The Federal Government has inaugurated a ten-man committee to resolve the dispute between the Kaduna State Government and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) with a charge to the members to meet the expectation of President Buhari that industrial peace returns to Kaduna shortly.
The committee, inaugurated by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige in Abuja , is headed by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Peter Yemira Tarfa, with the Secretary to Kaduna State Government, Balarabe Lawal and Deputy National President of NLC, Najim Hashim as co-chairmen. Mrs. O. U. Akpan, the Director Trade Union Services and Industrial Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, will serve as the Secretary.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ngige recalled that the Federal Government had apprehended the strike initiated by the NLC in Kaduna State in May, with the parties signing a Memorandum of Understanding to restore peace, noting that intervening circumstances made the reconstitution of the committee inevitable .
According to him, the committee is expected to resolve all the issues in dispute between the Kaduna State Government and the NLC.
The Minister, who acknowledged that the issues in contentious border essentially on Trade Disputes, gave the committee a timeframe of 21 days to round off and report back.
He charged the expanded committee to resolve the issues holistically and be guided by the 1999 Constitution as amended as well as Labour Laws of the federation.
He explained that downsizing or rightsizing of workforce in any organization, government or private sector, is a redundancy issue which must be subjected to the principles spelt out in the Trade Disputes Act, Laws of the Federation 2004 Cap L1.
Ngige said, “The law says in Section 20 (A) that “in the event of redundancy, every employer shall inform the trade unions or representatives of workers concerned of the reasons for or the extent of their anticipated redundancy.
“B equally says that the principles of last in, first out shall be adopted in the discharge of the category of workers affected, subject to all factors of relative merit including skill, ability and any reliability.”
“So, in applying this, we must subject it to the relativity of merit, skill, ability and reliability. If somebody has a forged certificate, he should be asked to go because he didn’t merit the job in the first instance.
“If you go to a nursing home and find somebody working in the ward with a Bachelor’s degree in History, he stands disqualified because he doesn’t have the skill in the first place. He has to go. So, these are the qualifications that must be noted in this principle of last in, first out. It is not absolute. It has exceptions and qualifications.”
The Minister noted that the employer has the right to reduce staff strength of his organization but is bound by law to negotiate redundancy payment to any discharged worker.
He asserted that there was nothing wrong in Kaduna State Government stopping the expenditure of 96% of the its earnings on personnel cost in order to save enough for capital projects, it must however be done within the ambit of the law.
He added that schedule 2 of the 1999 constitution clearly states issues that are contained in item 34 of that schedule which are beyond the powers of the state governments to act upon, noting that they include matters relating to labour unions, industrial disputes, arbitration and conciliation, and the National Minimum Wage – all exclusive to the purview of the Federal Government.
He informed the committee of the expectations of President Muhammadu Buhari for the speedy return of industrial harmony in Kaduna State, much more at a time the state is challenged by banditry.
“I expect this committee to turn in a report that will ensure lasting peace in Kaduna State. Mr. President had asked me to inform you of his expectation that peace returns to Kaduna which has been his state of residence as well as home to many retired generals, permanent secretaries, seasoned administrators, amongst others of Northern Nigeria extraction.
“So, I appeal to you to approach this assignment with conciliation at the back of your mind so that we don’t have a repeat of what happened in May. I use this opportunity to appeal to you as the Minister of Labour, Father of Labour unions and friend of Kaduna State that we should tread the path of peace. With peace we can make progress, both as government and as a labour union.
“If you are able to work out a majority arrangement that will empower the people who were disengaged to move into other employ where they can contribute to the economy of the state, it will safeguard the state from making its population available for recruitment for banditry.
Ngige further warned that strike has its dos and donts. “There are some lines you don’t cross when striking. You don’t obstruct people who want to go to work, even if you are picketing, and you don’t equally obstruct people who want to enter a place for business or any other reason. If you withdraw your services, you stay at home.
He further said that notwithstanding that labour unions are allowed in essential sectors such as electricity, water corporation and health among others , patriotism becomes a restraining force on the extent of unionism expected of in such sectors.
“We don’t expect people to go into electricity or water installations units to forcefully switch off supply to homes and establishments.”
Also speaking, the Kaduna State SSG, Lawal gave assurance of the State Government for the restoration of industrial harmony , adding that Kaduna State was not at war with Labour.
In his remarks, the President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba assured of labour’s commitment to the resolution of the impasse in Kaduna State.
“I pray that it should be the last dispute between labour and Kaduna State Government. This is a labour matter that can be resolved and should be resolved.”