Examination of the laws and procedures for the regulation of trade disputes in Nigeria


1.0 Introduction to study

Industrial harmony is very important both at the public and private sectors because of the negative impact of disputes in the labour sector. Trade dispute, when it occurs could be a very serious issue especially when it is allowed to degenerate into an industrial action. Few trade disputes get reported but the ones that are recorded help the government to get a proper analysis for the evaluation and policy purposes. Though quite a large number of disputes occurs without resort to strike, however they are equally as disruptive as cessation of work.[1]

Since government is the largest employer of labour, it has from time to time enacted different laws to curb the incidents of trade disputes between employers and their workers in Nigeria.

[2]Trade dispute has been defined by the Act as any disagreement between employers and workers, workers and workers which is connected to the employment, non employment or terms of employment or physical condition of work of any person. It must be noted that before any dispute can be termed a trade dispute, there must be in existence proper parties and the subject matter must be related to the employment, non employment or terms of employment or physical condition of work of any person 23[3].

This shows that the parties and subject of a trade dispute must be clearly defined in order to fully understand what kind of dispute constitutes a trade dispute. The first attempt made by the government to regulate trade dispute was the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Inquiry) (Lagos) Ordinance, 1941 and Trade Dispute (Arbitration and Inquiry) (Federal Application) Ordinance, 1957. However, these attempts turned out to be unsuccessful because of some defects in them which eventually shortened their life span and new legislation were enacted, These are the Trade Dispute (Emergency Provision) Decree of 1968 and the Trade Dispute (Emergency Provision) (Amendment) (Decree No 2) of 1969.

These two Decrees were enacted to correct the defects in the first two Ordinances they were effective in some aspect but they were designated to last for a short time. The Decree had some inherent defects which were to be regulated by the Trade Disputes Act, 1976 which till today remains the major machinery for the settlement of trade disputes and its amendment the Trade Dispute (Amendment) Decree No. 47 of 1992.

The Trade Disputes Act, 1976 has provided different procedures for settling trade disputes when they occur, the Act provides for ways in which the parties may attempt the settlement themselves and ways in which a 3rd party may be appointed to help in the settlement processes.3 It also provides for ways in which the parties may take the dispute to the court for proper adjudication.

[4]Examination of the laws and procedures for the regulation of trade disputes is the focus of this study and recommendation made where necessary for a better way of resolving trade disputes.

1.1.0: Background to the study

In any ideal industrial relations, great emphasis is placed on the attainment of industrial harmony in order to create a conducive environment for the realization of individual and organizational goals and objective. However, it would appear that conflict is a common phenomenon in any human setting and when it exists, it creates human and industrial problems, which adversely affect the attainment of industrial peace.

Since conflict in any work situation is almost inevitable because as labour and management relates, there are bound to be frictions which result from differences in interest and aspirations as both the employer and employee most times have divergent interest on issues touching on wages, conditions of work, terms of employment etc and resolving these dispute receives compromise, concession and a game of give and take between disputing parties.

1.3 Definition of terms

“Trade Dispute” is any disagreement between employers and workers or worker and workers which is connected to the employment, non employment or terms of employment or physical condition of work of any person.4[5]

“Strike” has been defined by the Act as the cessation of work by a body of employed persons acting in combination, or by concerted refusal under a common understanding of any number of employed persons to continue to work for an employer in consequence of a dispute, done as means of competing with their employers or any person or body of persons employed, to aid other workers in compelling their employer or any person or body of employed persons to accept or not to accept terms of employment and physical condition of work

In Tramp shipping corporation v. Greewish marine Inc. “The court of Appeal in united kingdom adopted the following definition of strike: ‘a concerted stoppage of work by men done … With a view to improve their wages or condition of employment or giving vent to a grievance or making a protest about something or others supporting or sympathizing with other workmen in such endeavour. This definition accords with the definition under the Trade Dispute Act, 1976. Refusal to continue to work include a refusal to work at usual speed and efficiency.

“Lockout” is an action in which employees physically “takeover” the company premises either by locking out the management staff, thus denying them access to exit from the premises.
It is also defined by the Act as the closing of a place of work or, the suspension of work, or the refusal by an employer to continue to employ any number of persons employed by him, in consequence of a dispute with a view to compelling the workers to accept terms of employment”.

“Collective bargaining” has been defined as the process of arriving or attempting to arrive at a collective agreement.

Collective Agreement is any agreement in writing relating to the terms of employment and physical condition of work, between an employer group of employers or one or more organization representing the employers on one part and one or more organization representing the workers on the other hand.

In this work, unless the context requires otherwise, the following expression have the meaning assigned to them here under:-

“Party” mean any parties to trade dispute or any of the parties to a trade matter lying before a court or N.I.C.

“N.I.C” means the National Industrial Court.

“I.A.P.” Means Industrial Arbitration Panel,

“The Tribunal” means the industrial arbitration tribunal.

“Court” means the conventional court listed in section 6(5) 1999 constitution.

“The decree” Means the Trade Dispute (Amendment) Decree No. 47 of 1992.

“Laws” Means the laws regulating trade disputes in Nigeria as covered in this book.

“The Act” Means the Trade Dispute Act, Cap 432, LFN 1990.

“Dispute” means Trade Dispute

“Minister” mean the minister for employment labout and productivity of the federation.

“Condition of work” means the physical condition under which a workman, works such as appertain to matters of safety and physical comfort at the place of work.

[1] Trade Dispute Act 1978 S.47 (1)

2 NNB V. Osoh (2001) 3 NWLR (729)

3 Ordinance No. 32 of 1942 Cap 201 LFN !958

4 Ordinance No. 46 of 1957

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