Saturday, 9th December 2023

Between trade unionism, conflict management in workplace

By Gloria Nwafor
06 July 2023   |   4:04 am
No doubt, trade unionism in Nigeria today is not as effective as it was years back.

No doubt, trade unionism in Nigeria today is not as effective as it was years back.

Unionists are of the views that until workers collectively protect their rights, uninformed employers and those in government, who ought to have been in the vanguard, guaranteeing such rights would continue to forcefully abridge them.

They argued that to revive trade unionism in Nigeria, as it was years back, there is a need to organise and bring back the trade union struggle.

They said there is a need to introduce a powerful tool to drive unions’ collective efforts at reclaiming and protecting their rights.

Noting that unions must organise to build power, they stressed that any trade union that refuses to organise has decided to fail, and will ultimately die.

To strengthen the movement and renew its vigour in trade unionism, state councils chairpersons of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), South region are currently undergoing training, to build their capacities in various areas, through the support of the American Solidarity Centre.

The NLC said it was part of a series of workshops designed by the congress and its response to the current impunity and challenges that have pervaded governance and public life generally in Nigeria, especially in the workplace.

In his address, NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said it is with organising that trade union build their solidarities – the organic solidarity and the wide and inclusive solidarity.

He said it is also with this that the union builds its strength, which is a critical tool used in engaging social partners.

The NLC chief said without building power through organising, they become powerless and ineffective in its various engagements, as well as unable to deliver benefits to the public, “especially our primary constituency, who look up to us for the defense of their rights and privileges.

“A union that has stopped organising is a union that has ceased to exist, because organising is the heartbeat of all trade unions without exception.”

Lamenting the alleged heart-wrenching and serial atrocities of current employers, both in the public and private sectors against Nigerian workers, Ajaero said is the continued prevalence of abuses of the rights and privileges of the workforce in the various shop floors, which have gone unchallenged.

According to him, alleged acts of impunity by lawless employers without recourse to the nation’s extant labour laws have all contributed to abridging the rights of fellow workers in various workplaces.

He alleged that it has suddenly become a passion and a dangerous pastime for employers to trample upon workers’ rights, as the creators and builders of the wealth of the nation.

Ajaero, who was represented by the NLC’s first Deputy President, Adewale Adeyanju, raised the alarm on reports across the country of workers deprived and denied of their basic rights to fair, as well as living wages.

He said governments at various levels owe salaries of up to one year and when they manage to pay one month, they applaud themselves openly, believing that the payment of earned income to workers was charity extended to them.

He alleged that various governments have mercilessly trampled upon the rights of Nigerians without any feeling of remorse.

Alleging that politicians have ganged up against the workers and masses without any consequences, the NLC boss said governance in Nigeria is always spoken about in paradoxical dimensions.

He said in Nigeria, governance had become an instrument for inflicting pain and suffering on workers and the masses.

His words: “Recently, we are all witnesses to the steep heartless hike in the price of fuel by the Federal Government under the guise of the so-called petroleum subsidy withdrawal without making alternative arrangements to cushion the expected and well-known impact of such unconscionable action.

“This policy direction ought to have been the product of dialogue among stakeholders, but was shunned by a democratically elected government, which rather believes in machoism that has since left the economy reeling.

“That clearly shows that the Nigerian state from all corners is clearly at war with the people and workers. They have mounted pressure on the people at all fronts and robbed the people repeatedly even when the people have turned the other cheek refusing to acknowledge that governance must go hand in hand with social justice if it is to have any meaning. This onslaught is not relenting and would continue if nothing is done to mediate it.

“It has become exigent that we forcefully bring to the knowledge of our various leaders that rendering many more millions of Nigerians poor could not be an option for punishment. Moreover, impoverishing workers and pushing millions more into hellish living does not in any way approximate sound economic management.

“Nigerian workers and masses cannot continue bearing the brunt of ill-conceived policies and outright fantasies of our leaders. The continued sacrifice of poor Nigerian workers so that the rich can continue in their unbridled pleasures is beginning to push events to the edge. A nation with a huge number of poor people and an increasing number of the working poor is akin to mega trouble. Growth without commensurate benefits to the people is meaningless.

“Nigerian workers can put a stop to this. The NLC can halt this manifest mischief. As trade union leaders, we must not abandon the people and workers to their fate, we must not leave anything to chance, we must not sit by and watch this rape continue unabated.”

Country Programme Director, West Africa, Solidarity Centre, Sonny Ogbuehi, said with the notion that trade unionism in Nigeria was going down, there is need to look at how they could build the capacity of workers, which gives them the powers to organise.

He said unions should know the importance of organising and make it a priority to achieve great feats.

On his expectations, he said after the training, the centre would ensure it follows up on solidarity campaigns, make them get the skills and real-life experiences.

In his presentation on the Global, National and Sectoral Context of Organising, NLC Head of Education and Training, Dr. Muttaqa Yusha’u, gave an overview of trends in the workforce and developed strategies for promoting workers’ rights and interests.

While giving recommendations across sectors of the economy, he recommended that there is a need for Congress to help formalise workers in the informal sector and bring them into a formal union, thereby bridging the gap between employment and unionisation.

He said there is also a need to increase the interest and participation of workers in the sector in unions by addressing leadership crises, mobilising organisers, as well as employing technology and democratic practices within unions to advocate for their rights and welfare.

This, he said was paramount; following the significant role the informal sector plays in the economy and employing a significant portion of the workforce.

According to him, about 60 to 80 per cent are engaged in the informal sector.

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