THE ROLES OF LABOUR UNION IN ENSURING INDUSTRIAL HARMONY IN NIGERIA BY COMRADE KAMORU OLUWATOYIN KADIRI
Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is with great delight and pleasure that I stand to present a paper on this auspicious occasion. Firstly, I appreciate the efforts of the leadership of ASUP, Federal Polytechnic Ede, and particularly Comrade Komolafe for conceiving the idea of a workshop like this. Especially, on the theme: Ethics and Career Progression. I further wish to posit that the workshop is first of its kind and you are already writing your names in the history of Unionism with an ink of gold. Therefore, I bring greetings from my Rector, Dr Mufutau Olatinwo. I bring sincere wishes from the Department of Electronics/Electrical Engineering, Federal Polytechnic Offa as the newly appointed Head of Department, and profound regards from all Academic Staff of Federal Polytechnic, Offa. ASUP!!!
A labour union is an organization of wage earners or salary workers established for the purpose of protecting their collective interests of members in the course of dealing with employers and in the wider society through the process of rule-making and collective bargaining. Labour union has been an important institution in Nigeria as an industrial society since the labour workers constitute a significant percentage of the nation’s population. Labour unions have played increasingly roles in molding and implementation of government policies to the benefit of not only the workers but the masses in Nigeria. It is noteworthy that several struggles have been embarked on by labour unions since amalgamation in 1914. These include Imodu led general strike of 1945, Kokori led NUPENG anti-June 12 election annulment strike of 1994, Omar and Esele led anti-fuel subsidy removal general strike of 2012, and incessant ASUU and ASUP strikes in Nigeria. Specifically, Labour Union has helped to deliver significant outcomes in terms of welfare for the workers.
Peter(2000) observes that the major concerns of Unions have been ‘improved living standards, equity and justice to workers all over the world. However, at the end of the twentieth century, unions face a situation marked by the universal trend towards greater liberalization of economic and political regimes. The changing environment requires new approaches and strategies on the part of unions if they are to remain major social actors contributing to dynamic and equitable growth’
Indeed in Nigeria, Labour Union cannot run away from the challenges in the century but the fact remains that these challenges are also provide the Union with opportunities for the establishment, enhancement, and sustainability of industrial harmony in the country.
In my two-term experience as ASUP Chairman, I discovered there are certain factors that are germane towards achieving industrial harmony. Firstly, the Labour Union leaders should understand what their traditional roles are. Secondly, they should understand the peculiarities and changes of their work environment. Thirdly and the major determinant of success and achievements is the Union responses in all situations in terms of new strategies.
It is my utmost belief that the leadership of this great Union, ASUP has realized this, no wonder the organization of this workshop as it is, will go a long way to bridge the knowledge gap by highlighting the contribution of labour union to the Nigeria and unraveling new approaches, for gone are the days when Labour union is perceived as a body for trouble making, albeit it is undeniable that the country had not experienced some forms of labour militancy which culminated to prolonged industrial actions.
Roles of Labour Union
Before concentrating on the major preoccupation of this paper, it is important to briefly highlight the traditional roles of the Labour Union in their relations to individual employers, business associations, the State, and the public at large. The roles are discussed in three categories below:
(i) The Economic Role: The labour union leaders are elected or appointed by workers to facilitate equitable distribution of value-added. This has been achieved mainly through collective bargaining and negotiations at every stage or level.
(ii)The Representative Role: Labour union represents workers for the purpose of giving them identity by serving as their voice at workplace and society. This is not limited to when there are grievances and the need for improved welfare package for members.
(iii) The Social Role: It is part of the roles of labour union to promote solidarity among workers in different strata and provision of special social services to members of the union so that goals and values can be shared. Labour union provides platform for association at workplace, state level or national level.
Labour Union and Industrial Harmony in Nigeria
Labour Union in Nigeria, drawing its membership from public and private sectors, is not only the instrument but the ultimate beneficiary of industrial harmony, if sustained, in Nigeria. There is no doubt, accusing fingers have been pointed at Labour leaders on various crises in the country but the fact remains that the Labour Union is the arbiter of peace in Nigeria. It is through the Labour Union that cordial and good understanding between employers and employees could be established which leads to a harmonious and conducive working environment. It is such environment that results to higher productivity.
- A platform of dialogue: A veteran was required to mention three ways of resolving industrial crisis in Nigeria. He aptly responded ‘Dialogue, dialogue and dialogue’. In consonance with his response, I believe that even when labour union embarks on various ways to drive home its agitations, executive members will still resort to dialogue for solutions. This is not to discard other measures available to labour union in struggles but to emphasize that the labour union is solely a platform of dialogue and this dialogue should be maximized by labour leaders in Nigeria to ensure industrial harmony.
