Nearly two months after a crippling nationwide strike forced government to reverse the cut in fuel subsidy, a new effort, said to have the blessing of the presidency, is pushing for tougher labour laws that will block industrial actions by making it hard for union leaders to enjoy support from their members.
An amendment to the federal Trade Union Act aims to introduce extensive balloting on a decision to call strike, with majority of federal, state and private sector workers required to give an approval before one is decided.
The legislation, if approved, will replace the current procedure in which an industrial action is decided by the national executive of the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) and the Trade Union Congress(TUC).
Heineken Lokpobiri, a senator, who is proposing the move, represents President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state of Bayelsa.
The proposal sparked divisions within the senate on Tuesday as it was presented for a second reading, with lawmakers viewing the amendment as pro-presidency, and linking it to January’s fuel subsidy demonstrations.
“This particular bill is anti-people, anti-masses, anti-senate and anti-national assembly, said Action Congress of Nigeria senator, Chris Ngige, who represents Anambra state. “This bill is not for us.”
Another senator, Smart Adeyemi, representing Kogi state, said the effort to get the law passed was an “exercise in futility” since currently, strikes are not called by individuals as claimed by the sponsor of the amendment, but by representatives of workers.
The bill was first read on February 15, 2012, barely weeks after the protests, and but some of its details have just been made known.
Calling a strike will require a simple majority of all members of the labour unions, who will answer yes to whether or not an industrial action be held across the nation, before a decision is reached, a procedure seen to be nearly impossible.
Many lawmakers have vowed to block the passage of the law.
In the face of stiff opposition, Senate president, David Mark, said he will not call for the withdrawal of the bill, but will allow it through a “logical conclusion.”
But the sponsor, Mr. Lokpobiri, said the amendment to the Trade Union Act was needed to “bring the practice of industrial action in line with global best practices as obtainable in Great Britain, USA, Canada, France, Belgium, South Africa etc,”.
“In that way, no worker(s) would have to be compelled by the leaders of his union against his will to stay away from work,” Mr. Lokpobiri said.
“Acts of compulsion in the name of picketing which often result in intimidation, molestation and even violence among union members, would be a thing of the past,” he adds.