By INALEGWU SHAIBU
ABUJA—Senators were yesterday divided over a proposed law that seeks to stop organised labour from embarking on strike in the event of any unpopular government policy.
Sponsor of the new law, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (PDP, Bayelsa State), had sought the leave of the Senate to amend the Trade Unions Act to provide for all members of organised labours to decide through elections whether to embark on a strike or not.
Lokpobiri, while leading debate on the bill, said it was not meant to stop the organised labour from embarking on legal strikes, but to ensure a more democratic and orderly manner for declaration of strike.
He said: “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 other countries in the world where things are done in better standardised way. It is very specific.
“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 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 embark on a strike, let there be majority of members supporting it, and it is basically to broaden the democratic process in trade unions.”
It is anti-people —Senators
But, while some of the Senators believed that the law will strengthen the operations of organized labour, others contended that the new law will gag labour, and militate against Nigerians exercising their human rights.
Senator Ayogu Eze, PDP, Enugu, while supporting the bill said nobody is trying to stop labour from protesting through strike, but to ensure that organized labour does not mix up labour dispute with politics.
He said: “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.”
Senator Ita Enang, PDP, Akwa Ibom North-East, while also supporting the bill, accused trade unions of veering away from their mandate, saying, “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, vehemently opposed the bill, arguing that Nigerians will be denied their fundamental human rights.
Dariye, in his opposition, described organized labour as the most democratic institution in Nigeria and therefore, the Senate should not interfere in its affairs.
He said: “The most democratic institution in the world is organized 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.
According to him, “They have their constitution and it stipulates the process of going on strike. This bill is dead on arrival. It is anti- people.”
The debate on the bill was, however, inconclusive as the Senate President, David Mark, who presided in the plenary, suspended debate to allow every senator comment on it.
He said, “We will take the debate to a logical conclusion and if it becomes necessary, we will take a division.”