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NLC, organising the unorganised

By Funmi  Komolafe &  Daniel  Emeribe
For a number of years, organized labour has been deliberating on how to get the unorganized sector organized.  Several workshops have been held but nothing concrete has taken place.  Recently, the Nigeria Labour Congress took steps to bring the informal sector into its fold.

This report  tells the story of  summit.

As more employees lose jobs as a result of the effect of the global melt down,  it dawned on organized labour worldwide that many of its  members may have found their way into the informal sector.

This was confirmed by NLC president, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar in a message read on his behalf by Comrade Owei Lakemfa of the NLC. Omar said, “It is a fact that compared to the self employed, the workers in the formal sector are far smaller.

Another truth is that with the gales of mass retrenchment  that has been sweeping through our country since 1975 and which were exacerbated  during the General Muhammadu Buhari regime in 1984/85 and the President  Olusegun Obasanjo  administration in 2006-2007, most of the victims find sustenance as self employed peoples”.

Beyond this reality, Omar said, “ in the numerous battles  of the NLC to better the life of workers in particular and Nigerians in general, we  have  always  had the support  the self employed”.

The  NLC president said his organization is not unaware of the problems of the informal sector.

Challenges of the Self Employed-For instance he said “almost all are subjected to multiple levies and taxes by government. They are affected by unilateral  decisions and actions by local governments, incessant harassment by  the police and numerous  task forces and agencies of government”

He listed other challenges as “capitalization, lack of funds, and endless manipulation by political parties and politicians  for their selfish ends”.

Secretary of the NLC in Lagos state, Ismaila Bello listed some of the challenges of organizing the informal sector. These are, “organization building, financial management, capacity building for leaders, trade union education, skill development and vocational training”.

He  said those in the informal sector   would like to find solutions to these challenges in the trade union movement and suggested that it is high time trade unions embraced informal sector workers.

Comrade Bello who is also of the textile union  shared his union’s experience with participants.  He said, “Early 2005, the union established linkage with the Nigerian Union  of Tailors in Lagos , Oyo and Ogun states.  Further linkages were made were made in Kaduna , Kwara and Benue states. Whilst the organic organizational linkages have taken firm roots in Lagos, Benue and Kaduna, the relationship in other states are yet to be formalized.

As a result of the successful experience with the tailors group, there are on-going attempts at formalizing the union’s  relationship  with the Kampala Makers Association in Lagos”.

Trade unions and the informal sector

General Secretary of the Nigeria Automobile Technicians Association ( NATA); union in the informal sector, Comrade David Ajetunmobi said “Trade unions look at the vast ocean of humanity trapped in  informal  work  and feel challenged  about doing  something about organizing  informal work. The question however is how to do it, given the  different forms of challenges faced in the informal economy and the confused  nature of the bargaining partner”.

He said “the bargaining partners for informal workers are diverse: local governments for space and sane taxations system,  state governments for appropriate policies,spaceand social protection, federal government  for policies  that address social  protection needs in the informal economy, health insurance, vocational  training“.

Comrade Ajetunmobi is of the opinion that trade unions may not find it easy organizing the informal sector because of the “ diverse nature of this sector”.
He asked rhetorically, “Even if it were easy to organize in some sectors as has been done in a few countries,  which union organizes, rag pickers, street traders,  home and domestic workers. Which union organizes the over a million  members of NATA  and then deal with the myriad  of issues which no doubt would be  bewildering  to the average  trade union?

Ajetunmobi said his view does not in any way suggest that informal sector workers do not need trade unions “Far from it. Informal workers need  the  organizational experience  of the trade unions  while unions also need the  vast number of informal workers to build more power to leverage more concessions on larger macro economic issues such as the deregulation policy for example”.

Trade unions he suggested could help build informal workers’ organizations through education, training  and collaboration  in developing policies  that could make life better for informal sector workers.

He cited  the proposed social security bill and suggested that the trade union movement could  ensure  that informal  sector workers do not lose out again “ like we did during the pension reform process that completely ignored the informal sector workers.”.

On  final note, he made an appeal “Help us to better organize ourselves so we might build power and our combined might could  help to achieve greater results for all of us”.


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