Lawyers are divided over legitimacy of labour’s minimum wage strike that has resulted in a nationwide blackout

Story Highlights

  • Nigerian lawyers are split over the legality of the Nigeria Labour Congress’s (NLC) strike demanding a N494,000 minimum wage, with some asserting it aligns with the law and others disagreeing.
  • The NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) initiated a nationwide strike, affecting the national grid and airports after their demand for the government to conclude minimum wage negotiations by the end of May went unmet.
  • The Attorney-General warned the strike might violate a court order, risking legal repercussions.

Nigerian lawyers are divided over the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)’s ongoing strike action regarding its proposed N494,000 minimum wage demand, with some saying it aligns with relevant laws and others faulting the action.

The NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had announced a nationwide strike to commence today, Monday, June 3rd, 2024.

Complying with the directive on Monday, workers shut down the national grid and disrupted services at various airports amongst other industrial actions.

However, in an exclusive interview with Nairametrics, prominent legal practitioners shared different views on whether the NLC has indeed breached any law amid the ongoing strike.

NLC stand

The organized labour leaders had noted that the decision to commence industrial action comes after a previous demand for the Federal Government to finalize all negotiations regarding a new minimum wage by the end of May, expired.

Among other demands, the organized labour had maintained that the hike in electricity tariff and the categorization of consumers into Bands forced Nigerian workers to commence strike today.

However, a Director-General of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Mr. Ajayi Kadri, confirmed on Saturday in a television program that the organized private sector concurred with the federal government that the new minimum wage should be N60,000.

But on Sunday, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, (SAN), faulted the organised labour’s planned strike.

In his letter seen by Nairametrics and copied to NLC, Inspector General of Police, National Security Adviser, the AGF warned that the industrial action might amount to contempt of court, implying that the development may lead to the imprisonment of defaulters of a court order.

He stated an interim injunction order granted by the National Industrial Court on June 5, 2023, in suit no: NICN/ABJ/158/23, between the Federal Government of Nigeria & Anor V. Nigerian Labour Congress & Anor, still subsists.

“Order has neither been stayed nor set aside, therefore it remains binding on the labour union.

He also stated that the Trade Union Act forbids those in essential services from embarking on strike action.

What Nigerian lawyers are saying

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), in an exclusive interview with Nairametrics, said the case cited by the AGF in his recent letter to the labour leaders, has nothing to do with minimum wage, adding that that order of court came when NLC wanted to have the last strike(that was eventually called off).

“And both sides have even signed an agreement to settle that case out of court,” Falana added.

The senior stressed that organized labour has not breached any law.

“So if the AGF is sure that NLC and TUC has breached a court order, he should embark on contempt proceedings but he knows that nobody has breached any court order.

“The penalty for going on strike is that you lose your salary during the strike, no other penalty. That is the law,” Falana added.

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), also in an exclusive interview with Nairametrics, does not think that the labour union leaders have breached any law in the process of the declaration of their strike action.

Besides, he said the 1999 Constitution, the supreme law of the land, grants to every citizen the freedom of expression which can come by way of protests or civil disobedience.

He stressed that apart from the 1999 constitution being superior to the Trade Union Act, the Trade Union Act itself establishes the right of strike action only that adequate notice should be given.

“And that notice was given, otherwise government would not be negotiating with them before the strike action was eventually called.

“Negotiations has been ongoing but broke down. So the government cannot claim not to be aware that this strike action was going to happen.

“It is not to blackmail the labour leaders but to sit down with them to discuss the modalities of reaching a mutual understanding and agreement concerning the issue of minimum wage.

“There has to be some transparency and seriousness on the part of the government to engage the labour leaders for the purpose of resolving the issues in controversy between them. I do not think labour union has breached any law in this particular strike action,” he said.

Lawyers fault shut down of essential services

Ahmed Raji (SAN), told Nairametrics in an exclusive interview that he agrees with the AGF’s position on the law in regarding the NLC strike.

The senior lawyer maintained that the Trade Union Act does not permit people rendering essential services to go on strike.

He said while the strike is a constitutional right, the involvement of workers who render essential services like power, and transport is illegal and against the interest of the nation.

“Those in essential services are not supposed to go on strike. And it is in the interest of the society. If people from essential services withdraw, society may go into a state of nature.

“That is not to say that labour unions should not press for claims but essential services must not be disrupted.

“All these ideas of interrupting flight, hospitals, should not be, in the interest of all of us, including the labour leaders themselves,” he said.

He urged the government and the labour leaders to sit down and come to an agreement in the interest of Nigeria, not in the interest of labor or government.

According to him, industrial dispute is not a matter of “legal gymnastics”, it is a matter of practical solutions which call for sacrifice on the part of labour and government.

“Strike is very harmful to the economy and I am appealing to the labour to go back and dialogue with the federal government. And the federal government too, should please bend over backwards and shift position,” he said.

On his part, Barrister Festus Onifade told Nairametrics in an exclusive interview that the  NLC has a right to go on strike and that the AGF, who is the chief law officer of the federation, is not a court that has the power to pronounce on the legality or illegality of an action.

“In this instant case, if you are referring to the AGF, the AGF is not a court and cannot restrain NLC from going on strike,” he said.

He added, however, that the law clearly restrains NLC and some people in the sub-sector, particularly the National Union of Electricity Employees, from going on strike.

He said those in essential services, which includes people working in seaports and airports, can’t go on strike by that law(Trade Union Act).


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