Since the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC) moved into business out of necessity, it has been a success story all the way.
The president-general of SSAEAC, Chris Okonkwo, said the union’s incursion in business though as a result of national challenges and globalisation, the investments have added more recognition and honour to the union.
He noted that management’s investment has further earned the union more respect as it can sustain efforts against management or government, pending the resolution of the problems. Excerpts:
Beyond check-off dues
I want you to cast your mind back to the privatisation time that the unions were worried about what might happen to the power sector unions. During negotiations, the two unions were able to get government to approve certain levies for the two unions for survivability. As soon as the levies were realised, the unions embarked on investments. For the senior staff union, we were able to acquire a 35-room hotel in the highbrow Independent Layout, Enugu. We were able to acquire a 12 flats building in higbrow Durumi layout in Abuja. We did not stop there, this is our national secretariat and we have converted the whole ground floor of to chalets and we shall be getting about 30 chalets in the main secretariat building.
Then we have the secretariat annex, just close to the secretariat. We have about eight rooms converted to chalets. In that annex, we discovered that when we were about to convert it, the building was no longer strong, because it was one of those legacy buildings by the old ECN that the union was using as secretariat. We had to pull the whole building down and rebuild it. So, the whole building there with modern facilities, we are looking forward to commissioning both the main secretariat chalets and the annex around the first quarter of this year. Maybe by March or thereabouts. We are working hard, barring funds, which may be the only factor that may delay it. So, that in essence means our union has been looking forward to sustaining its operations, not just relying on check-off dues but by the incomes that are generated from those investments.
By interaction with other unions leaders and by review of issues in the union, particularly with globalization. Globalisation affects many many workers and that is why even at ILO level, it’s an issue about the effect of globalization on workforces. On the workforce and generally on the survivability of trade unions. So, sharing of ideas with other unions leaders, attending conferences, attending ILO conferences have provided us with ideas, trainings that enabled us embarked on all these projects and we are looking forward to continue in the same line subject to the rate of recovery investments.
In fact, I have one example with one case. I had a meeting with the management of Abuja Electricity Distribution company in Abuja and we invited them to our building in Abuja there. They got there, they were shocked. They asked, you mean you people own this building? I said yes! They walked down the whole building, 12 flats building occupied by tenants with a yearly rent of N1.4 million per flat. They were shocked, they never knew that the union was that responsible to invest into such big property and, above all, the property was in a very very high-yielding location in Abuja. So, the management are more respectful of us, that we are not just there looking for check-off, that we have back-up means of survival, should they have problems or should we have problems with them. I would also give another example about such situation, where our union has been having an issue or trade dispute with the management of TCN and management of TCN erroneously or misguidedly stopped the check-off dues that was supposed to come to us. We have operated without it impacting on us negatively because we have other sources. That is one clear example and, of course, we have taken up the management to face the consequence of such illegal action. Stopping a union’s dues, deducted and refusing to remit it. So, we were able to survive without that remittance because we have a back-up through our investments outside check-off dues.
The members, particularly the staff of the union, because if we don’t have that back-up, we will not be able to meet the expectations of salary payment and even to operate and run the union, including calling our members to meetings. We were able to call our members to meetings because we had the money without which it would have been impossible. Not only calling them to meetings, but responding to their needs in their locations by sending people, sending our workers to go there and resolve issues.
No work, no pay
First of all I disagree with that no work, no pay. Because, first of all, it is within the law, that unions exit and within the law unions have right to picket, unions have rights to industrial action. If you have right to industrial action, you cannot have rights to something and have punishment associated with it. So, I guess what the Minister does is to use it as a negotiation tool. As a means of getting the union to listen to his own side and see if he can win something for the government. Now it cannot be an issue because at the end of the day, government and the unions or management and the union will reach an agreement and most of the time there’s a provision or a clause that will say no sanction against any union officer for so so action. If that is allowed in agreement/post-industrial action, you can see where that does not stand. But assume where it’s implemented, that is where investments is helping the union. Investment makes it such that the union’s incomes are independent of the workers or their members in their workplaces. They can sustain efforts against management or government, pending the resolution of the problems. That is one advantage of independent investment by the union. You can very reasonably operate without recourse to only the check-off dues that are dependent on third party to bring to you.
In our constitution, there’s room for a situation where members or workers who are victimized, that the union can intervene by meeting their needs. For example, many of the workers at our secretariat today are members of the union who were disengaged. We brought them back and pay them salary through the same investments, through the check-off system. So that they can benefit from what they worked for before they were disengaged.