TRADE UNIONISM AND IT’S IMPACT ON WORKERS WELFARE IN NIGERIA
This study is motivated by the unseemly variety of problems faced by an average Nigerian worker and the fundamental question as the level and quality of Trade Union organization their defined ideologies and the motives of these unions towards their members are examined. The objective of this study is to seek ways to correct these varieties of problems and to ensure that Trade Union has enough impact positively on workers. Two research questions were raised for the study while two research hypotheses were also formulated. The survey research design was adopted for the study. The questionnaire was the main instrument used for the data collection. The data collected was subjected to simple validity and reliability test and chi-square technique was used to test the level of significance. Some of the findings are that the level of positive impact on workers welfare depends on the level of unity and maturity amongst the union leaders in charge and also that minimizing unnecessary strike actions by union will bring about high rate of productivity to the organization thereby affecting workers welfare. Based on the findings, recommendations such as cordial system of dialogue between union and management should be adopted in a case of misunderstanding. Also that union member’s welfare should not be mortgaged in any way and there should be improved communication between union and management and also union and members.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The term trade union has a variety of meanings depending on the perception of workers and the definition imposed by the legal frameworks in many countries. Some workers organizations call themselves staff or professional associations, or senior staff associations, but all these are valid examples of trade unions. Furthermore, trade union laws in the. UK and Nigeria defines a trade union as: “Any combination whether temporary or permanent, the principal objectives of which under it’s constitution are………. the regulation of the relationship between workmen or between masters and masters, or the imposing of restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business and also the provision of benefits to members”. An alternative definition of the term Trade Union is “…an association of wage/salary earners formed with the objective of safeguarding and improving the wage and employment conditions of it’s members and to raise members social status and standard of living in the community.
The above definition emphasizes the sale and purchase of labour power as a factor of production. The emphasis on the terms, conditions of service is perhaps the factor that distinguishes trade union from social clubs and other political organization. For although all these social groups may show interest in workers’ welfare but only the trade union is accorded the legal recognition to negotiate terms and conditions of work on behalf of it’s members. However, the law governing the trade union formation and organization is the Trade Union Acts 1973 and the Trade Union Amendment Act (Decree 22) of 1978 and the Amendment Act of 1979. The law., were further amended in 1990 and 1996. The Trade Unions Act Cap 437 LFN, 1990 which makes provisions with respect to the formation and general organization of trade unions. In 1996 Trade Unions (amendment) Decree 4 of 1996 restructured affiliates of the Nigerian Labour Congress to 29 Decree 22 restructured Trade Unions primarily along industrial line.
For it to be recognized as a trade union it has to be registered which entails to:
1. Get an application form from the registrar of Trade Union.
2. Fill the form and return with the signature of at least 50 members for workers and at least 2 members in the case of employers.
3. Every registration requires the approval of the Minister of Employment Labour and Productivity.
4. Issuance of certificate of registration under the present law, 3 types of unions are recognized.
(i) Those belonging to junior workers.
(ii) Those belonging to senior workers
(iii) Those belonging to employers.
Union was formally organized in the public sector in 1912. It was the Civil Service Union (CSU) formed possibly because it was the vogue of the African Countries. In 1931, two other unions were formed: The Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and The Railway Workers Union (RWU). The RWU was part of the CSU until it broke off because of dissatisfactical with the tempo with which the CSU was pursuing industrial relations activities. But the position of the CSU could be better understood if we consider the cultural environment at the time. Workers looked upon the colonial employer (largely government) as a kind of father figure. Such arbitrary paternalism connotes that the employer was revered over much with a lot of loyalty and this partly explain the slow tempo of industrial activates by the union of government workers. Besides, by definition, the civil service is supposed to be an institution of the state just like the judiciary, police or army. Clearly, it may amount to contradiction for the state to unionize against itself. This sort of sovereignty-induced arguments could have been used to brainwash civil servants and to discourage them from militant unionism. At any rate, the RWU broke off from the CSU.
Similarly, the NUT want a better forum where they could maintain good professionalism and forge a good standard of education in Nigeria. The NUT was also dissatisfied with the wide differential that existed in the wages of government teachers and their mission school counterparts, formal organization of workers into unions dated back to 1912. Yet no significant development in industrial relations took place until the late t930’s. In 1938, the absence of legal backing for Nigeria Labour Unions was removed when the colonial administration passed the trade union ordinance into law and this facilitated the formation of new ones. Specifically, the law allowed any group of five or more workers to form a trade union. Most of the unions that emerged were centered around one employer or one enterprise and comprised of few members indeed. The result was of course the growth of large number of ineffective trade unions, which continued until the 1970’s. Other factor perhaps played equally important part in charting the nurse of development in Nigeria Trade Union movement.
