Labour bill tears Senate apart

Senate-2Why constitution review is delayed’

THE Senate was yesterday sharply divided over a bill seeking to amend the Labour law with a view to including a clause making it mandatory for unions to vote before embarking on industrial strike.

This development came as the Senate Majority Leader disclosed that the second round of amendment to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was being delayed because no provision was made for it in the 2011 budget.          

Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, PDP (Bayelsa West), who sponsored the bill entitled, “Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to Provide for all Members of Organised Labour to Decide Through Elections Whether to Embark on a Strike or not”, argued that the bill was not meant to stop Labour from embarking on strikes but to provide for a smooth and democratic way of carrying out a strike, which he said would restore order within Labour .

“My intention is for this Senate to democratise the entire process of calling a strike. My intention is not to prevent any trade union from embarking on any legitimate strike. My intention is to ensure that Nigeria go along with all other countries in the world where things are done in a better standardised way. It is very specific.

“Before you embark on any strike, let there be a majority, not a situation where the leadership of every union will sit down, take a decision, call on strike, some members will not obey and then they will not resort to going physically to prevent people from going to work.

“There is no such thing that is being done anywhere in the world. That is the standard practice in Europe, America and Canada and if we want to be one of the most developed economies by the year 2020 we must do things the way it is done in other parts of the world. I am not doing this against NLC. The trust of the bill is very simple. It said look, before anybody embarks on a strike, let there be majority of members supporting it, and it is basically to broaden the democratic process in trade unions’’, he submitted.

His presentation triggered reactions from senators which thereby divided the House. Senator Ayogu Eze, PDP, Enugu supported him, saying that it was not that Labour would not embark on strike but to ensure that things are done orderly. “Nobody is trying to stop Labour, but a lot of times, people have joined politics with Labour issues. We have seen that Labour veers off their mandate when there is a government policy that does not concern them, this is not right’’, he said.      

Senator Ita Enang, PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East, also said that Labour sometimes took law into their hands. “Trade unions in Nigeria have fully veered away from functions of unionism and ventured into politics with boxing gloves. Trade unions have ceased to negotiate welfare of workers. This bill seeks to ensure that when a decision on strike is taken, it will depend on votes by workers.”

But Senators Joshua Dariye, LP, Plateau Central; Ahmed Makarfi, PDP, Kaduna North; Chris Ngige, ACN, Anambra Central and Olufemi Lanlehin, ACN, Oyo South, opposed the bill, stating it was an attempt to deny workers their fundamental human rights.

Dariye said: “The most democratic institution in the world is organised Labour. They are the only hope of the society. If we stampede them, I fear we will be calling for anarchy.”

Ngige also kicked against the bill, saying it is anti-people and an attempt to drag the nation backward.      

On his part, Ngige said; “They have their constitution and it stipulates the process of going on strike. This bill is dead on arrival. It is anti-people.”

The Senate President, Senator David Mark, had to intervene when emotions started rising by adjourning the debate but cleared that the debate would be taken to a logical conclusion and if it would require taking a vote, the chamber would do so.

“We will take the debate to logical conclusion and if it becomes necessary, we will take a decision,” he said.

Section 226 of the proposed amendment which stirred the controversy reads “. 1) An act done by a trade union to induce a person to take part, or continue to take part, in industrial action is not protected unless the industrial action has the support of a ballot.

“2) Industrial action shall be regarded as having the support of a ballot only if-

a. the union has held a ballot in respect of the action in relation to which the requirements of sections 227 to 232 were satisfied;

b. the majority voting in that ballot answered ‘yes’ to the question applicable in accordance with Section 229(2) to industrial action of the kind to which the act of inducement relates; and

c. the requirements of Section 233(calling of industrial action with support of ballot) are satisfied.       

“3) Where separate ballots are held by virtue of Section 228(1), industrial action shall be regarded as having the support of a ballot if the above conditions are satisfied in relation to the ballot for the place of work of the person induced to take part, or continue to take part, in the industrial action.

“4) For the purpose of this section, an inducement, in relation to a person, includes an inducement which is or would be ineffective, whether because of his willingness to be influenced by it or for any other reason.’’

Also yesterday, the chamber disclosed that the second round of the review of the 1999 Constitution was being delayed because there was no provision for it in the 2011 budget.

Majority Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba, who offered the explanation when the executive of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) led by its president, Joseph Dawodu (SAN) paid him a courtesy call, however, said that steps had been taken to include it in the supplementary appropriation.

“The business of the National Assembly is to appropriate. But somehow, in appropriating for the federation, we omitted to appropriate for the constitutional review process. So, that slowed down things a bit but we believe that with the 2012 in view, that will be addressed. We intend to hit the ground running.

The Senate Leader reiterated that the National Sovereign Conference would not be necessary since the National Assembly had taken up the issue of amendment to the constitution.

“There is this clamour for Sovereign National Conference (SNC). I don’t want to pre-empt the issue but I believe that the sovereignty that we have today derives from the constitution. So, you cannot have another sovereignty outside the constitution. However, there is need for Nigerians at every level to engage themselves in discussing the terms of our federation. So, as a Senate, as a National Assembly, we will support Nigerians dialoguing about the terms of our union. But where we have a major issue is the issue of having two sovereignties because the constitution provides for only one sovereignty. The constitutional review process is going to start again as soon as we pass the budget, the next major engagement will be constitutional review.”

He called on the NBA to take active part in the review of the constitution.

Earlier, Dawodu said the association came to the Senate with a list of proposed amendments to some existing legislations as well as new ones. The areas where the NBA sought amendments include Legal Practitioners Act, legal education bill to allow for private law schools and legal services.

The Senate leader assured that they would be given accelerated attention.


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