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Open letter to the National Assembly on the anti-labour trade union bill

Petition against the bill to dismember the NLC

21 June 2004

To: The National Assembly.
Thru: The Clerk to The National Assembly, Three Arms Zone, F.C.T Abuja.

Dear Sir,

The Campaign for Workers and Democratic Rights (CWDR) calls on the National Assembly to arrest the creeping dictatorship of the Obasanjo government and the infringement of the democratic rights of Nigerian workers, which the proposed amendment of the Trade Union Act represents by throwing out the amendment.

We note with grave concern that the proposed amendment is a ploy by the Obasanjo regime to dismember and balkanize the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) under the guise of liberalizing and democratizing the labour movement.

While we concede that there is nothing sacrosanct in maintaining a single central organisation for the labour movement in Nigeria, just as was the case before 1976 when the Obasanjo military dictatorship unilaterally decreed the NLC into existence and prescribed the then existing various labour centres, we equally want to point out that the task of democratizing the NLC or forming other labour centres or central unions is the sole democratic right and decision of the Nigerian worker. Like the experience with the senior staff dominated Trade Union Congress (TUC) from which the Congress of Free Trade Union (CFTU) emerged, the decision to form and organise alternative or other labour centres cannot be taken through the legislature dismemberment of the NLC.

The present move coming on the heels of the denial of such intentions earlier in February 2004, no doubt reflects the growing discomfort of the Obasanjo administration with the role of the NLC in leading the Nigerian masses in opposition to the anti-poor people policies of the regime especially the intermittent increases in the prices of petroleum products.

Contrary to the claims of President Obasanjo that the intention to amend the Trade Union act is in “order to promote the democratization of labour, further strengthen it, enhance choice for all Nigerian workers in the true spirit of the constitution, comply with ILO requirements concerning democratisation in the organisation of labour unions and centres and consolidate the values of accountability and participation”, the real intention just as the experiences with the students movement as shown is to dismember the NLC by making membership of unions voluntary and outlawing the democratic rights of workers to strike.

It would be recalled that the same ploy by the General Obasanjo military junta through the Abisoye Panel which made membership of students’ unions voluntary led to a larger scale dismemberment of students unions in the country, weakened the finance of students unions, as well as their effectiveness in responding to the yearnings and aspirations of students on campuses and provided a veritable ground for the growth and transformation of confraternities on campuses into gangster and brutal killer organisations.

Allowing President Obasanjo to have his way with regards to amending the Trade Union Act is a tinderbox with far reaching consequences many of which we may not be able to contemplate immediately just as the case of the students movement has shown.

The right to decide which union to belong and which to associate with is a fundamental and inalienable right of the Nigerian worker, which the proposed amendment seeks to abridge by transferring such decisions to the minister in charge of each ministry.

Having failed to get the court to sanction the abridgement of the democratic right of Nigerian working masses to strike and protest the anti-labour practices of employers and unpopular government policies.

What President Obasanjo intends to do is to get the National Assembly to give legality to the abridgement of the right of the Nigerian worker. We call on the National Assembly to throw out the proposed amendments of President Obasanjo.

In view of the foregoing, the only democratic option left for the National Assembly is to throw out this obnoxious and undemocratic bill immediately, failing which we will have no option but to come to the conclusion that the National Assembly is an accomplice in the plot to entrench the civilian dictatorship of the present regime and we will be left with no option than to campaign against the bill, its authors and accomplices in the work places, among youth organisations, students, artisans, market women, human rights and civil society organisations.

Rufus Olusesan
Chairman, CWDR

Victor Osakwe
Secretary, CWDR