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JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT VOLUME 8 NO 1, JUNE, 2010


WORKERS PERCEPTION OF THE TRADE

UNION AMENDMENT ACT 2005

Emmanuel Okaka
Department of Political Science and Sociology, Western Delta University, Oghara
E-mail: emokaka@yahoo.com
Abstract
From the middle of 2004, when the Federal Government of Nigeria sent a proposal to the National Assembly to amend the Trade Union Act, 1990, there have been series of debates, articles by experts in fields of labour, industrial relations; those in pres and academics, as to the real intention of government in Amending the Trade Union Act 1990, which seems to be working perfectly well in the face of all parties. Other parties in the industrial relations systems in Nigeria have also raised doubts, as they were not consulted by government, before it embarked on these reforms.  While some others have pointed to the formation of another federated Union, namely the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in 2005, as suspicious, and calls attention to the real intention in Amending the Act.This Article therefore is aimed at finding out the perception of the average Nigerian worker, the organized labour and other concerned citizens about the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005, and what are the likely perceived implications of the ‘Act’ for the Nigerian worker. It will also attempt to examine the intention of government, or the reasons government has given for proposing and actually amending the Trade Union Act 1990.

Keywords: Amendment, trade union, perception, labour

 


Introduction

Although the Federal House of Representatives, and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have passed the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005, there are still some pertinent issues that needs to be considered. In the letter to the National Assembly, the Federal Government of Nigeria, the sponsor of the Bill to amend the Trade Act 1990, has raised some fundamental issues that deserves our consideration.

This intervention by government is not the first time government and its Agencies would be interfering in the industrial relation system of the country – Odigie 1993. But this instance seems suspicious, because government seemed to be wary of confrontations from organized labour. From 1968 to 2003, several labour laws have been either enacted or amended, yet this Act has drawn more debates, and comments. The argument of government has always been that, being the single largest employer of labour in Nigeria, she has to do all within her powers to regulate the industrial relations climate that would lead to a peaceful industrial environment.

Esan (1987), describes industrial relations as the relationship which exist between workers, employers and between workers and management, in an organisation and that government’s role is that of a third party which could be described as that of an umpire or arbiter. While Yesufu (1982) defines industrial relations as covering all types of collective bargaining and relations between workers, employers, and workers/workers, personal administration and all that has to do with the atmosphere and climate of the workplace. From these definitions, industrial relation system is a three party affairs, which include the workers /unions, employers and the government as the third party.

Webster’s New encyclopedia dictionary (1993) defines an ‘Act’ as a law made by a governing body such as a legislature.
The primary objective of this paper is to undertake a perception study of on the responses of the Nigerian worker to the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005. survey datas were used to generate the responses of the workers who cut across different organizations in both private and public sectors of the economy, and in different locations.

Theorectical framework

From the datas collected on the responses of Nigerian workers on their perception of the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005, the theory that can best explain their feelings is the Marxian Theory of State and Class. In Karl Marx theory of the state and class, the state is regarded as the instrument through which the ruling class, dominates the masses. The theory explain further that the state is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, so it (state) protects the property and interest of the bourgeoisie – Olson 1971. In applying this theory of state and class, which sprung from Marx theory of social class, it can be deduced that the Nigerian worker is represented as the oppressed class, and the class strongly feels that the state (government) is not interested in their plight, or welfare, as the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005, only set to fulfill the interest of the bourgeoisie, example of such claim is found in section 30 subsection 6 of the Act, which almost outlaws strikes. That provision states that all unions must seek the approval of two-third of its members before embarking on such an action. The fulfillment of such a provision is almost impossible as no union, can or will be able to secure the consent of two-third of its members that is surely a daunting task.

Another area which the Nigerian workers sees as anti-worker or in the interest of the bourgeoisie is section 16 subsection A, that makes it impossible to deduct check off dues from salaries and wages of union members unless that individual worker express their consent and that such dues will only be remitted to the unions subject to the insertion of a ‘NO-STRIKE’ clause in the relevant section of the collective agreement between workers/unions and their employers. That section of the Act deliberately intends to deprive trade unions of the needed funds to pursue their agenda. That in it is not in the interest of the Nigerian worker, as these unions will be staved of necessary funds, to pursue courses of interest for the workers and no responsible union will agree to a NO-STRIKE clause just to collect check off dues.

Carefully examining and analyzing the theory of state and class by Karl Marx, it is imperative that the state represent the bourgeoisie class, while the workers represents the proletariat, the oppressed class, who must sell the labour to the bourgeoisie, and the government on the other hand is always ready to serve as a tool of the bourgeoisie, by providing the legal backing to oppression through enactment of laws, promulgation of decrees, and Amendment of Acts, such as the Trade Union Amendment Acts 2005.  These measures are to lay firm hold on the masses.

The trade union amendment act 2005
The Trade Union Amendment Act 2005, has specified that, the latitude given to the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), as the only labour center in the country was to be removed, and the opportunity is to be given for the formation of more labour centers.

