalists in Abuja on the proposed bill, said that Nigerian workers won’t accept the bill and would use all available means and strength to stop it.
According to him, the proposed bill was an outright violation of the fundamental human rights of workers and also a violation of some sections of the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, particularly on the Freedom of Association which Nigeria is a signatory to.
The NLC President disagreed with the plan to categorise health care workers under JOHESU as “essential” service providers by the bill, hence they won’t be entitled to strike.
He, thereby, made reference to some sections of the ILO document particularly on Freedom of Association which only recognised air traffic controllers as essential service workers.
Wabba said, “Compilation 769 of the ILO treaty stated clearly that strikes aimed at increase in wages and payment of wage arrears fall within the scope of the legitimacy of trade union activities.
“Also, compilation 751 stated that the right of workers to strike constitutes fundamental human rights of workers and their organisation especially unions. Besides, strikes are used as means of defending the economy, social rights and interests of workers.”
He, however, promised that NLC won’t be confrontational in their approach against the lawmakers, rather they would adopt the option of lobbying and other means to pacify the lawmakers, and properly educate them on the dangers of their steps and the need to retrace the steps for the benefit of all.
“This move by lawmakers is laughable and a display of ignorance of the ILO conventions. Obviously, those proposing this law against a strike by health workers are not aware of the ILO conventions, hence they are taking the wrong steps. Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment is aware of the ILO conventions, and often provide reports on the compliance to the ILO authorities, periodically,” he said.
He advised the lawmakers to shift their attention to tackling poverty and other socioeconomic challenges instead of channelling their energy to things that won’t solve problems.