Strike is one of the tools used by dissatisfied workers to press home their concerns when aggrieved by their employers’ actions or failure to act. The law recognises the existence of trade dispute; that is, any dispute between employers and workers or between workers and workers, which is connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms of employment and physical conditions of work of any person, and recognises but disapproves of the use of strike as a tool of resolution of trade disputes. The law has therefore laid down certain conditions which govern the use of strike as a tool for the resolution of trade dispute in Nigeria. These conditions will be considered in this article.

Strike  means the cessation of work by a body of persons employed acting in combination, or a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons employed to continue to work for an employer in consequence of a dispute, done as a means of compelling their employer or any person or body of persons employed, or to aid other workers in compelling their employer or any persons or body of persons employed, to accept or not to accept terms of employment and physical conditions of work[1].

  “cessation of work” includes deliberately working at less than usual speed or with less than usual efficiency; and  “refusal to continue to work” includes a refusal to work at usual speed or with usual efficiency.[2]

It is the law that a person shall not take part in a strike or in any conduct in furtherance or contemplation of a strike unless –

  1. The person, trade union or employer is not engaged in the provision of essential services;
  2. The strike concerns a labour dispute that constitutes a dispute of right.
  3. The strike concerns a dispute arising from a collective and fundamental breach of contract of employment or collective agreement on the part of the employee, trade union or employer,
  4. The provisions of law on the resolution of trade dispute have first been complied with; and 
  5. In the case of an employee or a trade union, a ballot has been conducted in accordance with the rules and constitution of the trade union at which a simple majority of all registered members voted to go on strike.

Essential services include

  • the armed forces and persons employed in any industry engaged in the manufacture of materials for use in the armed forces;
  • any service established, provided or maintained by either the federal, state or local government or by private enterprise for, or in connection with,
  1. the supply of electricity, power or water, or of fuel of any kind;  sound broadcasting or postal, telegraphic, cable, wireless or telephonic communications;
  2. maintaining ports, harbours, docks or aerodromes, or for, or in connection with, transportation of persons, goods or livestock by road, rail, sea, river or air;
  3. for, or in connection with, the burial of the dead, hospitals, the treatment of the sick, the prevention of disease, or any of the following public health matters, namely, sanitation, road-cleansing and the disposal of night-soil and rubbish;
  4. for dealing with outbreaks of fire;
  5. for or in connection with teaching or the provision of educational services at primary, secondary or tertiary institutions
  • Service in any capacity in any of the following organisations; the Central bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company Limited, any corporate body licensed to carry on banking business under the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act.

“Disputes of right” means any labour dispute arising from the negotiation, application, interpretation of a contract of employment or collective agreement under the law or any other enactment or law governing matters relating to terms and conditions of employment.The procedure for the resolution of a trade dispute has been set out under the law, and where strike is resorted to in disregard of these procedures, it amounts to an offence.

When a dispute arises, the parties; the organisation representing the interests of the workers and that of the employers shall settle the dispute first by any means previously agreed on by the parties for the settlement of dispute. Where an attempt to settle the dispute fails, or where there is no agreed means of settlement of dispute, the parties shall within seven days of the failure or within seven days on which the dispute arose attempt to resolve their dispute under the presidency of a mediator agreed upon by them. If the parties are unable to settle the dispute with the help of the mediator, then the dispute shall be reported to the Minister of Labour within three days of the end of the seven days within which the dispute was supposed to be resolved.

 When the minister is informed, the minster is required to appoint a conciliator who would attempt to resolve the dispute within seven days; if the dispute is resolved, then the terms of settlement shall be binding on the disputing parties. If a settlement is not reached within seven days of the appointment of a conciliator then the Minister is to be informed and he shall refer the dispute to the Industrial Arbitration Panel within fourteen days of being so notified. The Arbitration panel is to make its award (decision of an arbitration tribunal) within 21 days of its being constituted. If any of the parties object to the arbitral award, then the Minister is required to refer the dispute to the National Industrial Court. The decision of the National Industrial Court is binding on the parties; this is without prejudice to the right of the parties to appeal the decision of the court.

The implication of this elaborate procedure for the settlement of a trade dispute laid down by law is that aggrieved workers are in reality deprived of the right to go on strike. The provisions of the law in relation to strike have been criticised for taking away the right of dissatisfied workers to embark on strike.

 Where any worker engages in a strike contrary to the provisions of the law, he is guilty of an offence and shall upon conviction be liable to pay a fine or sentenced to an imprisonment term of six months, or to both fine and imprisonment.  A worker who takes part in a strike is not entitled to wages or other remuneration for the period of the strike and such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly.

[1] Section 48 of the Trade Dispute Act
[2] Section 48 of the Trade Dispute Act.