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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nigeria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nigeria, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca7837.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 148,000,000
Capital: Abuja
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Unions had to struggle throughout the year to assert their legitimacy in increasingly hostile workplaces and to defend the interests of evermore vulnerable workers, such as the 34,000 striking public employees collectively dismissed by a governor or the worker seriously injured by security forces when demanding recognition for his union in the oil sector.

Trade union rights in law

The Constitution recognises the right of workers to join or form trade unions but, despite the repeal of some of the anti-labour decrees from the military era, restrictions still remain. At least 50 workers are needed to form a trade union, an excessive requirement by international standards.

There was no progress regarding the governments commitment to the ILO in 2006 to prepare – with the ILO's assistance – a new draft Bill on Collective Labour Relations in conformity with C.87 and C.98.

New National Industrial Court: In June 2006 the National Industrial Court Act was passed. The new Act gives the National Industrial Court (NIC) exclusive jurisdiction to determine all civil cases relating to industrial disputes and labour matters, making it a superior specialised court. The new NIC would mean that labour matters would no longer be subject to the congestion of the nation's regular court and thus go a long way towards speeding up trials on labour matters.

Trade Union Amendment Act 2005: The Trade Union Amendment Act was passed in March 2005. It retains the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as a central labour union but gives other trade unions the freedom to federate and form umbrella unions, and makes union membership voluntary. While such freedom is in principle to be welcomed, it was widely believed that one of its main aims was to weaken the cohesion and unity of the trade union movement, and in particular the NLC.

Previously, freedom of choice was restricted by the stipulation in the Trade Unions Act that no trade union could be registered to represent employees where a trade union already existed.

The right to organise is denied to workers in essential services, the list of which exceeds the ILO's definition. It includes employees of the Customs and Excise Department, the Immigration Department, the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC), the Prison Service and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Protection against anti-union discrimination: Only unskilled workers are protected by the Labour Act against anti-union discrimination by their employer.

Right to strike undermined: The 2005 Act sets out strict conditions that trade unions and labour federations must meet before they can embark on a strike. The law specifically prohibits trade unions or registered federations of trade unions from compelling anyone to strike, and stipulates that during strikes unions must not block airports nor obstruct public highways, institutions or premises of any kind. Workers taking strike action which is deemed to be illegal are liable to both a fine and being imprisoned for up to 6 months. These provisions make it extremely difficult to carry out a normal strike picket.

In addition, the Act prohibits and criminalises strikes which are deemed to be about conflicts of interest or any strikes about economic issues, including strike action to protest against the governments social or economic policy affecting workers' interests.

The 2005 Act also includes a strike ban in the essential service sectors, which relies on the definition of essential services provided in the Trades Disputes Act (1990). This definition has been criticised by the ILO Committee of Experts as 'overly broad' and includes services for or in connection with banking services, postal services, sound broadcasting, ports, harbours, docks or aerodromes, transportation services, road cleaning and rubbish disposal.

Unions must also give 15 days notice for a planned strike. The Trade Disputes Act further limits the right to strike by imposing compulsory arbitration, with a penalty, a fine or six months' imprisonment for anyone failing to comply with the award issued by the National Industrial Court.

Collective bargaining rights restricted: In the private sector, collective bargaining rights are restricted by the requirement for government approval. Every agreement on wages must be registered with the Ministry of Labour, which decides whether the agreement becomes binding according to the Wages Board and Industrial Councils Act. It is an offence for an employer to grant a general or percentage increase in wages without the approval of the Minister (according to the Trade Disputes Act) – which is contrary to the principle of free collective bargaining.

Export processing zones (EPZs) – anti-union decree: Article 4(e) of the 1992 Decree on Export Processing Zones states that "employer-employee" disputes are not matters to be handled by trade unions, but rather by the authorities managing these zones. Article 13(1) of the same Decree makes it very difficult for workers to form or join trade unions, as it is almost impossible for worker representatives to gain free access to the EPZs. Moreover, the Export Processing Zones Act prohibits strikes and lockouts for a period of 10 years after a company begins its activities in a given EPZ.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: The April elections, although presented as the first democratic political transition in Africa's most populous nation, were marred by widespread fraud and gross irregularities. Economic reforms led to tens of thousands of job losses in public and semi-public services, and rises in oil prices provoked the anger of the unions and the general public. Oil producing regions saw the return of a fragile calm following a wave of attacks and abductions at the beginning of the year.

