By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA- THE Federal Government has announced plans to upgrade the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) into a permanent commission.
The idea behind this was to ensure more efficient and speedy resolution of industrial disputes between employers and employees.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige disclosed this in his office while receiving Federal Arbitrators from the IAP who paid him a courtesy visit at the weekend.
The Minister, who praised the arbitrators for discharging their duties happily and creditably, revealed that the proposed commission would operate with its own bureaucracy.
He recalled that the IAP, which came into existence 40 years ago, gave birth to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN).
According to him, it was because of IAP that the Federal Government decided that there should be a gradation of the Labour Law to establish the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
Senator Ngige said, “As at today, the hierarchy of industrial dispute resolution is that we should start here if the people decide to come here to report. We can put up a Tribunal. We can put up a Board of Inquiry if a strike has occurred. If we cannot resolve the dispute here, we then go up to the IAP. If they are not satisfied at the IAP, then they go up to the NICN.
“So, it is the same ladder stepwise formation for the normal disputes. If it is interpersonal, it is State High Court/ Federal High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“More importantly, I want to inform you that in the Labour Law review, which the ILO asked us to do, the IAP is targeted as one of the places we will review, to make it a permanent commission.”
He invited the Arbitrators to join the Ministry during the validation to make their inputs and contributions, saying “we may think that we have done everything, but you may point out one or two things not done.”
Senator Ngige assured the arbitrators that the Federal Government would continue to support them in human resources and capacity building and in terms of material resources.
“I am aware that we are talking about your Permanent Site. We are also talking about making your current location more comfortable to work. Plans are underway to install solar energy there.
“For your Lagos Office, it is going to be repaired. For Umuahia, Taraba, Kano and other places, we need to develop one or two things there. We are also planning to expand the courts. So, we need special intervention funds from Mr. President to see whether we can do it.
“Budget constraints caused by dwindling resources have made it such that people operate on envelopes. So, the envelope system has not allowed things to develop.”
He commended the current Chairman and members of the IAP for producing the Industrial Arbitration Rules 2021, the first since the inception of the panel 40 years ago.
The Minister further lauded the current crop of Arbitrators for promulgating IAP Tribunal COVID-19 Practice Guidelines No.1, 2020 to meet the challenges of the pandemic protocol.
Regarding the two arbitrators who died in active service, Arbitrators Samuel Peter and Inuwa Hassan, Ngige said his Ministry would include them in the National Productivity Merit Award list for posthumous award.
Speaking on behalf of the Arbitrators, Rita Chris Garba who represented the Chairman of IAP, Aniazoka Zokas, said the arbitrators rose after a four-day intensive workshop on arbitration anchored by Nigerian Institute of Chartered Arbitrators.
Garba said they came to sincerely appreciate the Honourable Minister for approving the capacity building workshop and coming to open and close the programme on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 and Thursday, October 14, 2021 respectively.
She appreciated the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr Peter Tarfa who stood in for the Minister during the two events.