Yesterday, I wrote about the powers of the National Industrial Courts in determining the legality of strike actions by trade Unions. Today, the court ordered a trade Union to suspend a strike and resume work.
I have read many comments about the ruling of the National Industrial Court on the ASUU case. The court has given an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) “ by themselves, members, agents, servants, privies or howsoever called from taking further steps and doing any act or otherwise continuing with the indefinite strike or any strike action pending the hearing and determination of the suit/referral to this Honourable Court dated 8th September 2022 made at the instance of the Minister of Labour and Employment as a matter of national interest pursuant to his powers under Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act.”
I think many people should be aware of the plethora of laws in Labour relations in Nigeria. The Trade Disputes Act, for example, is a very cardinal law on the issue of Union actions.
Section 18 of the Trade Disputes Act provides as follows:
“18 (1) An employer shall not declare or take part in a lock-out and a worker shall not take part in a strike in connection with any trade dispute where-
News continues after this ad
(a) the procedure specified in section 4 or 6 of this Act has not been complied with in relation to the dispute; or
(b) a conciliator has been appointed under section 8 of this Act for the purpose of effecting a settlement of the dispute; or
© the dispute has been referred for settlement to the Industrial Arbitration Panel under section 9 of this Act; or
News continues after this ad
(d) an award by an arbitration tribunal has become binding under section 13(3) of this Act; or
(e) the dispute has subsequently been referred to the National Industrial Court under section 14(1) or 17 of this Act; or
(f) the National Industrial Court has issued an award on the reference.”
The Federal Government was wise enough to bring this Application against ASUU under this law. This section binds both the employer and the employee and limits their actions once there is strike action. Section 18(2) of the Trade Disputes Act criminalises any contravention of section 18(1) by imposing a fine of N 100 or imprisonment of six months for an individual or a fine of N 1,000 for a body corporate.
So where do we go from here?
- ASUU must obey this order or appeal against it. But would an appeal lead to any different decision? I don’t think so. Perhaps the court of appeal may even demand obedience before hearing the appeal. Remember, the case was based on the powers of the Minister under Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act and national interest. Which judge will say continuing a 7-month-old strike is in the public interest? ASUU and its members have had a lot of favourable judgements from this court. Obeying this ‘negative decision’ will show their commitment to the rule of law. Obeying court orders is the right thing to do.
- The government should also consider how quickly it can resolve the issue with our Higher institutions, the Unions, including ASUU and the education ecosystem. Our universities are not in the best shape, and we need to act urgently. I believe the government should withdraw from direct interactions with the Unions and allow the Councils to take the lead. The councils as employers of labour should urgently act to improve the working conditions of staff. We must alleviate the conditions of our universities and the stakeholders. Many university councils have been ineffective in their duty and have refused to take decisive actions to take the Universities to higher heights.
- The court ruling does not stop further negotiation and consultations. The negotiations should continue, and the House of Representatives, led by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, should continue with their promise to meet the President about the issue.
- The Court has to ensure an accelerated hearing of the matter. This will be in the interest of the case, the universities and the court itself. The court has an opportunity to demonstrate that it dispatches cases faster than other courts in Nigeria.
This case isn’t concluded. So, it’s not a final victory for the government. ASUU could still go to court to enforce their Collective agreement. I have always argued that this is what ASUU should have done since this strike started. But they didn’t, and the government got to court before them. Let me end with an adaptation of the saying, “na who first go court go first get better hearing.“
Abayomi Fawehinmi is passionate about excellence in leadership, Human Development, Education and Nation building. Tweets: @yomitheprof