Obasanjo (2004) in his letter to the National Assembly, the former Nigerian President had accused NLC of talking the laws into their hands, because it was only the labour center in the country. The major function of the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005 was to decentralize the authority, and followership enjoyed by the NLC. Another tenet of the Act 2005 is as found in section 12, subsection 4, which makes the membership of any Trade Union in the country voluntary, and as such, no worker shall be victimized for refusing to be part of a union or participate in industrial action. While section 16 subsection A of the ‘Act’ states that only with the expressed consent of workers can such a Trade Union collect check off dues from salaries. This aspect of the ‘Act’ was only applicable to senior staff associations prior to the amendment of this ‘Act,’ but it now been extended to all categories of workers. The amended ‘Act’ also stipulated that all union dues deducted from staff salaries can only be remitted to registered officers of the trade unions only when they have signed a ‘NO- STRIKE’ clause for the following month. Section 30 subsection 6 stipulates that no trade union, or a registered federated unions shall embark on a strike action, unless two-third of the members of such a union or federated union approves of such an industrial action. In other words, each union must carry out a referendum whether to proceed on a strike or not.

According to Lawal (2004) the then Minister of Employment, Labour and Productivity “the cardinal objectives which government intends to accomplish with the amendment of the Trade Union Act 1990, can be highlighted as follows;

  1. Government wants membership of Trade Unions to be voluntary and that no worker should be victimized for refusing to be a member of such a fraternity.
  2. Government wants to minimize strikes, if possible stop it, as the incessant industrial actions in Nigeria has led to colossal loss of revenue to the Federal, State and Local Governments.
  3. The government wants the powers conferred on the Nigeria Labour Congress as the only federated trade union removed.
  4. Finally, he states that doing this (that is amending the Trade Union Act 1990) will help to restore some measure of industrial peace in the industrial environment of the country.

Adeyemi (2004) summed up the amendment of the Act, as follows ‘the Labour Act’ will only destroy trade unionism in Nigeria’, while Oshiomhole (2004) sates that the ‘Act’ will certainly take labour movement back to the pre-1978 era, and the nation may have to contend with the problems which the Trade Union Act of 1978 set out to resolve, which is to have a single body government /employers can negotiate with in resolving industrial problems. In a statement, the National Executive Council of NLC (2004) stressed that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention 144 which Nigeria has ratified had placed emphasis on tripartism through effective social parties. But this was not done by the federal government, as it did not consult with the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) before taking the decision to amend the ‘Act’. It therefore viewed the move by government as Anti-democratic, Ryder (2004) the General Secretary of the International Confederation of free Trade Unions (ICYYU) stated that some provisions in the ‘Act’ violate the rights of unions, such as the provision to sign a NO –STRIKE clause before colleting check off dues. He further stressed that the provision to de-register the NLC constitutes a serious violation of Trade Union Rights.

An empirical analysis of the perception of Nigerian workers
A total of 240 workers were selected randomly from both the public and private sectors of the economy. Of this number, 153 are senior staff representing 63.75% of the survey population, while 87 were junior staff representing 36.25%. Structured questionnaires were used to sought the opinions of Nigerian workers and the questionnaires were evenly distributed between the public and private sectors. This researcher also ensured that the survey was gender friendly, as 87 of the respondents were females.

The workers were asked if they feel that government intervention does encourage good industrial relations in Nigeria


 

Table 1

RESPONSES

FREQUENCY

PERCENTAGE

Very True

49

20.41%

True

54

22.50%

Partially True

75

31.25%

Not True

58

24.17%

Don’t know

4

1.67%

Total

240

100%


Examining Table1, which provides responses to the question as to if government intervention encourages good industrial relations, the majority of respondents believes that government intervention does encourage good industrial relations, as 49 respondents which is 20.41% of the group, believes that it is very true, and 54 respondents representing 22.50% agrees that it is true, that government intervention does encourage good industrial relations, but 75 respondent which is 31.25% of the survey group agrees partially that government intervention does encourage good industrial relation, while 58 respondents do not agree with others; the 24.17% of the group thinks that government intervention does not encourage good industrial relations practice; and 4 of those interviewed which is 1.67% stated that they do not know. A summary of the above figures show that 178 respondents which stands for 74.17% believes that government intervention would encourage god industrial relation system in Nigeria.
Respondents were asked the question in Table 2


Table 2

What should be the limit of government intervention in industrial relations in Nigeria

 

RESPONSES

FREQUENCY

PERCENTAGE

Steeping in when invited

35

14.58%

Steeping in to stop trade disputes

56

23.33%

Providing the legal framework in the industrial relation system

130

54.17&

Allow employers / workers to handle industrial matters

10

4.17%

Don’t Know

9

3.75%

Total

240

100%


The analysis of Table 2 indicates that 35 workers who were interviewed, representing 14.585 thinks, government should only intervene in industrial relation system, when they are invited by the disputing parties, while 56 respondents feels that government should only intervene to stop trade disputes, when it lingers for too long a period. But a total of 130 respondents, representing 54.17% of the total respondents strongly agrees, that government interventionist approach should not be applied, instead, it should provide the minimum legal framework within the industrial relation system. 10 of our respondents do not see any reason why government should intervene in the industrial relation system, and 9 of those surveyed, don’t know, how the issue should be handled. The position taken by a majority of the workers, as shown in Table 2, is that government should only provide the legal framework within the industrial relation system. This view was held by 130 of those interviewed representing 54.17%.
The survey continued with the following question


Table 3
Should Government reduce Its Interventionist Approach to Industrial Relations?

