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Why we oppose the bill to amend the trade union act

The Campaign for Workers and Democratic Right (CWDR), calls on the Nigerian workers, peasants, market women, masses and all lovers of democracy and human rights to oppose the attempt by the Obasanjo government to balkanize the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), under the guise of democratizing and liberalizing the labour movement.

The Campaign for Workers and Democratic Right oppose the bill to amend the Labour Act for the following reasons:

- Section 16a of the bill proposes to insert a “ no strike clause” in the collective bargaining agreement between workers and their employers. This is nothing but a frontal attack on the right of workers to withdraw their services in the case of an industrial dispute and in pursuit of better conditions of service and employment. This amendment seeks to disarm workers and put them at the mercy of unscrupulous employers. It is an attack on the democratic rights of workers to strike.

- Section 30(1a & 1b) of the bill seeks to give to “ the minister the discretion to approve that members of two or more trade unions whose members are not employed in the same trade, occupation or industry or in substantially similar trades, occupation or industries form a registration of federation of trade unions if it is in the public interest to do so”. This essence of this amendment is to balkanize the NLC.

- 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 legislative dismemberment of the NLC.

- The main motive behind this move is 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 International Labour Organisation (ILO) requirements concerning democratisation in the organisation of labour unions and centres and consolidate the values of accountability and participation”, the real intention is to balkanise and dismember the NLC by making membership of unions voluntary and outlawing the democratic rights of workers to strike.

- 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.

The Campaign for Workers and Democratic Right (CWDR), therefore calls on the Nigerian masses to resist 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 opposing the bill.