These factors are the 1939-45 world war, and the emerging nationalist movement. The war brought serious hardship both to workers and the general public in the form of acute shortages of essential commodities with the corresponding, rise in prices and stagnant money wage (Otobo, 1987). So when rationing was introduced in Lagos, workers joined trade unions in large number. The central trade union the country is the NLC (Nigeria Labour Con tress) Trade Unions to a large extent, has played a significant role in transformation witnessed in the condition of workers over time.
NIGERIA TRADE UNIONS
The central trade union in the country is the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), which was formed in 1975 as the umbrella trade union and recognized by Decree Number 44 of 1976 as the sole representative of all trade unions in the country. The NLC has a national executive and secretariat, as well as state councils in all states. It had more then 100 affiliated unions. Although most labour matters were channeled through the NLC, the affiliate unions had engaged individually in union activities, such as strikes and lockouts. In the 1980s, the NLC was torn apart by leadership struggles, ideological differences, and ethno-regional conflict. The NLC nearly broke up in 1988 after disagreements over election: of its leadership, resulting in the federal government’s appointing an administrator for several months. The NLC organized a nationwide workers’ strike in 1986 to demand the retention of government subsidies on petroleum products and continued to articulate workers’ demands on matters such as minimum wages and improved welfare conditions. Several other trade unions were also active. A few, such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities, were proscribed for alleged antigovernment activities.
In Nigeria, trade unions have become important agent of socio-economic transformation and class struggle (Aremu, 1996; Akinyanju 1997). The role began from the period of the colonial struggle and continued tall the post independence era. In the later period, trade unions played an important role in the struggle against dictatorial military rule and the restoration of civil rule in the country more importantly during the civilian era, trade unions were in the forefront in the struggle against unpopular government policies such as:
• Retrenchment of workers and
• Refusal to honour agreement on wage increase
The present discussion seeks to provide a critical assessment of the impact of Trade Union on workers welfare in particular and on their overall emancipation in general.
TRADE UNIONISM UNDER MILITARY RULE
Nigeria’s history is bereft with contrasting political climate. Since independence in 1960, the country has been under military dictatorship for twenty-nine year while democratic .rule span for the remaining seventeen years. The long years of military rule has had its impact on the nation’s trade unionism and workers struggle in the country. Therefore, military regime though an aberration, has nevertheless featured prominently in Nigeria’s political history. In view of the dictatorial tendency of such military administration, trade unions have a Herculean task in responding to policies and unpopular programmes of such regimes. The: first challenge posed to trade unions is with regards to how they can mobilize the members to agitate against unpopular and repressive programmes of military administration. Examples abound of instances of how trade unions successfully mobilized workers for action meant to achieve their emancipation and improvement in the general condition of members.
Trade union movement in Nigeria attained its highest crescendo of activities during military dictatorship. While trade union activities were heightened under previous military regimes of General Gowon (1967-1975) General Muritala/Obasanjo (1976-1979) General Buhari/Idiagbon 1984/1986), General Babangida (1986-1993), it was during General Abacha’s regime (1993-1998) that witnessed active involvement of trade unions in the struggle both for the improvement in the living standard of members and restoration of democratic rule. For example, in 1992, then was widespread discontent in the country in which citizens were hay sassed, repressed and hungry (Akinyanju, 1997). Wages were generally low. However, the leadership of the central labour organization (NLC were collaborators of the military junta, hence could not monster any res stance against the military government. It was against this background that the Academic Staff Union of Nigeria Universities (ASUU) embarked on a nationwide strike in 1992 to advance the improvement of the working condition of its members.
The high level of poverty among members fostered unity of purpose among members. The strike was largely successful in terms of total participation of members and the Military government was forced to negotiate with the union.The experience of the struggle towards revalidation of true annulled June 12 1993 presidential election is another instance of workers struggle during military era. The struggle was spear-headed by workers union in the oil sector, namely, National Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Gas Workers Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN). While the strike was effective with regards to full participation of a large number of members, it nevertheless failed to achieve its goal of de-annulling the election. However, the strike further strengthened the unions and made members conscious that the could achieve a lot by remaining steadfast with their unions. Again, during Gen. Babangida’s regime (1986-1993) trade unions were able to mobilize their members to protest against the negative effects of the Structural Adjustment Programme of the government. The protest led to the introduction of some relief measures meant to caution the effect of economic policy on the citizens. Obasi (1986) has observed that SAP has led to economic privation of workers thereby heightening their consciousness which in turn leads to increasing militancy on their part. Such actions on the part of workers through their unions have forced government to adopt some relief measures especially in the areas of wages and salaries increment.
