LABOUR UNIONS, LABOUR LAWS AND THE OIL INDUSTRY
The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC was the umbrella movement with the sole mandate of protecting workers from exploitation in the hands of employers until some years ago when the Trade Union Congress, TUC was formed to protect the interests of senior workers with the NLC left to manage the interests of junior workers. The NLC was founded by the late Pa Michael Imoudu, who led the union from inception till he handed over to another veteran; Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu. These two men led a virile and healthy union in between them and after their exit, so many others came around but none can be compared to the indefatigable Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, now an executive comrade. He piloted the affairs with knowledgeable mien, belligerent stance and diplomatic posture. He knew when to advance and when to retreat. He was indeed, a general of the congress, the workers’ worker and the employers’ nightmare. Small wonder most employers of labor prefer to avoid a collision with him. He has since taken his talents into politics and is now the executive governor of Edo State, South-South, Nigeria.
Ever since the Comrade left, it has been one issue or the other from administrative flip flops to internal power squabbles that culminated in the election of two presidents for one office. This column hopes they have been able to settle their differences and put their various houses in order down to the respective chapters, for a lot of employers will rather they have their houses in chaos.
It is the season of unjust and premature disengagement without reasonable pay-offs and also attracting picketing of companies for one labour issue or the other, examples being SAPETROL and CHEVRON. More are likely to follow in these ugly times of bad business! Most employers do not want their workers to be unionized to enable them hire and fire as they wish. It is the inalienable right of every employer to hire and fire but it is not the right of employers to abuse human beings in the name of slave labour with little or no benefits attached. Several cases of unresolved labor issues are pending in the National Industrial Court, NIC for upwards of two years! It is on record that a greater number of workers in the industry are not unionized because their employers either don’t want them to or they themselves are not interested. This is where both unions, the TUC and the NLC comes into play through relevant affiliates like the Petroleum, Energy and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN and the Nigerian Union of Petroleum, Energy and Natural Gas workers, NUPENG respectively.
The labor unions derive their financial strength from check-off dues paid by every member through their company chapters to the state branches and finally, to the headquarters. A lower membership therefore, weakens the unions in contrast to a higher membership that strengthens them. This is why chapters with larger memberships are treated more with all the support, solidarity and arsenal the unions can muster than chapters with lesser memberships. It is therefore not a surprise, that the challenges facing members in ExxonMobil will be fought by the unions with clinical precision to the best interest of members than those facing members in Sterling Global Oil Company for instance.
What then happens to a company, with less than a hundred staff strength, whose owner does not want the workers to unionize or the workers themselves, are not ready to unionize perhaps, in allegiance to their rules of engagement? An example will suffice.
Company A is owned by a Nigerian who insists his workers must not unionize. Several attempts by some of the workers at unionizing were frustrated by the company owner. Seeing this development, the workers decided to take their destiny in their own hands by fighting for their survival their own way not minding the presence of fifth columnists in their midst. To this end, they shut down their operations on the oil drilling rigs and refused to work while drilling was going on. The owner of Company A quickly replaced the workers with a new set of workers and terminated their appointments with an injunction secured to ensure the workers never returned for anything. The workers mobilized and got their own injunction joining the oil companies company A was servicing as co-defendants. STALEMATE!
The owner of company A promptly called the dismissed workers through series of appeals by members of PENGASSAN and NUPENG, for a truce. The matter eventually ended in a round table dialogue with all parties’ interests protected.
It is clear from the above example that the labor unions exist to protect the workers, particularly their members and members exist to protect the unions. Apart from the administrative issues the unions are grappling with, in-fighting among their executives makes nonsense of their spirit of solidarity. Nigerian labor laws need to be overhauled to protect workers from inhuman treatment. The NIC needs to adjudicate expeditiously. It is the opinion of DrillBytes that better working conditions empower workers to indirectly develop small scale businesses which, in turn, helps in moving the economy further by creating additional revenue base for the government. The labor unions need to work their talk, the national assembly needs to pass needed bills and the federal ministry of labor needs to act their name. If change is here, this is the time to get cracking. Aluta continua, victoria ascerta.