Population: 151,500,000
Capital: Abuja
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

With one trade union leader assassinated and hundreds of activists and members threatened or dismissed, exercising trade union rights proved a formidable task throughout the year. Nigerian legislation is not in line with Conventions 87 and 98, particularly in the EPZs.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: 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.

There was no progress regarding the government's commitment to the ILO in 2006 to prepare – with 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 courts 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.

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.

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.

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 six months. These provisions make it extremely difficult to carry out a normal strike picket.

In addition, the Act prohibits and criminalises strikes that are deemed to be about conflicts of interest or any strikes about economic issues, including strike action to protest against the government's social or economic policy.

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.

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 2008

Background: The country's economic development and the improvements in the population's living conditions are being undermined by endemic bad governance, ethnic and religious rivalries – over 200 died in the violence between Christians and Muslims in the town of Jos – and the country's heavy dependence on oil revenue. In August, after a prolonged border dispute, Nigeria ceded control of the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.

Widespread refusal to engage with unions: Unions across the sectors complained of 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 Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) criticised the negative attitude of employers in the press towards the trade unions, making organising difficult. Similarly, in the banking sector the Association of Senior Staff of Banks and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) complained of freedom of association violations in several of the banking companies recently created in the country. ASSBIFI reported that in 11 of these companies, workers suspected of wanting to create or join a trade union were threatened with dismissal. In an insurance company (Lasaco Assurance Plc.), Olusola Fasanmi, President of the union affiliated to ASSBIFI, was suspended on 15 October for alleged embezzlement. Following an internal inquiry, the union leader was totally exonerated, but he had to wait until 30 December before his employer allowed him to return to work. The unions also criticised the increasingly systematic use of subcontracting firms and casual labour, making it all the more difficult to organise the workforce.

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.

Death of a transport union leader: On 6 January, Alhaji Saula Saka, President of the Lagos State branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), was murdered in his home by four armed men. The killers fired several shots at the union leader before shooting in all directions to prevent anyone intervening. The killing was believed to be linked to Alhaji Saula Saka's trade union activities.

Forty-nine lecturers dismissed in 2001 still not reinstated: Throughout the year the Academic Staff Union Universities (ASUU) continued to demand the reinstatement of colleagues from the Ilorin university. Strikes were carried out in support of these demands. In 2007, the government promised to recall the 49 Ilorin University lecturers, unfairly dismissed following a strike in 2001. The courts ruled in favour of the ASUU, but thus far to no avail. In the meantime, three of the dismissed lecturers have died and, says the ASUU, the others are "living in abject poverty".

Trade union leader dismissed from Lagos airport: At the end of June, management at Airlines Services Limited (ASL), a company providing catering services for several local and international airlines, dismissed James Ogu, the vice-president of the ASL union, affiliated to the National Union of Hotel and Personnel Services Workers (NUHPSW), over food portions. According to the NUHPSW, the dismissal was in retaliation for union complaints that led to the dismissal of an expatriate employee.

Anti-unionism at Mobil Oil: At the beginning of March, Mobil Oil, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, dismissed 100 leaders and members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria). The decision came a few days after management at Mobil Oil refused to take part in a national tripartite mediation meeting that three other companies had been invited to, and had participated in. At the beginning of the year PENGASSAN had criticised the lack of progress in implementing agreements – albeit fairly limited in scope – signed with these companies in 2007. According to PENGASSAN, Mobil Oil has emerged in the last few years as the worst oil company operating in the Niger Delta in terms of respecting workers' and trade union rights. At the end of March, PENGASSAN cancelled a planned strike after Mobil Oil agreed to reinstate the 100 dismissed workers. At a more general level, PENGASSAN and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) have repeatedly complained of the hostility the oil companies have shown towards the unions, particularly in restructuring operations, when union activists have often been the first victims of mass dismissals.

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