Industrial Relations Management
Responses by organizations to changes that have taken place in the economy have induced the declaration of trade disputes as a strategy to wade off the threat of retrenchment and low pay. Workers vulnerability arising from the new economic environment takes many forms, with joblessness being the most severe for many people. Precognitive of this reality and the accompanying concerns by trade unions of potential industrial disharmony, the Ministry has worked out a mechanism for fostering greater reconciliation and mediation. This has been achieved through establishing formal government facilitated spaces for dialogue and mediation in labour matters. Playing a facilitative role and providing unfettered space for reconciliation has enabled the Ministry to bring disputing parties together and pre-emptively intervene in resolving their disputes. These reconciliations demonstrate the growing confidence of our social partners in the integrity of the Ministry and its commitment to fostering a harmonious labour relations environment.
There are other distinct components of industrial relations management, which cover the formulation of policies on trade union organizations, jurisdictional disputes, settlement of inter and intra-union disputes, recognition issues, complaints from unions/employers, workers’ education, up-to-date records of trade unions etc.
Over the years, the Ministry had to wade into several intermittent disputes involving several trade unions. In the oil and gas sector, the Ministry was able to amicably resolve several disputes involving employers and workers in that sector. This is important, particularly given the adverse impact that disruptions in the sector have on the economy and peoples’ lives. It is pertinent to recall that disputes involving Academic Staff union of Universities, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) have the potential of disrupting the entire business environment in the country. Another very worrisome case for the country over the years has been the incessant disruption in the school calendar of tertiary institutions as a result of strikes by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The occasional outburst by way of national strikes sometimes overshadows the huge successes made through routine interventions to resolve or abate disagreements. It is on record that the agreements reached through routine intervention of the Ministry have served as guides for proper conduct and behaviour of many partners to the initial disputes.
A turning point in industrial relations management in Nigeria was when the National Assembly passed the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005 which broke the monopoly hitherto enjoyed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as the sole Central Labour Organization. Government’s intention was widely misunderstood as it was erroneously thought that Government was bent on fractionalizing the labour movement so as to weaken their power and influence. The Act brought about democratization of trade union movement in Nigeria and guaranteed the right of workers and employers to belong to any Trade Union of their choice – a freedom guaranteed by Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution. The passage of the Act which was in the best interest of trade unionism paved way for the registration of Trade Union Congress (TUC) as a Federation of Trade Unions.
In its bid to ensure industrial peace and harmony and in order to further engage all stakeholders in achieving that objective, the Ministry is participating actively on the Standing Committee on Government Labour Relations in the Oil and Gas Sector. Due to the incessant problems arising from this very critical sector of the nation’s economy, the Hon. Minister of Labour and Productivity actualized the inauguration of the Standing Working Committee on Labour Issues in the Oil and gas sector based on Presidential directives given in the year 2006. The sector had been bedevilled with industrial crisis caused by unfair labour practices emanating from contract staffing/outsourcing, expatriate quota abuse, non-recognition of trade unions by some managements, the problems of unionizing Oil and Gas workers in the Free Trade Zone, renewal of Collective Bargaining Agreement, etc.
The issue of peaceful and harmonious industrial relations has occupied an important place in our work and to apprehend disruptive disputes, which cannot be resolved through mediation, the Ministry has employed the use of other mechanisms. Where voluntary stages of mediation and conciliation fail the ministry refers to the appropriate agency for adjudication. The Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) works with the Ministry to ensure quick dispensation of justice in the resolution of industrial conflicts in order to avoid stalemate which might give rise to strikes and lock-outs.
Dispute Resolution Mechanism
a) Trade dispute arises as a result of a disagreement between employers and employees or between employees and employees in connection with employment or non-employment or the terms of employment and physical condition of work of any person.
b) When the agreed internal means for settlement of trade dispute fails, a mediator mutually accepted by both parties would contacted to resolve the issue within 7 days. If the mediator is unable to resolve the dispute, either party could report to the Ministry within 3 days. The party should fill from TD 3 stating the points in dispute and steps taken to resolve the dispute.
c) When the Minister is satisfied that the steps taken by both parties have been exhaustive, the statutory machinery for settlement would be invoked.
d) A Labour officer is appointed to conciliate and to arrive at settlement within 7 days. When settlement is reached, a report and the memorandum of the terms of settlement would be forwarded to the Ministry. If the conciliator is unable to resolve the dispute, a report to that effect will be forwarded to the Minister.
e) Within 14 days of the receipt of the report of the conciliator of his inability to resolve the dispute, the Minister will refer the dispute for settlement to the Industrial Arbitration panel (IAP). The Panel is to adjudicate on the matter within 21 days and make an Award. The award is sent to the Minister who thereafter communicates the parties. Either party is free to raise an objection to the award within 7 days of its receipt.
f) On the ground of an objection from a party to be dispute, the Minister refers the dispute to NIC which is the final arbiter and its ruling is binding on all parties.
g) Notwithstanding the aforementioned procedures, the Minister can apprehend a trade dispute and decide to apply any of the aforementioned steps. He could even set up a Board of Enquiry to look into the case.
The Office Of The Registrar Of Trade Unions
The Registrar of trade Unions is a unit in the Trade Unions Services and Industrial Relations Department, The office of the Registrar of Trade Union (RTU) is a statutory office created by Section 45 of the Trade Union Act CAP T8 LFN 2004.
The Registrar of Trade Union has the primary responsibility for the effective administration of the Trade Unions Act. Hence, the office of the registrar of Trade Unions has the specific responsibility for the following:
• Registration of trade unions and federation of trade unions. This entails among other things
* Receipt of applications for registration accompanied by the Rules/Constitution of the prospective union.
* Recommendation of applications to the Honourable minister for conferment of approval after ensuring that the application and rules of the proposed union have satisfied, the requirements of sxhedule 1 of the Trade Union Act.
* Publication of notice of registration in Federal Government Official Gazette for a period of three months, after approval has been conveyed.
* Consideration of objections raised towards the registration if any.
* Registration and issuance of certificate of registration to a duly registered union.
• Registration of alterations in the rules/constitutions of a registered union and the publication of such alterations in government official Gazette.
• Registration of change of the situation of registered office of the unions and publications of same in the official Gazette.
• Cancellation of certificate of registration of trade unions on the following grounds:
a. If the registration of the union was obtained by fraud or as a result of mistake;
b. If any of the purpose of the union is unlawful.
c. If after receipt of a warning in writing from the Registrar, the union has deliberately contravened or continued to contravene any provision of the Trade Unions Act or the Regulations.
d. If the union, though still in existence, has ceased to function.
e. If the union has ceased to exist.
• Supervision of trade unions account
a. Receipt and examination of annual financial returns and audited accounts of registered unions to ensure probity and accountability.
b. Approval of trade unions appointed auditors for auditing the accounts of trade unions.
c. Appointment of external auditors for investigation, of unsatisfactory accounts of trade unions.
• Issuance of guidelines and circulars to registered unions, highlighting observed shortcomings in their obligations under the provisions of the Trade Unions Act for effective administration of the registered bodies.
• Promotion of workers educational programmes through lectures at trade unions organized seminars, workshops, symposia and conferences.
• Maintenance of records of registered offices, documents and particulars of registered unions.
• Attendance to courts in respect of relevant Trade Union matters.
• Collection of statutory fees as revenue for the government and paying same into the government coffers.