AN APPRAISAL OF THE ROLE OF TRADE UNIONISM UNDER NIGERIAN LAW: A CASE STUDY OF THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS
1.1 Background to the Study
Trade union means any combination of workers or employers, whether temporary or permanent the purpose of which is to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers.
Trade Unionism has been an indispensable factor in ensuring and guaranteeing stability and industrial harmony between the employer and labour. Trade Unions played pivotal roles in ensuring the free flow of goods and services to the Nigerian public which keep the Nigerian economy afloat. The Nigeria economy is stable largely owing to the activities of trade unions laboring assiduously to strike a balance between its interest and that of management. Labour and Management are two bearers of great social interests.
It is well known that trade unionism all over the world emerged for improving the economic, living and working conditions of workers. Workers through their union representatives seek to obtain an equitable share in the profits made by the employer in order to improve their working and living standards out of the wealth they help generate.3 The above position has not been different in Nigeria. The primary objective of trade unionism had been an agitation to improve the lot of the labour force through improved conditions and terms of service from the employer. Trade unionism was basically an agitation which was meant to serve as a platform for dialogue with the employer on generally employee welfare.
In this 21st Century, it is our view that there seems to be an additional role in the basic and fundamental objectives of trade unionism in Nigeria. Trade Unionism entails playing economic, social and political roles not only to the working class but practically it now extends to ordinary Nigerians even those who are not gainfully employed particularly as it relates to unpopular Government policies.
The new role assumed by trade unions in this 21st Century is not in tandem with the statutory definition of trade unions which basically is an economic union the purpose of which is to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers. The impact of trade unions in modern society has become pervasive economically, socially and politically. The very logic that propels the state increasingly to interfere in industrial relations equally explains the need for trade unions to take active interest in politics. The writer submits that despite the restrictive role given t trade unions under the Act, the realm of political activism can still be accommodated legally under Section 40 of the Nigerian constitution which gives individuals the right to associate and assembly freely in order to advance their rights and interest. When individuals aggregate their interests it can be manifested in many legitimate ways this paradigm shift from the statutory defination of trade unions is one of the ways in which the rights guaranteed under Section 40 of the constitution can be advanced.
Particularly, in recent times a modern and vital role of trade unionism had been evolved in the form of political activism. Political activism today by the NLC has been responsible for reversal of several government actions and policies. A good example is the role played by the NLC during the upheavals associated with the removal of fuel subsidy on the 1st day of January 2012 by the Nigerian government.
Nigerians today heavily rely on the responses of the trade unions in a wide range of issues affecting the lives of Nigerians. Labour is now seen as the voice of the Nigerian masses. This additional role of trade unionism i.e. political activism is very unique as trade unions in Nigeria have assumed an additional and difficult responsibility of protecting and championing the rights of Nigerians as a whole by voicing out and rising against harsh, oppressive and unpopular Government policies made in recent times.
Incessant disruption of the production of goods and services by trade unions all over the world always have a negative impact on the economy of that country. The Nigerian Labour force are actively involved in all the spheres of the Nigerian economy ranging from banking, shipping, agriculture, oil and gas sector, industries etc. Any time the Central Labour Organization i.e. the Nigerian Labour Congress calls for a general strike nationwide, it always have a negative impact in all the sectors of the Nigerian economy. Nigeria always looses millions and perhaps billions of naira daily whenever there is a strike affecting the oil and gas sector which is the highest revenue earner for the country.
It is in the light of this impact that successive Nigerian Governments have always accused the trade unions of economic sabotage. Industrial actions like strike has always been used as a potent weapon by trade unions to hold Government or employers as the case may be to ransom in most instances. This has led to the reversal of some unpopular Government policies or forced the authorities to soft pedal on some of those policies.
Trade Unionism is an integral and indispensable part of achieving the basic objective of economic prosperity and industrialization to any developing country like Nigeria.
Trade Unionism had been responsible for maintaining stability in economies of developed countries through the promotion and maintenance of peace and harmonious industrial relations between management and labour. Labour and Management being the two bearers of great social interest, this interest always conflict as a result of the unequal bargaining powers possessed by these powerful forces. Through the activism of Trade Unions this conflicting interest has to a large extent been harmonized. Though, the tendency of conflict is there but its possibility has been kept to the barest minimum.