Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August 2014, 13:04 GMT

2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nigeria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nigeria, 9 June 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca17c.html [accessed 27 August 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: 130,200,000
Capital: Abuja
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Unions reported attempts to interfere in their activities during the year, while collective agreements were disregarded by both public and private sector employers. Strike action is still curtailed by the very strict conditions imposed by law. It was hoped that the creation of a new Industrial Court would expedite legal proceedings on labour matters.

Trade union rights in law

Excessive membership requirements: 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.

New National Industrial Court: In June 2006 the National Industrial Court Act, 2006 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 to accelerate trials on labour matters.

Trade Union Amendment Act 2005: The Trade Union Amendment Act was passed in March 2005. It retains the 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 Nigeria Labour Congress (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, 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. There is a fine of N10,000 (US$77) or six months' imprisonment for illegal strike action. 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 disputes of interest or any strikes about economic issues (in order to prevent strikes that unions have organised in recent years over government decisions to raise the price of petrol).

The Act also includes a strike ban in the essential service sectors, which according to Nigerian law, include public transport and education, which are outside the ILO definition of essential services.

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 of 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

Right to organise undermined ... : The government has become increasingly hostile to the labour movement. Employers also show their hostility by intimidating workers to leave the union, while some refuse to recognise trade unions, and sack workers' representatives for their trade union activities. The growing use of casual labour, notably in the oil industry, also makes it more difficult for unions to organise and protect their rights.

... and the right to strike: The government accepts collective bargaining, but generally does not honour the agreements made, leading to many strikes. Prior police permission is required, 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.

Violations in 2006

Background: Violence in the oil-rich but poverty-stricken Niger Delta region continued in 2006. In September 2006 the Petroleum and National Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) held a three-day strike to protest against the escalation of violence since rebel groups in the region began to target oil workers and lack of security. National and expatriate oil workers have been kidnapped and killed, including a Nigerian trade unionist with PENGASSAN who was murdered as he was about to be released by a militant youth group in Bayelsa State. The union member was abducted while in the presence of state officials.

Interference in union affairs: In January 2006 the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) made public recent attempts by various private and government agencies to impose Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) on workers, under threat of various sanctions.

Collective Agreements not honoured: In March 2006 NUPENG warned that it would resort to strike action if ChevronTexaco and of its contractor, US-based Elper Engineering did not live up to the terms of a collective agreement put in place five years previously, on back wages and severance pay. According to NUPENG the two companies had granted the contractual obligation to only a few workers, but had denied it to most.

Also in March, the National Executive Council of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) considered strike action after the management of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) had unilaterally shifted the date of a collective agreement.

Academic union protests attacks on its autonomy: In April 2006 the Academic Staff of Universities Union (ACSU) reported it would strike over under-funding of universities and government challenges to the union's autonomy, notably previous arrests of several professors while striking.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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