Trade unions also performed the role of sensitizing its members and the general public against government repressive programmes such as increment in petroleum price. Past experiences have shown that on each occasion that government desires to effect change in fuel price, trade unions have played significant role in mobilizing its members arid the general public on the need to resist such action. From the preceding discussion, one could observe that the activity of trade union movement in Nigeria was heightened during military rule. The dictatorial climate provided by military regimes has the effect of pushing trade unions towards increasing militancy. Such undemocratic government could not tolerate active unionism and hence had to resort to intimidation, repression through arrest of union leaders and outright ban of radical unions. These actions in return further fuelled radicalism on the part of the unions.
TRADE UNIONISM UNDER DEMOCRATIC RULE
Democratic government in contrast to military provides quite a different political environment for trade unionism. Under colonial rule, government did not grant recognition to trade union until 1931 with the enactment of Trade union Ordinance. The colonial state relented the radical posture of trade unions. Moreso, since the unions collaborated with nationalists for independence struggle and therefore made concerted efforts to weaken the unions by harassing the leadership and divide the rank and along ethnic line (Ochefu, 1996). These repressions were heightened after the general strike of 1945 which marked a water-shed in the anti-colonial struggle in Nigeria. The successful collaboration between nationalises and labour leaders during the strike led to the forging of link between the two groups and the radically transform the nature and of nationalist struggle for independence.
According to Ochefu (1996) labour’s venture into anti-colonial polities was borne out of the conviction that the colonial state as an agency of capital had to be removed if labour was to get a fair share of the contribution for production of goods and services. Similarly, its alliance with petty bourgeois elements like Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and the NCNC way also informed by the concrete reality that labour could not do it alone. Ochefu (1996) further argued that the colonial administration found it necessary to prevent the unity of forces between the nationalists and labour unions because such unity constituted a greater threat to the colonial government. The colonial government reaction was in forms of intimidation, detention of union officials while preventing the formation of a central labour organization. They also fuelled sub-national settlements within the ranks of labour and as well promoted ideological schism with segment of the leadership. The actions led to fractionalization within the labour unions which served to limit the effectiveness of the unions.
Cambridge (1989) and Rodney (1979) have observed that union i,2aders played a very significant role during the anti-colonial struggle and that though nationalist leaders may or may not emerge from the leadership of workers organizations, however, all nationalists’ leaders sought and developed alliances with workers organizations in order to destabilize the colonial administration. This alliance made it possible for effective mobilization of workers for strikes aimed at seeking political goal. Ironically, though the succeeding post colonial administration inherited the fear, suspicions are hatred for labour from its predecessor. Trade union activities were regarded by government as destabilizing to the interest of the state. Hence, right from the First Republic (1960-1966) the posture of government has been to regard trade unionism with suspicion, and therefore took various measures to recapitulate the unions. This deliberate action of the Nigeria government has resulted into state intervention in trade union movement in what is regarded as the principle of “guided democracy” (Olugboye, 1996).
A significant instance of trade union activities towards enhancement of workers welfare under democratic rule was in 1981 under the regime of Alhaji Sheu Shagari when trade unions successfully mobilize their members for general strike which forced the government to increase the monthly minimum wage to one hundred and twenty five naira (N125.00k). The prevailing democratic atmosphere during this period enabled the unions to pursue its goal of improving the working lives of members though struggle for wage increase. During the current political dispensation, trade unions have had cause to mobilize members to embark on concerted actions aimed at resisting unpopular government programmes. For instance, since 1999, when democratic rule was restored in the country, the Federal Government has severally increased the pump price of petroleum products. On each if these instances, the control labour congress had to mobiles the workers for strike against the policy. However, this did not go well with the government which responded by enacting what is now popularly known as anti-Labour Legislation – the labour bill of 2005. The law among other things seeks to decentralize the labour union in the country. Critics of the Bill have argued that the measure is meant to weaken the power of the Nigerian Labour Congress which has successfully mobilized the Nigerian workers for strike against the Federal government.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Analyzing the Nigerian Trade Union so far, the researcher has been able to point to the fact that over the years, trade unions in Nigeria have evolved from informal to highly formal bureaucratic organizations. In the process, an unstable, yet unique system of industrial relations seems to have emerged in Nigeria. However, inspite of the apparent militancy and power of the unions, very little is known about the internal dynamics of the unions. The closest attempt (Owarieta 1997) merely addressed the general factors that lead to industrial conflicts in industries. Thus, such fundamental questions as the level and quality of trade union organization, their defining ideologies and the motives of the union 1 Waders are not examined. As Hartman (1978:70) has argued. Some environmental constrains also contributes and impinge on industrial relations in Nigeria. They are:
l. The tendency of labour disputes to become destructive, and the state to deploy coercive measures in it’s control. Citing an ex ample with the Nigeria oil industry which can be said to be acknowledged as the most strategic and this is perhaps why it has experienced a lot of bitter industrial disputes.
