Looming Labour Strike: Arbitration To The Rescue

By Yusufu Shehu Usman

We are getting back to it again. It’s a familiar narrative. The labour negotiated the Minimum Wage with the government and all parties to the negotiation settled for thirty thousand Naira as the National Minimum Wage.
The agreement was given a legislative effect and the Bill was signed into Law by the President. The National Minimum Law Act has now become a law binding on both the Labour and government and its enforceable against all violators
With the minimum threshold settled by the law, the parties entered into further negotiations to resolve the consequential adjustment of salaries across the grades and across the board. This is the stage at which we are now on the minimum wage issue before implementation and disbursement..
The parties are finding it difficult to arrive at agreed percentage increase for the different grade levels of workers especially in the public service.
One point must be made clear at the outset. It does not lie any more in the mouth of the employers of labour to renege on the fixed legal minimum of thirty thousand Naira or to say they can’t pay the minimum wage. That will amount to a clear violation of the Minimum Wage Act, an Act of the National Assembly with universal application across the nation. And, I do not understand the government saying through the Minister of Labour that the government can not pay the minimum wage as fixed by the law. Rather, the argument from the side of the government is to the effect that in the on going negotiations for consequential increase, the labour is making unreasonable demands, which is beyond the capacity of the government to accomodate, regard being had to other competing interests of governance vis a vis the available resources at its disposal. The Labour on the other hand, is insisting that the government has or can.have both the capacity and ability to accommodate it’s demand on the perceptage increases.
This in my assessment, is the bone of contention or the live dispute between the parties which must be resolved to effect or finally implement the minimum wage for Nigerian workers
Labour is threatening strike and the government is threatening retrenchment as the solution to the dispute
But is either option necessary or the best solution in the over rall interest of the nation?
I do not think so as both are extreme positions that can only exercebate the dispute and deepen the crisis
Any strike by the labour at this point will only work hardship on the innocent citizen whose lives do not depend on government salaries and whose livelihood would be jeopardised and economic well being disrupted by strike over a matter that doesn’t directly affect them
In the same vein, the threat by the labour Minister to down size the workforce could only lead to mass retrenchment of workers. This is not advisable in an economy like our which is bedeviled by a high rate of unemployment, where the government is the highest employer of labour
We all know without being economists, that retrenchment in the scale contemplated by the Monster of labour could lead to widespread labour unrest and volatility in the ecomomy.
It could even worsen the prevailing insecurity in the nation and crime and criminality will loom large and bring the nation to its knees
It must be appreciated that negotiation is a continuous process the aim of which is to arrive at a win- win destination.
The success of any negotiation is not in every party engaged achieving every demand it brings to the table. It can’t work because no party comes to the negotiating table to loose
The outcome of a good and sucsessful negotiation is achieved by each party shifting position, making concession and sacrifice to achieve some gains from the exercise
In the present circumstances, the labour should appreciate the fact that it is coming into the negotiation from position of strength, having won the battle for the increase of the minimum wage from eighteen to thirty thousand Naira
It is not unreasonable to suggest that in this second stage of the negotiation, it should not close its eyes to the critical factors of capacity and ability of the government to pay the consequential percentage increase, which of course, is inevitable.
I urge labour not to foreclose negotiation and opt for a strike when there is still a clear possibility of a compromise through further negotiations.
It will not be of benefit to any one least of all the Labour itself to go on strike and disrupt or paralyse the functions of government and essential services it renders to the people over a dispute that is not beyond resolution
My final take is that having come this successfully far, if the parties due to deep and intractable interests, feel that it will be difficult or it will take unreasonable time for them to reach a compromise among or between themselves in the effort to reach an amicable settlement of the dispute, I suggest that they should employ alternative dispute settlement mechanism to seal a deal.
They can have recourse to the tools of Arbitration through a panel of impartial independent, experienced and deeply knowledgeable persons of high integrity to help them resolve the sore points in the dispute and they must all express willingness to abide by the award
This way, it will faster to achieve an amicable settlement of the Minimum Wage conundrum without the need for a strike action by the Labour or retrenchment by the government

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