“That is not the purpose for which the Nigerian Labour Congress was established. It is outside their regime, it’s outside the law, it is outside the very purpose for which they were established.” Admitting that the Nigerian worker has witnessed a gradual decline in his or her economic wellbeing, Babalola stated that NLC aborted strike is an act of defiance against the law. The Founder, ABUAD took an opposing stance against the labour leaders for two reasons. “Firstly, the country, like several others in the world is still grappling with the effects of the lockdown brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Experts posit that it may take years for most countries to recover from the lockdowns which brought a total halt to economic activities of several countries. To therefore contemplate a strike at this time will be counter productive. “Secondly, I have always made the point that the issues over which workers can proceed on strike are not open ended. Workers under the law can only agitate over a trade dispute and ‘trade dispute’ does not include government policies.
The Trade Dispute Act defines “Trade Dispute” to mean “any dispute between employers and workers or between worker and worker, which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the term of employment or physical condition of any person. From the definition the issue or dispute in contention must be connected with the employment of the employee. The Act in Section 8 makes provision for the appointment of a conciliator who will inquire into the circumstances of the dispute and bring about a settlement which will be signed by the representatives of the parties to the dispute.
” The legal icon recalled a similar occurrence in 2003, when the organized labour called a similar strike under same circumstances and it was aborted by the court because it was not within the ambit of the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act. According to him, during the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo, there was an increase in the petrol pump price and Comrade Adams Oshiomole was the President of NLC. NLC threatened to go on strike; they called it mother of all strikes. “They mobilized almost everybody saying no plane would land, no ship would berth, no vehicle would move, and all that.
Obasanjo was billed to travel then. And as a lawyer to government, I filed an action in the Federal high Court, Abuja. Why? You see, the NLC is an organization which is licensed to fight for their own rights in their own employment. For instance, if the employer, for example, the Federal Government has refused to pay salaries or refused to upgrade certain people in accordance with the civil service regulation, you can go on strike, but you cannot go on strike on matters which has nothing to do with your employment. We won the case, and that was the end of the strike.
” The government challenged the proposed strike in a suit in which it claimed the following reliefs: (i)A declaration that the notice of intention to resume strike dated 7th January, 2004 issued by the defendants to the plaintiffs in opposition to the plaintiffs’ policy of a charge of N1.50k per litre in Price Modulation of Petroleum Motor Spirit and Automotive Gas Oil is not in contemplation of furtherance of a trade dispute as provided for under the Trade Dispute Act Cap 432 LFN 1990 and is contrary to Section 222 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and therefore irregular, invalid, illegal, unlawful, void and of no effect whatsoever. (ii) A declaration that the defendants are not entitled to embark on any strike action pursuant to Annexure 1 and/or in respect of any matter not ambit of the provisions of the Trade Dispute Act Cap 432, LFN, 1990. (iii) A declaration that the 1st defendant cannot as a trade unionist and officers of the 2nd defendant, or howsoever acting under the banner or aegis of the 2nd defendant induce any worker or employee in Nigeria to embark on any strike action to protest the plaintiff ’s Price Modulation Policy of N1.50k on every litre of PMS/AGO or any matter not being within the preview and ambit of the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act Cap 432 LFN 1990. (iv) A declaration that the defendants’ notice of intention to resume strike action dated 7th January, 2004, Annexure 1, issued in opposition to the plaintiff ’s policy of a charge of N1.50k price modulation on every litre of Petroleum Motor Spirit and Automotive Gas Oil amounts to the tort of unlawful inducement of breach of their number workers various and individual contracts of employment with their various employers including the plaintiffs and that the said Annexure 1 is illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect whatsoever. (v) An order setting aside the said notice of intention to resume strike action dated 7th January 2004 issued by the defendants and served on the plaintiffs as being irregular, illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. (vi) An order of injunction directed against the defendants jointly and severally by themselves or through servants, agents, official, privies, successors-in-title or otherwise however from embarking on any strike action in protest against the N1.50k per litre Price Modulation Policy of the plaintiff on Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS) and the Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) or any other policy of the plaintiff ’s not being within the preview of the Trade Disputes Act Cap 437 LFN 1990.
” According to the legal icon, the Federal High court after trial granted the claims. In dismissing the appeal filed by the Nigerian Labour Congress, the Court of Appeal in Oshiomole v. A.- G., Federation (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1035) pg.58 stated as follows: For the purpose of ascertaining whether a dispute qualifies as a trade dispute within the meaning of the Trade Disputes Act, the difference must be made between a person who is a member of a union and one who is a worker. Whilst the former is a person who constitutes the Union or belongs to it, the latter is an employee. See N.U.R.TW. v. Ogbodo (1998) 2 NWLR (pt. 537) 189 at 198. In trade union matters, the determination of the concept or ambit of a trade dispute is most crucial in the construction of the rights of the parties.
It is the pivot on which trade unionism in labour relationship devolves. Although trade dispute as a concept is used for a number of purposes, the main function of it is to define the freedom to strike, which is the cessation of work by a body of persons, an a trade dispute invokes the “conciliation” and “arbitration” jurisdiction provided for in the Trade Disputes Act P.199. N.U.R.TW. v. Ogbodo (1998) 2 NWLR (pt. 537) 189. For a dispute to be declared a trade dispute within the meaning of Section 47 of the Trade Disputes Act Cap. 432, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990, the following ingredients must be present: (a) there must be a dispute; (b) the dispute must involve a trade; (c) the dispute must be between: (i) employers and workers; or (ii) workers and workers; (d) the dispute must be connected with (i) the employment or non-employment, or (ii) the terms of employment, or (iii) physical conditions of work of any person. In the light of the principles above explored I really cannot make a finding in favour of the appellants in resolving these two issues, I am satisfied that what appellants did and sought to do were not in line with a trade dispute properly so called.” Babalola stated that the above still represents the position of the law.
“It should be respected. It may not take more than a simple resolution to commence and suspend a strike. Yet long after the meetings and protest marches, long after the speeches and long drawn debates, the effects of strikes will continue to be felt by all. He then urged all parties concerned to have a rethink. Labour must reevaluate its decision to embark on the strike, he warned while government must show willingness to enter into meaningful negotiations.