Two years ago, a significant development occurred which was about the industrial unions that elected Mr. Joe Ajaero as president of a new labour centre, United Labour Congress (ULC).
The unions elected Ajaero, the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), at the ULC maiden Delegates Conference in Lagos.
The new labour centre emerged after a two-year internal crisis that split the Nigeria Labour Congress.
Ajaero, who was elected unopposed, said that ULC would fight for the interest of workers and ensure a more equitable Nigeria where workers’ dignity and the work place would become less prone to impunity.
He said that the emergence of ULC would strengthen the labour movement and generate a new vigour that would re-awaken elements that would make workers strong.
”The new labour centre instead of weakening the movement will present labour as a creative partner that has strategic benefits for its publics, especially the employers and the government,” he said.
The ULC president said the new centre was aimed at restoring hope to Nigerian workers, the oppressed, the victimized, the neglected and other relegated members of the society
He said that the movement was not contesting with anybody or faction, but would remain a labour centre of its own, adding that “the issue of faction is over.’’
Ajaero also said that the new congress was emerging because of the exigency of the moment where people work without salaries for months and were being denied their rights at their work places.
Relatedly the President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Igwe Achese, was elected Deputy President.
Three Vice Presidents, Treasurer, Auditor and Financial Secretary among others were also elected to run the affairs of the centre.
Leaders of the new Labour federation said their first major outing would be against a leading airline in the country on Tuesday for alleged unfair labour practices, including seven months unpaid salaries to workers affiliated to ULC.
The affiliates of ULC include NUPENG, NUEE, Nigeria Union of Mine Workers, National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Employees and the Nigeria Union of Rail Workers.
Others are the National Union of Lottery Agents and Employees, Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers.
HURIWA Hereby condemns the delay in granting licence of recognition as a labour center to the United Labour Congress of Nigeria since over two years. Section 40 of the Nigeria constitution states as follows: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests”.
Legal Implication of Registration Trade Union Centres.
Like in many other fields, Nigeria’s experience in trade unionism is inextricably linked with its evolution in Britain for reasons of the now over-flogged historical tie with Nigeria2. Of a truth, trade unionism had a chequered history in its evolution3. However, the modern unionism in Nigeria never witnessed the difficulties which the workforce in Great Britain had to grapple with in their quest for proper legal status.
REGISTRATION OF TRADE UNION
As has been identified, a trade union refers to any combination of workers or employers, etc. Section 3(1) (a & b) of the Trade Unions Act provides that at least 50 workers or in the case of Employers Association, at least 2 employers are qualified to apply for registration and no trade union shall be registered save with approval of the minister.
Section 3(6) provides that in an application for registration of a trade union, the application must include two copies of the rule of the union and a list showing (a) the name, address, age and occupation of each of the persons by whom the application is signed; and (b) the official title, name and address, age and occupation of each official of the union.
Section 5(1) is to the effect that where the application is defective, the Registrar of Trade Unions will refer it back to the applicant for amendment. Thereafter, and in compliance with section 5(2), the Registrar shall cause a notice of the application to be published in the Federal Gazette stating that objection to the registration of the union in question may be submitted to him within a period of three months.
Section 5(3) makes provisions for the steps to be taken by the Registrar with regards to the registration where, within 3 months, after the notice, there is no objection to the content of the constitution and the various information required to be supplied under section 3 and 4 have been supplied; the Registrar shall issue a certificate within three months thereafter. However, the Registrar is empowered under section 5(4) to refuse registration “if it appears to him that any existing trade union is sufficiently representative of the interest of the class of persons whose interest the union is intending to represent.” There is the case of Nigerian Nurses Association & Ors v. Att. Gen. Fed, where the Supreme Court of Nigeria, in a unanimous decision, held that registration and recognition of National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives by the Trade Union (Amendment) Act of 1978 had extinguished the Nigeria Nurses Association as both bodies cover the same interest. There is also the case of Erasmus Osawe & Ors v. the Registrar of Trade Union. In that case the Supreme Court held that the procedural requirement for commencement of application and objection under section 5(2) of the Trade Unions Act is inapplicable to an application precluded by section 3(2) because of the existence of another union catering for the same class of interest. The subsection provides, inter alia, that “…but no trade union shall be registered to represent workers or employers in a place where there already exists a trade union.”
Registration is secured by an application in a prescribed form accompanied by 2 copies of the constitution as identified earlier. Where registration is not entertained, the aggrieved applicants may apply to the High Court and have the issue determined. See also the case of Re Union of Ifelodun Timber Dealers & Allied Workmen. In that case an application to register a combination of persons calling themselves union of Ifelodun, etc, as a trade union was refused by the Registrar of Trade Unions on the ground that it is a combination of traders not registrable under the Trade Unions Act – Ifelodun being open to all persons engaged in business of timber services and sawmills including employers, employees and self-employed persons. The Applicants applied to the High Court where it was held that the constitution of the ‘Combination’ must be examined to discover whether it was a trade union or not and that:-
(a) A trade union is determined by it principle purposes which must come within the definition of the trade union as provided in the Act,
(b) In this case it was not a trade union since the main object was the protection of timber trading and members’ welfare.
A certificate issued by the Registrar of Trade Unions as evidence of registration of trade union will be cancelled on any of the grounds in section 6 and 7 of the Act apart from voluntary dissolution of the union by its members under section 10 of the Act. Circumstance under which a union’s certificate will be cancelled in section 7 includes a situation where the registration of the trade union was obtained by fraud or as a result of a mistake or where there had been a violation of the provisions of the statute. A certificate may also be cancelled where the objects of the union are illegal or where the union itself ceases to exist. Note further that by reason of Decree No. 1 of 1999 and its amendment of Decree No 26 of 1996 as it affects the Principal Act, the Registrar of Trade Unions may revoke the certificate of registration of any trade union.
It must be noted however that before the Registrar exercises its powers of cancellation the union must be given at least 2 months of his intention to do so and requesting a satisfactory explanation as to why the union will remain on the register. Note further that the union may start to function before the registration. What the law requires is that it must apply for registration within the first 3 months of its formation otherwise it stands dissolved. This type of dissolution would normally follow a notification that their application is refused, and 3 months period of grace allowed the union to tidy up its affairs.
The Registrar has powers over the union funds and may at any time call on the union members or treasurers, to prepare and submit to him within 30 days, detailed account of the Trade Union. It therefore stands to reason that an unregistered trade union is incapable of been controlled by the Registrar of Trade Unions.
In conclusion, no further rule banning further registration of such labour centres.
There are some complaints in some quarters about proliferation of associations and the society continues to be inundated with the claim of the existence of ‘trade unions’ in some establishments where for instance some observers noted that in the university which is a citadel of learning, that the mushroom associations have become an embarrassing example. Legally, there exist three trade unions in the universities. These three unions have their Certificates of Registration intact, neither cancelled nor withdrawn.
Section 3(2) as identify supra, provides inter alia, that “…but no trade union shall be registered to represent workers or employers in a place where there already exists a trade union.” Similarly, section 5(4) of the Trade Unions Act also provides that “The Registrar shall not register the trade union if it appears to him that any existing trade union is sufficiently representative of the interest of the class of persons whose interests the union is intended to represent”.
These conditions do not affect the ULC.
*Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko is National Coordinator of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).