Responses

Frequency

Percentage

Yes

124

51.67%

No

90

37.50%

Not sure

20

8.33%

Don’t Know

6

2.50%

TOTAL

240

100%


124 of those surveyed, which translates to 51.67% of the total respondents, thinks government should reduce its overbearance on the industrial relations system of the country, while 37.50% of the respondent which is 90% holds a contrary view, with the posture, that says government need not change its interventionist approach to industrial relations and the total of 20 respondents which is 8.33% are not sure of the best way to handle the matter. 2.50% of the workers which translates to 6 of them do now know what government should do. the responses indicates clearly that the average Nigeria worker both in public and private sectors of the economy do think that government should reduce its intervention in the industrial relation system of the country, which is above average.


The following question was posed to the respondents

Table 4
Will the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005 destroy Industrial Relations and Trade Unionism in Nigeria.


Responses

Frequency

Percentage

Yes

146

60.83%

No

48

20%

Not sure

37

15.42%

Don’t Know

9

3.75%

TOTAL

240

100%


 

The affirmative answer of 146 of those interview, which translates 60.83% was so clear, that the ‘Act’ will further destroy industrial relations and Trade Unionism in Nigeria, although 20% of the respondents did not agree, but the overwhelming majority shows that is the mind of the average worker, that the ‘Act’ be reviewed.

Summary and conclusion

Respondents generally accepted that government minimal intervention would encourage good industrial relations and this would lead to growth, as those who combinely accepted this notion, were 178 respondents of those surveyed. So the opinion is that government intervention in industrial relation system is not out of place, but should be at a minimal level. The workers also wanted the government to provide the legal framework and allow both employers and employees, decide what further step to take in structuring the pattern of industrial relations in their various organizations. The survey also revealed that at present, the overbearance of government of intervention, is not healthy, hence they have suggested that government reduce, its interference in the industrial relations system. This opinion was held by 124 of the respondents representing 51.67%.

Another major view held by the working class in Nigeria is that the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005, will destroy the industrial relations system and should be resisted if possible amended to suit the interest of workers and Trade Unions.
This study has revealed some very pertinent facts, which includes (1) that the average worker has never felt comfortable with the various industrial laws, decrees that have either enacted or

promulgated in this country. (2) They also strongly feel that government is over interfering in the industrial relation system.
This research thus brought out to the fore the need to re-evaluate the industrial relation system, with the sole aim of improving the overall system. Such an appraisal should range from laws, policies, to the main legal framework. There is urgent need to review the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005 – Okaka 2005. According to Holley and Jennings (1994) Industrial relations should be jointly determined by the parties and also administered by all the parties, in line with this, view that is also held by this researcher. Government should always consult with all stakeholders from workers to unions and employees, before embarking on legislating on industrial laws.
Finally government must endeavour to find ways to motivate workers to be productive –Ugiagbe and Okaka 2006. Such motivation can arise from enacting of labour laws that are friendly.
References

Adeyemi, M. (2004) ‘Opposition Mounts Against Obasanjo’s Moves to weaken Labour, Lagos, Guardian Newspaper June 26, p. 1 & 2.

Esan, R. S. M. (1987) ‘Legal Framework of Industrial Relations in Nigeria, in Dafe Otobo and Morakinyo O. (eds) Readings in Industrial Relations In Nigeria, Lagos Mathouse Press, Lagos.

Holley, H. W. and Jennings, M. K. (1994) The Labour Relations Process; Fifth Edition. The Orland, Harcourt Brace and Company

Lawal, H. (2004) ‘Government Insist on Reforms, Labour Disagrees at Senate Hearing? Lagos, Guardian August 26, P. 1 & 2.

Marx, K.(1933) The Communist Manifesto New York: League for Industrial Democracy.

Obasanjo; Olusegun (2004) Letter to the National Assembly.

Odigie S. A. (1993) State Intervention in Industrial Relations in Nigeria 1860 –1988. Warri, Exco-Siro Printers, Nigeria.

Olson, M. (1971) The Logic of Collective Action Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, in Harvard economics Studies series, Vol. CXXIV Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.

Okaka, E. O. (2004) Government Intervention in Industrial Relations in Nigeria 1861 –2004 and the Trade Union Amendment Bill 2004. University of Benin, Unpublished M. Sc. Thesis.

Oshiomhole A. (2004) “Government Bill and Labour Path to Perdition’ Lagos Guardian June 26, P. B2.

Ryder, G. (2004) International Labour Group Faults Proposed Bill on Trade Union Lagos, Guardian, July 6, P. 35.

Yesufu T. M. (1982) The Dynamics of Industrial Relations  The Nigerian Experience, Ibadan, University Press Ltd.

Ugiagbe E. and Okaka E. O. (2006) Motivation in P. E. Igbinovia and E. Ugiagbe (eds) Psychology – An Introductory Text. Benin, Kryme Monitor Books.