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An industrial dispute is any dispute or differences between employers and employees or between employers and workers, or between workers and workers, which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of employment and conditions of any person.

The Nature Of Industrial Disputes

  1. Parties to the dispute: for a dispute to qualify as an industrial dispute, it must be between workers and workers, or between employers and workers. If it involves employers only, then it is not an industrial dispute.
  2. The subject matter of the dispute: this dispute must involve: The employment or non-employment, Terms of employment, Conditions of work of any person
  3. The phrase “contemplation and furtherance” of an industrial dispute: The tortuous act complained of must have been committed in contemplation or furtherance of disputes. A dispute must be in existence for it to be furthered. 

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Industrial Actions

Industrial disputes manifest themselves in various ways. These were used by the workers to bring the employers to the negotiating table or to sanction erring employers as the situation arises. Most of these measures are last resorts on the workers to get their attention when all negotiations have failed. It must however be stated that when workers exercise these rights, there are certain economic risks such as loss of wages and termination of employment contracts.

Sanctions employed by workers include the following:

  1. Strikes:  It is a situation where workers refuse to work or withdraw their exert pressure on their employers.
  2. Work-to-rule:  this is referred to as “go slow” in Nigeria. It is a deliberate action taken by the union to restrict input in the place of work.
  3. Lock in and Lock out: This is a situation where workers lock in and lock out the management staff to deny the access to or exist from the premises.
  4. Overtime Ban: Members of the union are banned from working beyond official hours. This is usually timed during the period that they know such decision would adversely affect management (government).
  5. Picketing: This refers to efforts embarked upon by striking workers to discourage other form attempting to continue work and also to discourage new workers from coming into the organization. It is usually carried out through public enlightments and demonstrations with the intention of attracting public sympathy and support.
  6. Sit-in: This is a situation where workers only come to work to prevent management from shutting down the plant but refuse to perform their duties.
  7. Intimidation.

Procedures For Industrial Dispute Resolution

  1. Resolution by the parties themselves;
  2. Resolution by a Conciliator;
  3. Resolution by Arbitration;
  4. Resolution by the Court.

The parties to any dispute must first attempt to settle it by any means agreed between them for the settlement of disputes. If they are unable to so settle the dispute or there is no such agreed means to settlement, then the parties must meet under the presidency of a mediator mutually agreed upon by them with a view to settlement.

If within 7 days of the appointment of a mediator they are still unable to settle the dispute, either party must make a written report of the dispute to the Minister of Labour and Productivity, setting out the points of disagreement and the steps already taken to reach a settlement. The minister may refer the dispute back to the parties if he is satisfied they have not substantially used any means of settlement including the mediator and specify the steps they must take to do so.

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If after 14 days of such reference or the expiration of any period specified by the minister upon the reference, the dispute remains unsettled, the minister may refer the dispute for conciliation or for arbitration. If however, in the circumstances it appears to him that a reference of the dispute for arbitration would not be appropriate, then the matter will be referred directly to the National Industrial Court.

If the first reference is for conciliation, the minister is empowered to appoint a fit person to act as a conciliator. The conciliator must inquire into the causes and circumstances of the dispute and, by negotiation with the parties, endeavour to bring about a settlement. If, within 7 days, a settlement is reached, the conciliator must send a memorandum of the terms of the settlement and signed by the representatives of the parties, to the Minister. The terms of the settlement become biding on the parties upon signing it. Breach of a binding term is an offence punishable with a fine. The terms also become implied into the contracts of employment between the employers and the employees who were parties to the disputes. Thus, any breach of the terms will amount to breach of contract.

If no settlement is reached, the conciliator must immediately report that fact to the minister. Within 14 days of receiving such a report, the minister must then refer the dispute to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP). The arbitration tribunal may consist of one arbitrator alone or two or even more number of arbitrators. An arbitration tribunal must make its award within 21 days unless the minister allows a longer period. However, the award is not to be communicated to the parties. It must only be sent to the minister who, if he considers it desirable, may refer it back to the tribunal for reconsideration. The minister is to communicate the terms of the award to the parties if satisfied with the award, stipulating a time within which objections may be made. Once the award is confirmed by the minister and published in the official gazette, it is final and binding. Any person who fails to comply with an award of the court is guilty of an offence and liable, on conviction, to a fine.

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At the instance of the objection to the award of IAP within stipulated period, Minister, shall refer the dispute to the National Industrial Court, which shall re-consider the dispute, call for evidences as deemed necessary and gives a ruling that is final and binding on the disputants. National Industrial Court is made up of Judges, which include the President and four other members.


The narrative of industrial disputes in Nigeria can be changed through joint efforts of both employers and employees by pursuing fairness, mutual respect for each other’s right and strictly encouraging harmonious labour management. In addition, sincerity and commitment of both parties should be strictly encouraged. Our industrial  world  indeed requires  healthy  peace  for  the  nation  to  be  great.

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This article was first published on 26th December 2019


Foluke Akinmoladun is the Managing Solicitor of Trizon Law Chambers. She has been a legal practitioner for 13 years and has experience in a wide range of commercial matters. She is a certified mediator, a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators(UK), holds an Advanced Diploma in Accounting from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (UK) and is also a tax consultant. She is a dispute resolution expert, handling commercial disputes from negotiations all the way to litigation (if need be).

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