- International trade unionists say "fundamental labour rights are threatened" by the Nigerian government's alleged plans to deregister a trade union organisation, the influential Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). New legislation may also restrict the right to organise strikes.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), a body representing 233 trade unions in 152 countries, today strongly protested alleged Nigerian government plans to deregister the NLC, which is affiliated to the ICFTU. The Brussels-based federation called for international pressure on the Nigerian government "to withdraw a draft anti-union law."
According to ICFTU spokesperson Barbara Kwateng, the draft, if approved, could amongst other things, be used to deregister the NLC, the main national trade union centre in the country. The proposed law would also impose severe restrictions on the right to strike.
- The 4 million-member NLC is apparently being targeted following its repeated calls for fair prices of petroleum products, Ms Kwateng says. Despite being a major world oil producer, the subsidised price of these products is spiralling beyond the means of many Nigerians.
The ICFTU in a letter today called on Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's government to "bring its labour legislation into line with international standards."
Urging the Nigerian authorities to ensure full respect for workers' rights, the trade unionists are also asking Nigeria's federal government to allow a technical committee, set up in cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to proceed with its work and to support it in its work towards ending violations of labour rights in Nigeria.
In the letter to President Obasanjo, the ICFTU General Secretary says he is "surprised" by the Nigerian government's move to "rush through Parliament a Bill aimed at amending some parts of the legislation without first waiting for the conclusions of the aforementioned Technical Committee," which was to make recommendations on new labour legislation.
Trade unions have a relatively strong position in Nigeria, a country marked by frequent labour conflicts. In particular the crucial oil sector has been affected by strikes. According to Nigerian trade unions, most strikes are produced because of the government's lack of consultation with unions in cases where this should have been done.
NLC President Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole adds that Nigerian workers, the middle class and other strands of society over the past five years have called upon the NLC to organise "popular national general strikes" as the political opposition is too weak to counterweight unpopular government decisions. The trade union had however made sure protests and mass action were peaceful.
Regarding the draft labour legislation tabled by the Nigerian government, Mr Oshiomhole says the NLC is currently "lobbying parliament" not to pass this law as it is proposed. "In fact, the draft law has the potential of violating the constitution of the country," he adds, explaining that the workers' right to belong to their trade union of choice is enshrined in the constitution.
- Current talk of deregistering the NLC is little more than an act of vindictiveness because the government simply feels that our trade union organisation is getting too strong, says Mr Oshiomhole. "They believe that the existence of several federations will weaken the voice of protest."
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