By FunmiÂ Komolafe &Â DanielÂ Emeribe
For a number of years, organized labour has been deliberating on how to get the unorganized sector organized.Â Several workshops have been held but nothing concrete has taken place.Â Recently, the Nigeria Labour Congress took steps to bring the informal sector into its fold.
This reportÂ tells the story ofÂ summit.
As more employees lose jobs as a result of the effect of the global melt down,Â it dawned on organized labour worldwide that many of itsÂ 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, â€œIt 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 retrenchmentÂ that has been sweeping through our country since 1975 and which were exacerbatedÂ during the General Muhammadu Buhari regime in 1984/85 and the PresidentÂ Olusegun ObasanjoÂ administration in 2006-2007, most of the victims find sustenance as self employed peoplesâ€.
Beyond this reality, Omar said, â€œ in the numerous battlesÂ of the NLC to better the life of workers in particular and Nigerians in general, weÂ haveÂ alwaysÂ had the supportÂ the self employedâ€.
TheÂ NLC president said his organization is not unaware of the problems of the informal sector.
Challenges of the Self Employed-For instance he said â€œalmost all are subjected to multiple levies and taxes by government. They are affected by unilateralÂ decisions and actions by local governments, incessant harassment byÂ the police and numerousÂ task forces and agencies of governmentâ€
He listed other challenges as â€œcapitalization, lack of funds, and endless manipulation by political parties and politiciansÂ for their selfish endsâ€.
Secretary of the NLC in Lagos state, Ismaila Bello listed some of the challenges of organizing the informal sector. These are, â€œorganization building, financial management, capacity building for leaders, trade union education, skill development and vocational trainingâ€.
HeÂ said those in the informal sectorÂ Â 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 unionÂ shared his unionâ€™s experience with participants.Â He said, â€œEarly 2005, the union established linkage with the Nigerian UnionÂ of Tailors in Lagos , Oyo and Ogun states.Â 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 unionâ€™sÂ relationshipÂ with the Kampala Makers Association in Lagosâ€.
Trade unions and the informal sector
General Secretary of the Nigeria Automobile Technicians Association ( NATA); union in the informal sector, Comrade David Ajetunmobi said â€œTrade unions look at the vast ocean of humanity trapped inÂ informalÂ workÂ and feel challengedÂ about doingÂ something about organizingÂ informal work. The question however is how to do it, given theÂ different forms of challenges faced in the informal economy and the confusedÂ nature of the bargaining partnerâ€.
He said â€œthe bargaining partners for informal workers are diverse: local governments for space and sane taxations system,Â state governments for appropriate policies,spaceand social protection, federal governmentÂ for policiesÂ that address socialÂ protection needs in the informal economy, health insurance, vocationalÂ trainingâ€œ.
Comrade Ajetunmobi is of the opinion that trade unions may not find it easy organizing the informal sector because of the â€œ diverse nature of this sectorâ€.
He asked rhetorically, â€œEven if it were easy to organize in some sectors as has been done in a few countries,Â which union organizes, rag pickers, street traders,Â home and domestic workers. Which union organizes the over a millionÂ members of NATAÂ and then deal with the myriadÂ of issues which no doubt would beÂ bewilderingÂ to the averageÂ trade union?
Ajetunmobi said his view does not in any way suggest that informal sector workers do not need trade unions â€œFar from it. Informal workers needÂ theÂ organizational experienceÂ of the trade unionsÂ while unions also need theÂ vast number of informal workers to build more power to leverage more concessions on larger macro economic issues such as the deregulation policy for exampleâ€.
Trade unions he suggested could help build informal workersâ€™ organizations through education, trainingÂ and collaborationÂ in developing policiesÂ that could make life better for informal sector workers.
He citedÂ the proposed social security bill and suggested that the trade union movement couldÂ ensureÂ that informalÂ sector workers do not lose out again â€œ like we did during the pension reform process that completely ignored the informal sector workers.â€.
OnÂ final note, he made an appeal â€œHelp us to better organize ourselves so we might build power and our combined might couldÂ help to achieve greater results for all of usâ€.