By Bimbola Oyesola
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has accused the Federal Government of violating national and international law through the registration of the new two trade unions — Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Lecturers in Academics (NAMDA) as response to curtail what it called the excesses of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Recalled that ASUU has been on strike for more than seven months now, but the demanding for the immediate withdrawal of certificates issued to the new unions said federal government ran foul of industrial law.
The NLC in a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment dated October 5th, 2022, jointly signed by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba and the general secretary, Emman Ugboaja, warned that the registration was in contrary to the provisions of Section 3(2) and Sections 5(2), 5(3) and 5(4), of the Nigeria constitution and particularly the International Labour Organization (ILO) fundamental Conventions 87 and 98 which were some of the first ILO standards ratified by Nigeria upon the attainment of Independence.
“We wish to posit that the granting of Certificates of Registration to the afore-mentioned groups is in violation of our laws which have been tested and affirmed from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria to the Appeal Court and up to the Supreme Court.
“Having ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98, Nigeria has domesticated same in our Constitution especially Section 40, which guarantees freedom of association. The Constitution went on to regulate freedom of association in Sections 41 (2). This is pursuant to public decorum and order since where one right ends another begins,” the NLC letter read.
The congress leadership expressed that Nigeria’s labour laws in furtherance of the constitutional regulation on freedom of association provided certain conditions for the registration of trade unions upon which compliance Certificates of Registration can be given to trade unions by the Ministry of Labour.
According to the NLC, Section 3 of the Trade Union Act stipulates the following conditions for the registration of trade unions, “that an application for the registration of a trade union shall be made to the Registrar in the prescribed form and shall be signed(a) in the case of a trade union of workers, by at least fifty members of the union; and
(b) in the case of a trade union of employers, by at least two members of the union.
“No combination of workers or employers shall be registered as a trade union save with the approval of the Minister on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the union either by regrouping existing trade unions, registering a new trade union or otherwise howsoever, but no trade union shall be registered to represent workers or members in a place where there already exists a trade union.”
It went further to explain that Section 5 of Trade Union Act went on to stipulate the following additional conditions for the registration of a new trade union:
“That if the application for the registration of a trade union appears to the Registrar to be defective in any respect, he shall notify the applicant accordingly and shall take no further action in relation thereto until the application has been amended to his satisfaction or a fresh application is made in place thereof.
Equally the Registrar shall cause a notice of the application to be published in the Federal Gazette. stating that objections to the registration of the trade union in question may be submitted to him in writing during the period of three months beginning with the date of the Gazette in which the notice is published.
The NLC said that it is at the expiration of the three months that the Registrar shall consider any objections submitted to him during that period and, “if satisfied- (a) that no proper objection has been raised; (b) that none of the purposes of the trade union is unlawful; and (c) that the requirements of this Act and of the Regulations with respect to the registration of trade unions have been complied with- shall, subject to subsection (2) of this section. and to section 6 of this Act. register the trade union and its rules.”
It insisted that the Registrar shall not register the trade union if it appears to him that any existing trade union is sufficiently representative of the interests of the class of persons whose interest the union intended to represent.
“Clearly, from the provisions of Section 3(2) and Sections 5(2), 5(3) and 5(4), there is no basis for the purported registration of the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Lecturers in Academics (NAMDA) as both entities failed woefully to satisfy the precedent conditions provided by the Trade Union Act for the registration of trade unions,” it stated.
The NLC however went further to challenge the government, “as earlier posited, the legitimacy of granting registration certificates to groups in a sector where unions already exist has been tested in our courts from the National Industrial Court to the Supreme Court.
“In the case of Erasmus Osawe Vs Registrar of Trade Unions and also the case of Nigeria Nurses Association Vs Attorney General of the Federation Unreported Suit No. S.C. 69/1980 delivered on 6th November 1981, it is noted that anywhere there exist a union registered to cater for a category of workforce it would be unpardonable proliferation and offence against the Constitution and Trade Unions Act for any other union to be registered for the same category of workers.
“And this position was more recently restated by the Supreme Court in a judgement delivered on 11th January 2008 and cited as (2008) 1 S.C. (PT.III) Supreme Court Justices led by Hon. Justice Sylvester Onu and four others.
“Honourable Minister, in view of the foregoing, we demand that you respect the doctrine of the Rule of law especially the clear provisions of our labour laws cited and withdraw the Certificate of Registration issued to the two new trade unions.”