After the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential election by the military dictatorship, the unions in the oil industry embarked upon one of the longest and most consequential strikes in the nation’s industrial history. The strike ended up with the arrest and detention of the leaders of the two workers’ unions in the industry (National Union of Petroleum, Energy and Gas) NUPENG and (Petroleum, Energy and Gas senior staff Association of Nigeria) PENGASS-‘%,N as well as the proscription of the unions, the branch unions continued to embark on both official and wildcat strike action. The frequency and success with which the strike actions were prosecuted have led to the impression that the trade unions in the oil industry have become too militant and powerful for management End employers in the industry and the Nigerian government as a whole (Owarieta, 1997).
2. Inability of the trade union leaders for a long time to conduct -Trade Union matters with deserved maturity. Also, unions are increasingly being run by full-time officials. These officials get paid more, than workers and see the union as “just another job”. At times, some of these leaders become conservative on some issues that need a deserved approach, they’ll rather spend their- time negotiating and sometimes they even make undemocratic decisions. Some even oppose socialism. The NLC was torn apart by leadership struggles, ideological differences and ethno-regional conflict. It was affect in 1988 after disagreements over election of its leadership resulting in the federal government’s appointing an administrator for several months.
3. The dominance of the employers’ lobby by multinationals to determine with the states’ support, the direction and size c;; pay, perquisites and employment conditions.
4. The undue role of the various states as explained by the need to control labour for development efforts.
5. The inconsistencies of the state as socio-economic policies are jettisoned midstream and others are adopted in their places.
6. The difficulty of separating pure labour from political disturbances.
7. The paternalistic value of the workers that put elaborate respect on elders rather than on authorities and thus the reliance on informal machinery like elders; religious ministers and state governs -s for settling disputes.
These features are expected to continue because industrialization is yet to be carried to a satisfactory level.
8. Some of the trade unions still continue their seeming misunderstanding of their roles in the development process structure of ownership of industry has not changed. The political system has not matured to the extent that instability and thence inconsistencies of government policies can be forestalled. The state has so much motivation to continue it’s intervention in the trade union system. It would appear therefore that the astrictive features that give the developed capitalist their superiority of their system of the country . are strong enough to persist into the immediate future.
9. Lack of professional union officials who do not survey the real needs of the union to decide what their priority should be. Some have limited political vision on the role of trade unions in the society,
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
It is the aim of the researcher or this study to seek, suggest and state the ways that will help Trade Unions in ensuring the smooth running of activities in a way that it will impact workers welfare positively.
Being that trade unions are the main power resource of working people. The power in this collectivity of workers can promote the resolution of a variety of problems faced by the workforce. The resulting influence of organized labour in any economy could be substantial.
1. The objective of the study is to pursue generally the economic, social, political and psychological welfare/benefits of union members.
• The economic welfare of the union members can include wage increase, allowances and bonuses, car loans, housing loans etc. Also, securing of good condition of services for the employee. All these economic benefits leads to general improvement n the standard of living of the members.
· The social welfare or benefit of union members in this study intends to stress that man as a social animal grows by interaction and union is a better platform for social interaction among it’s members. This can be carried out by union members being sent for training. Union should organize seminars, lectures, conferences and symposia so that union members learn and develop educationally.
· The Unions welfare services can also include the award of scholarships to the children of dependants. They can establish and operate co-operative shops where essential commodities are sold at regulated prices.
· To operate thrifts and credit societies for the convenience of members.
· To improve workers welfare, unions should invest on any the of production or service they choose being that they have special privilege on tax exemption on profits.
· The political welfare of union of members should include the opportunity for members to constitute a formidable pressure group to enhance bargaining power, thus influencing to a great extent employers and government policies. Unionism should also launch some of their members on political trajectory such that they may end up being chosen as commissioners or legislators in this era of civilian experiment in Nigeria (Fashoyin, 1981). Example, presently is the case of Adams Oshiomole who was the NLC president but is now the governor of Edo State.
· Psychological welfare of union members should serve a dual :-ole of affording it’s members a feeling of job security to ensure that cases of unfair dismissal of employer is pursued by union. Secondly, that the union should provide a forum where me Fibers should satisfy psychological needs for belongingness, leadership, esteem etc. Pursuit of dialogue should be done cordially between management and union through collective bargaining. Union should give management it’s due respect and discuss relevant issue with good reasoning and logic in striving for better conditions of service for workers.