Widespread refusal to engage with unions: Unions across sectors denounced refusals to recognise labour organisations and to negotiate with them, interference by employers and/or the government in union affairs, and the use of threats and intimidation against workers' representatives. The unions also criticised the increasingly systematic use of subcontracting firms and casual labour, making it all the more difficult to organise the workforce. In March, for example, in Lagos, the company union at Promasidor, a food industry group strongly implanted in Africa, held strike action in protest at the management's refusal to recognise the union and its dismissal of 200 employees, including 10 trade union leaders, all of whom were replaced by temporary workers. In this particular case, the strike led to an agreement on the recognition of the union and the reinstatement of the 10 union representatives. Successes of this kind are unfortunately rare. The Maritime Workers' Union of Nigeria (MWUN) denounced the port operators' hostility toward the unions on several occasions. Working conditions for dockers have seriously deteriorated since the recent privatisation of port activities. In the service sector, the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) experienced great difficulty in organising the staff at the new and often fiercely anti-union banking companies that have emerged over recent years.

Little respect for the right to strike: While the government and some employers may agree to collective bargaining, they generally fail to honour the agreements made, leading to many strikes. Police permission is required prior to a strike, but is rarely given. The use of security forces to intimidate, harass and arrest strikers, often accompanied by the use of violence against trade unionists prior to or during strikes or protests, seriously undermines the right to strike.

Right to strike flouted and health sector workers arrested: In February, in Abuja, the police rejected the request made by several health sector unions to hold a demonstration in protest at announced job losses. The police commissioner attempted to justify his refusal with the claim that he had been informed that troublemakers were planning to exploit the demonstration and disrupt the "relatively peaceful climate" in the capital. In July, three leaders of the Osun Association of Medical and Dental Officers (OSAMDO) were arrested and held in detention for almost 6 hours. The authorities in Osogbo, the Osun state capital, declared the association illegal and threatened the practitioners with dismissal if they did not go back to work.

May Day demonstrations repressed: On 1 May, demonstrations gathering several thousand workers were repressed by the police, who fired tear gas bombs at the crowd and arrested numerous participants. The authorities had called on the population not to take part in the May Day demonstrations, fearing a wave of protests following presidential and legislative elections marked by massive fraud. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) had planned to hold May Day rallies to draw the authorities' attention to the fall in living standards and to demand that the elections be annulled.

State governor of Oyo fires 34,000 public employees: On 20 September, Adebayo Alao-Akala, the state governor of Oyo in southwest Nigeria, fired the entire staff of public service workers, 34,000 people, who were refusing to end the strike initiated one month earlier. He then demanded that the vacancies be filled immediately. The new governor, who had taken office in May following the controversial elections, refused to honour the agreement concluded between his predecessor and the unions regarding a pay increase. On 3 October, some days after a legal ruling overturning the collective dismissal, the governor was forced to renege on his decision and to approve the pay increase.

Renewed hope for 49 university lecturers dismissed in 2001: At the end of June, following a three-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the government committed to reinstating the 49 lecturers from the University of Ilorin who had been unfairly dismissed during a strike in 2001. The ASUU had since then been leading an ongoing campaign for the lecturers' reinstatement. Several protests had been held and the court had ruled in favour of the ASUU but the university authorities continued to hold out. Despite the government's promise, the lecturers had still not been reinstated at the end of 2007 and the ASUU was threatening to take further strike action.

Refusal to recognise union and serious police brutality in oil sector: On 18 November, at the Bonny oil terminal, security officers violently assaulted a group of workers employed by NLNG (Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd) or hired through subcontractors. Soldiers fired tear gas bombs and beat the workers with batons. Ibifuro Pepple was left permanently blinded in one eye and another 28 workers were seriously injured. According to the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), the workers had just commenced a peaceful protest following the NLNG's refusal to recognise their union. NLNG is jointly owned by Shell (26%), Total (15%), Agip (10%) and the Nigerian State (49%).

Newspaper management deploys strategy to oust union: On 16 November, at the end of a 12-day strike, the management of the daily newspaper The Guardian announced the paper's closure and the redundancy of its entire staff (800 employees), despite having apparently reached an agreement following negotiations with the NLC and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the strikers' acceptance of a 20% pay increase instead of the 50% increase they were demanding. Some days later, the management explained that the crisis had given it an opportunity to reflect on the newspaper's future and that it had been working on a restructuring plan for some time already. At the end of 2007, The Guardian came back into circulation with major changes to its staff.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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