For those who want to know, unionized employees can embark on a strike action if they follow these series of steps. You can go back to labor disputes occurring all over the world, all the time, and see that these steps usually occur:
- Labor and management disagree on some labor related actions, usually over management or labor impending action or action already implemented.
- The offended party asks for a meeting. In the meeting the offended party out lines the violations and seeks corrective action. If they agree the matter is over. If they disagree, the offended party gives a warning of its intended action; lock out by management or strike by labor. Or, both agree to submit the matter to binding arbitration (parties must abide by the decision of the arbitrator)
- If the parties did not agree to go to binding arbitration, then the parties would refer the matter to their bosses. Management would take the matter to their Board of Directors, and labor would call full union meeting. In each case a recommendation would be made by representatives of management and union: to strike or to lock out.
- The bosses approve or disagree with the recommendations. Union approval is obtained by union members ratifying the call for a strike. Management's recommendation is approved by the required percentage of board members per the board rules.
- The bosses' approval is conveyed to the other party with a date when the approved action would start: strike action start date or lock out action start date.
- The party receiving the notice may go to court to seek interim or permanent injunction if it believes it can make its case.
- The courts ruling would be obeyed by all parties. If strike action is allowed, the strike would commence and proceed as planned. If strike action is permanently stopped, labor would seek ways to obtain its wishes and management if it looses looks for alternative means of accomplishing the same goals.
The above process is made possible because both parties understand that if they destroy the organization that they work for each side would suffer grievous consequences. They both owe loyalty to the organization.
Clearly the above process has not been followed in the current dispute in Nigeria:
- There is no labor contract between government and labor on the price of oil and oil products. The application of subsidy was not introduce via labor negotiations and its removal should not be through labor negotiation.
- Labor does not represent Nigerians as a people. Nigerians elect their representatives who serve in the Senate and House. That is where pressure should have been put to kill the removal of subsidy. Labor has no right to usurp the role of the legislature.
- Labor did not submit to negotiation in good faith. It rejected the offer to talk rudely and has not as of now agreed to negotiate. It merely issued an ultimatum.
- Labor did not poll it members to approve a strike action and is in violation of its own rules.
- Labor is about to ignore a court ruling on temporary injunction.
Now that the gauntlet has been thrown, we shall all watch to see how this would end. Labor has not allowed itself an exit valve and without one it could implode. If workers go for a few months without pay, they could start sneaking back to work as had happened in the past. If it turns violent the government may collapse and we will see who comes up to govern. It may not be Jonathan, but will the new unelected leader be an improvement? Will the country rally around him or her? Will MEND or Boko Harem, or MASSOB or OPC or the military or other war lords emerge and would all the population segments rally behind it?
We shall see.
Today is Saturday night, 36 hours before the conflagration begins.
It is not too late to pull back from the brink.
Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba
January 7, 2012