The Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions’s exploits in business may not seem much now, but the millions invested in the capital markets and other allied businesses rank the union among the best in the movement. The general secretary of union, in this interview with Daily Sun, recalls how government’s dilemma during the last recession pushed the union to seek alternative sources of income, which gave birth to the union’s several investments.
Based on experience, Adeyemi opined that any union at this stage that who still relied on check-off dues was really in trouble.
He emphasized the importance of investment to unions when it comes to fighting anti-labour policies of government or employers of labour.
He also reveals the union’s ambitious next line of projects and the steps the union is altaking to make them a success. Excerpts:
Experience was our best guide. During the economic recession, when the President said that the three arms of government were finding it difficult to pay salary, and deriving from that fact, union dues were not deducted when salaries were not being paid. That in itself was a big problem, because unions who have not diversified, who are totally relying on check-off dues, are really in problem even in terms of payment of their own staff salary, rents and movement from one place to the other to render services. Deriving from that fact, it has become imperative for industrial unions to look the other way to stop this over-independent on check-off dues. Quite a number of unions have ventured into investments, which is very desirable. At NASU, we have an investment committee and we are trying to develop one or two investments that will take us away from over-dependence on check-off dues. We try to establish a separate outfit, even though whoever is in charge will still be responsible to the union. We’ve reached a critical stage, it’s one of the things that this conference is going to deliberate on. For instance, we put some millions in this university pension company. About N40 million we put there, and we have also put money in quite a number of areas. I think, over a period of time, what we have not done is going into this hotel area, which is very very attractive, a whole lot of unions are looking in that side. But we are also thinking of something different because everybody cannot go into building hotels. Hotel itself has its own problems because when you don’t have steady power supply, virtually all the resources will be ploughed back into that. So, we are actually considering that, and it’s extremely very imperative if you are doing any job on it. But It’s also important that you know that some unions are not even solvent now not to talk of putting money in investments. If you are not sure of paying staff salary, not to talk of paying your rents, you can’t even render statutory obligation to you members, because, to invest, you also need money. Even if you are going to take money from banks, you have to also be very skeptical because some of these loans can become problems. You take a loan you are not able to repay and the interest continues to accumulate, before you know it, the union will be terribly indebted. I think the most important thing to do is to invest and this is already going on and we are into it. Even check-off dues will become something you cannot rely on, we are getting to a stage where very rascally government and employers will tell you if you go on strike, they are not going to pay your salary and when salaries are not paid you don’t get check-off dues. But if you have an investment, where you can always take money, when government or employers of labour decide to attack you, you have resources from other sources with which you also confront them.
We are into treasury bills. We have invested millions into treasury bills and fixed deposits. These ones you get money without actually doing much. You don’t labour so much and there is no fear of losing money, so long as the bank is healthy. It is one way by which one can really make money and our union is doing that.
Concept of business outside
I am not aware that Public Service International (PSI) has gone into an investment, but I think that in this global trade union centres we have goodwill and good resources, substantial enough. I served on the board of PSI. Clearly if we are into investments, I should be able to know because you can’t do investment without the board. But we are not operating in a similar environment, because you also know that in Europe and other parts of the world, Asia Pacific and others, you find out that there is value even in the dues that the members pay. What they pay is not peanuts. So, it’s possible for the trade unions over there to survive on those resources coming from their members and the level of uncertainty that you have around here is not as visible as you can say you have in Europe. Also, that some unions in Europe have huge investments, very huge investments, in several millions of dollars, and that is some of the reasons some unions in Europe can afford to even pay members when they are on strike because there are laws in Europe that when you abandon your jobs, you are not going to be paid for the number of days that you are on that struggle and those guys will just damn the consequences, pay their members. But no union here has been able to do that because we don’t have the financial muscle. The environment and the situation are not the same. If you go into any business in Europe, you will make a lot of money and you know before they even go into that business they carry out research and that is part of the things we in NASU are trying to look at. They conduct extensive research; they just don’t just jump into anything. Here, I know quite a number of unions have gone into hotels, but there are areas in Nigeria, like if you go into estates, housing, as a union, one is likely to make even more money than you make in hotels, depending on the area. One of the things we borrow from outside Nigeria is how they go into these businesses and how you don’t go into business that will end up putting you in more trouble than before. It’s fashionable and it’s something you can say is good. Government every day is becoming obdurate and rascally. They don’t believe that strike can do them any harm, they don’t believe that anything can happen. In fact, we have reached a stage where unions go on strike and managements try to suspend salary payment and that creates economic crisis for the unions and because of the arrogance of labour leaders, we don’t even want a situation where small unions will merge, so that the strength can be more and resources can come more. If you look at Nigeria’s situation, we have a lot of unions that are trying to survive, just living from hand to mouth.