Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has restated its opposition to federal government’s registration of two new university based unions – the Congress for Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) – describing it as fatally flawed and a twist of the clear provisions of the law.
In response to the letter from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment urging it to accommodate the newly registered union and allow peace to reign, NLC said it believed that government would see reason and reconsider the recognition granted the unions.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige had asked NLC to allow the new unions to exist in the spirit of Freedom of Association.
He said Wabba should desist from deceiving members of the public on the issues that led to the registration CONUA and NAMDA.
Ngige had accused Wabba of using his position to deceive the general public by misguiding them with mal-citations of Labour Authorities.
However, in statement yesterday by the NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, the labour movement said the government’s action was, “in utter disregard to tri-partism which is a core pillar of ILO and attempt to interfere with, infiltrate and balkanize an existing trade union.”
While citing legal provisions, Wabba said the government’s action was fatally flawed and represented a twist of the clear provisions of the law to serve a premeditated purpose.
He said the full rendition of the provisions of Section 3(2) of the Trade Union Act below showed that there was no differentiation whatsoever in the provisions of Section 3(2) of the Trade Union Act.
“No combination of workers or employers shall be registered as a trade union save with the approval of the Minister on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the union either by regrouping existing trade unions, registering a new trade union or otherwise howsoever, but no trade union shall be registered to represent workers or employers in a place where there already exists a trade union.”
The NLC president added: “From the above citation, minister, please where is the differentiation between regrouping an existing trade union and registering new trade unions which you talked about?”
The minister had said that they (CONUA and NAMDA) applied for registration since 2018 and cited irreconcilable differences with ASUU.
But NLC insisted that the minister’s submission was a clear contradiction of his position on, “re-grouping” as justification for awarding trade union certificates to CONUA and NAMDA, insisting that the action violated the provisions of Trade Union Act CAP T14 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The NLC president said the provisions of Article 3(2) of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise made it explicitly clear that public authorities (including Ministers of Labour) should never interfere in the activities of trade unions.
“Your biased attempt to “re-group” an existing trade union or actually individuals (something our labour laws never contemplated) in utter disregard to tri-partism which is a core pillar of ILO is an attempt to interfere with, infiltrate and balkanise an existing trade union – at best to score on vendetta and at worst to destroy cordial industrial relations in Nigeria.”
Wabba said the only time such a regrouping of unions was carried out was under a military regime, adding that re-grouping of trade unions in a civilian climen without the input of tripartite social partners is unilateral and autocratic.
“As the President of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which is affiliated by 336 national labour centres spread in 163 countries and representing the interests of more than 200 million workers, I speak on this matter, particularly the national situation in every country, from the point of knowledge and experience especially as the first African to be elected to this global position,” he said.
Wabba cited an earlier letter dated April 9, 2013, to the Academic Staff Union of Inter-University Centre in which then Registrar of Trade Unions, Ms. N. Mbogu relying on Section 5(3) of the Trade Union Act informed the aspiring trade union that it could not be registered because a trade union already exists in their sector.
He also cited cases that passed through Court of Appeal right up to the Supreme Court to buttress his point.
While countering the defence by the minister on regrouping of Trade Unions, Wabba said the only related case which involves the National Union of Pensioners, (NUP) was an entirely different matter and still in contention in the courts.
According to NLC boss, this does not satisfy the legitimacy test. He said even the case of SSATHURAI re-grouping as cited by Ngige was done through the process of tripartite engagement with the social partners.
On the complaint that ASUU failed to render its account for some years, Wabba said ASUU had pleaded with government that COVID-19 restrictions delayed its submission of audited accounts as required by law.
“Overall, Minister, we still want to believe that you were not properly advised on this matter. As the Chief Labour Law Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we believe that you will take advantage of our presentation of the true position of the law to redress this grave injustice done to our labour jurisprudence by the “awarding” of trade union certificates to CONUA and NAMDA,” said Wabba.