Let's Talk About It

Who’s afraid of workers’ vote before strike? By Mazi Nnamdi Nwigwe

Some senators are reported to be preparing a bill for a law to compel labour union leaders to obtain the approval of those they lead before embarking on any industrial action, or a strike.

This approval will come directly from a congress of the organized labour union that intends to withdrew its labour until a perceived grievance is settled with the employer.

Apparently as a result of the way and manner the law makers came up with the proposal, many commentators have cried “blue murder,” saying that the government was coming through the back door to castrate the labour movement.

The senators who thought up the idea obviously did not consider it important to sensitize the Nigerian citizenry on the need for such a law before introducing the bill on the floor of the senate.

Perhaps, they had hoped on the more familiar “public hearing” that ought to be part of a well coordinated awareness campaign.

The issue at stake is that the labour movement is supposed to be a platform from which labour or workers’ unions launch their struggle for the improvement of their working conditions and welfare.

Trade unionism is allowed in practically all countries, irrespective of the nature of their governmental system.

In a democracy, like ours, membership of  a union is voluntary.

An employee may wish not to join a workers’ union in the establishment or industry where he works.

Officials of the union are normally elected for a prescribed tenure.

Over a period, the unions in their individual companies, link up with similar groups under a bigger umbrella such as the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC and the Trades Union Congress of Nigeria, whose leadership is also raised through a delegates’ conference.

How vibrant the labour movement is depends often on the leadership and also on the political environment.

But the main issue for now is the question of who should declare a strike in a democratic movement.

From our experience in this country, it is the executive committees of the labour unions that tend to gather together and take far-reaching decisions on behalf of those who elected them.

Depending on the urgency of the matter calling for workers’ action, it sounds quite reasonable for a small but better informed leadership to initiate an action.

But should the part replace the whole?

Those who say that seeking the authority of workers before embarking on a strike is a plan to destroy the labour movement are apparently unaware that that is indeed the practice in bigger

economies with a longer history and experience of trade unionism.

How do you destroy the labour movement by merely demanding that a serious matter like strike action ought to be approved by the generality of workers who are going to implement the decision.

It is to the credit of some of the leading names in the nation’s labour movement that they have not joined in the wolf cry over the proposed bill at the senate.

The details are yet to be published. But it would be strange if the senators do not go the whole hog of calling for the strict observance of the “no work, no pay” principle that applies in many European democracies.

And our own labour leaders cannot claim ignorance of this fact.

Only in cases of lock outs, the opposite of strikes, that workers demand and get their wages and salaries for not working.

Lock outs are rare nowadays. It is a stage of labour dispute in which the management opts to lock the gates to keep workers from gaining entry to their work places.

This is usually done in a tense situation in which the employer feels it is safer for the buildings and equipment for the workforce to be kept away until an accord is reached with the labour leadership.

The rationale is that workers are ready to work but are prevented by management.

On the resolution of the impasse, workers get back to their posts and have their pay cheques given to them.

Lock ups in labour disputes are as painful as strikes,  the voluntary refusal of the worker to fulfill his contractual obligation. Workers who embark on strike action should be ready to take the consequences of their action.

They should not expect to be paid for not working. It is immoral. It is unfair to the employer.

That it is the norm here inNigeriadoes not make it correct.

To be continued.

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