Public officers’ anti-labour posture worries ex-NASU President

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FEW days ago, Governor  of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, called on government to sack 50 percent of its employees to reduce the cost of governance.  Some have argued that Sanusi, who has never hidden his dislike for organised labour, is just looking for ways to weaken labour.

This came not long after the   Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for Economy, Dr.  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, castigated workers of the Security and Exchange Commission, SEC, while addressing them on the protest that greeted the reinstatement of Ms Aruma Otte, the Director-General of SEC, where she was said to have told the workers that it is illegal for them to join unions.

A Lawyer and immediate Past President of Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, Comrade Ivor Takor, in this piece, expressed concerns over increasing anti-labour posture of government officers, lamenting that most political officials in Nigeria are ignorance of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No.87), which Nigeria has not only ratified but has also domesticated in its Labour Laws.

TAKOR  who is also a Past National Treasurer of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in a 7-page discourse, explained that the section provides that ‘Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest; ……..”

International Labour standard

Reviewing the working background of our world acclaimed and respected Minister of Finance, the ex-NASU President said “I believe she already knows and ought know that industrial relation practice all over the world, which the International Financial Institutions are just beginning to appreciate, is based on international labour standards.

International labour standards refer to conventions agreed upon by international actors, resulting from series of value judgements, set forth to protect basic workers’ rights, enhance workers’ security and improve their terms of employment on a global scale.

Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The intent of such standards, then, is to establish a worldwide minimum level of protection from inhuman labour practices through the adoption and implementation of said measures. From a theoretical standpoint, it has been maintained, on ethical grounds, that there are certain basic human rights that are universal to mankind.

Thus it is the aim of international labour standards to ensure the provision of such rights in the workplace, such as against workplace aggression, bullying, discrimination and gender inequality on the other hands for working diversity, encouraging workplace democracy and empowerment.

According to him, “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention establishes the right of all workers and employers to form and join organisations of their own choosing without prior authorisation, and lays down a series of guarantees for the free functioning of such organisations without interference by the public authorities.

The Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, provides for protection against acts of interference by each other, and for measures to promote collective bargaining; Forced Labour Convention requires the suppression of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms. Certain exceptions are permitted, such as war, fire, earthquakes, etc; Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, prohibits the use of any form of forced or compulsory labour as means of political coercion or education, punishment for expression of political or ideological views.

Workforce mobilisation, labour discipline, punishment for participation in strike, or discrimination; Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, defines discrimination as any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.

Criminalising unionism

According to him, “the attempt by the Minister of Finance to criminalise the joining of union(s) by workers of SEC is in itself illegal and a violation of their fundamental human right as enshrined in the Constitution. I must concede that I have not gone through the Act that established the Commission.

May be there is a section of the Act, which outlaws the joining of trade unions by workers of the Commission, which the Hon. Minister relied upon. Assuming, that such a section actually exist in the Act establishing the Commission, then I submit that the section is inconsistent with the provision of section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and therefore such a section is void and of no effect, to the extent of that inconsistency.”

“The Minister and other functionaries of the federal government may need to know that the coming together of workers of the Commission either through union(s), workers consultative forum or whatever name so call, are doing so with a common goal of protecting their fundamental rights from what they believe is and the general public perceive astyranny in their workplace as well as autocratic and dictatorial management style, if what transpired at the public seating during the Capital Market probe is anything to go by.

The government itself alluded to this school of thought, when during her reinstatement; she was advised to improve on her administrative style and to always follow due process.

I wish to remind government functionaries and other employers of labour that the forming and joining of union(s) by workers of any organisation is a fundamental right entrenched in international conventions ratified and domesticated by Nigeria and guaranteed in the Constitution.

Finally, when persons are being considered for top positions of government agencies and are being screened for conformity with the requirement fit and proper persons, the issue of their interpersonal relationship and democratic tendency is as important as their qualifications and cognate professional experience in view of the fact that they will also be managing human resource of the organisation.”

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