Organised labour’s main source of income from time immemorial has been check-off dues deducted from their members’ earnings and paid in by employers in the public and private sectors of the economy. Before the Trade Union Amendment Act, 2005, unions in the public and private sectors had no difficulty in terms of finance, but since the act came into operation, several unions, mostly in the organised private sector, have practically found themselves in critical financial situation as their organising power has been crippled.
Even those in the public sector also have their fair share of challenges arising from the flagrant privatisation of some public agencies, which cut across telecommunication, tourism and hospitality industries, electricity and others.
Globalisation and its attendant effect on the economy, which has now foisted casualisation and contract staffing on the nation’s workforce, also limited the power of the unions to organise and register new members to further enlarge their numerical might.
The last blow to the labour unions was the recent economic recession in Nigeria, coupled with poor infrastructures, which affected the bottom line of many companies. Some were forced to close down, relocate to other other countries or reduce their production capacity. Whatever option they took, workers were at the receiving end and this affected membership of labour unions and resources.
However, some of unions believed that there was the need to look beyond the check-off dues and put on their thinking caps to save the movement from going into extinction.
For some, going into investments would further increase the wealth baseline of the unions and make them more relevant economically and politically. But for others the empowerment would enable them fight recalcitrant employers who often indulge in anti-labour practices without being cowed by the antics of no-work no-pay.
At its October 2019 National Leadership Retreat, held in Enugu, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) emphasized the importance of solid financial base to the movement.
The NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, said the retreat, themed “Strategic Leadership and New Challenges in the Future of Work,” was organised to get the leadership of congress at all levels to examine, discuss, brainstorm and proffer pragmatic ideas to the challenges of today and fears for tomorrow confronting Nigerian workers.
“The over-arching goal of this year’s retreat, as leaders, we owe a duty to our followers to go beyond providing solutions to the problems of today but also to prepare answers to the questions of tomorrow,” he had said.
He said, currently, Nigerian workers and their trade unions face daunting challenges that have been exacerbated by the rapidly evolving dynamism in the world of work.
Wabba said, “If we must deal with the rapidly metamorphosizing challenge of poor working conditions, slave wages, deliberate efforts to prevent or kill trade unionism in our workplaces, we must think outside the box, taking into consideration the global realities – changing forms of capital, climate change, drift to extremes in regional and national politics.
“In specifics, we must devise sustainable strategies to strengthen our unions especially in the areas of finance and investments.”
At the retreat, Collins Ogbanu
director, CoCo Consults Ltd, one of the resource persons, had tried to emphasise the importance of investment to organised labour.
According to him, availability of adequate finance (funds) was critical to the survival and ability of every entity (trade unions inclusive) to fulfill its mandate. He explained that finance, being an indispensable medium of exchange and a scarce commodity, should be prudently managed by any trade union that intends to forge ahead.
He said, “A derivative of Parkinson’s Law posits that expenditures rise to meet income. As a person/entity earns more, the marginal propensity to consume more increases. Therefore, in order to succeed financially, trade unions need to break Parkinson’s Law by pruning their marginal propensity to consume and increasing their marginal propensity to save. Since trade unions do not have control of their primary source of income, ability to effectively manage their costs and save part of their income will enable them create multiple streams of income through profitable investments of their savings.
“Trade unions leadership should always remember the slogan – no savings, no investment, and endeavor to inculcate financial savings culture within their respective spheres of control.”
For the unions facilitating their financial independence and self-sustainability, he listed investment opportunities that they can go into, which includes short, medium and long term.
The investments, in short and medium term, he said, include investment in money market products, agricultural, transport, bakery and confectionary and mutual fund. While in the long term, he advised investment in capital market instruments, agricultural products with long gestation periods (cash crops) but high returns on investment such as palm tree plantation, rubber plantation, cocoa plantation, coffee plantation and cotton, as well as real estate.
Undoubtedly, some unions in the country are not just looking at these investments option but already making giant strides in investments that cut across real estate, hotels, financial porfolio in stocks and liquidity, manufacturing as well as capacity building of their members to meet 21st century challenges in the area of industrial relations.
Today, The Sun is x-raying the first part of our special focus on unions and their leaders breaking the barriers to raise the banner of the labour movement in Nigeria.