- Positive criticism: Negative criticism heats up polity. The labour union should ensure to make suggestions for improvements when lapses are observed. A Yoruba parlance says ’people also see when they cry’. In the pursuance of members various demands, labour executives arguments should be issues based. This will promote political harmony since negative criticism is becoming unpopular in modern unionism.
- Adequate mobilization of members to participate in decision making: This will bring strengthen decisions taking and there will be sense of belonging and significant results. It is also an opportunity to resolve tension that may arise as a result of new policies. Labour union should be at the front in ensuring job security: According to Peter(2000), ‘Survey evidence from a range of countries(Nigeria inclusive) shows that the fear of job loss either through collective redundancy or through victimization by the employer is the overwhelming work-related concern of employees today.’ For the purpose of industrial harmony, it is mandatory for labour union to resist job insecurity in all forms. Let me quickly add that this should be to an extent that the law and provisions of working environment permits to avoid divisive consequences. The strategies and approaches of Labour union in the discharge of functional and traditional roles will determine whether there will be industrial harmony or not. Labour union is about problem solving. The hope of the workers reside in the labour union, as such, the leaders must sustain the confidence reposed in them before their elections. The labour leaders should always be ready to rise up to challenges like Generals for the day, soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them(Powell). Industrial harmony has to commence from each workplace for industrial harmony to exist in a nation like Nigeria.
- Education of members of union: This is to appreciate their economic, social and civic responsibilities towards their community, state and country: The duty of labour union leaders does not end with working conditions of its members. It also include organization of seminars, workshops and conferences that will enlighten members on the importance of their contributions to the development of the nation. A workshop like this is coming up at an appropriate time in the polity of Nigeria because a labour union like ASUP that is made up of free minds of intellectual should be at the front in pursuance of industrial harmony in Nigeria. The labour union should serve as powerful agent of change.
- Enshrinement of organizational discipline: The discipline should exist among members of union and not limited to them. It should be visible in the conduct of leaders during bargaining and social dialogue through the principles of self regulations. This assists in avoiding insinuation of being bought over during the process of struggles and agitations on issues of workers’ interest. Albeit, we are not unaware that politicians and bureaucrats attempt to manipulate the union executives by ‘tokenism’ during such trying periods. There is no harm, if a labour union has a standing committee of reputable and highly respected members on ethics and privileges. They will assist in no mean measure in sustaining industrial harmony.
- Proper management of labour relations: There are institutions that send their labour unions executives on short trainings on labour relations. In the absence of this, the labour union needs to expose their executive members to management of labour relations. This will enable labour unions to engage stakeholders in the country in meaningful and constructive issues. Especially, those that bother on transformation programmes.
- Motivation of members to take part in union activities: Labour union should motivate members by adopting such means as would best allow them to do so, including the compilation and distribution of information. For examples, organization of orientation or induction for new members, and award ceremony for outstanding members. As such, union should take all reasonable steps to ensure that their members observe all arrangements and make available information pertaining to the rules and policies of the union.
It is important that Labour union transform itself by introducing changes that will enhance industrial harmony in the country. The union should identify trends in industrial relations to help their members to anticipate and keep abreast of change. This will enhance right conduct and career progression of its members.
Ethics refers to the general ideas or beliefs that influence people’s behavior for the purpose of deciding what is right and wrong. Labour union should imbibe ethics that will ensure industrial harmony in Nigeria. No wonder, Ojonemi et al (2013) posit that ‘the contemporary trade union(labour union) movements must be seen to possess a large scope of coverage, for much is expected of them. This may reflect a change of attitude or perception among labour leaders but it may also signify a general consciousness that the movement has much more to offer the society at large.’ Highlighting on this, Thomas (1999:2) concisely provides that ‘labour movement has continued to acquire a high degree of legitimacy in addressing issues of the wider social agenda.’ of which industrial harmony in Nigeria is a major aspect of the social agenda.
It is Labour union that will motivate men to change the world for man’s peace and security. For men have the power and the will to choose right from wrong. That we have already started by gathering here and we will continue to do.
In conclusion, I thank the leadership of ASUP in this great citadel of learning for promoting the course of unionism. I also congratulate, the Rector and entire management of the institution for being blessed with positive thinking labour union leaders who know their onions in terms of modern-day unionism. Before, I cannot end this speech without making reference to a leadership quote cited in Akinkurolere and Ariyo (2014) as words of advice to leaders of my great union (ASUP), and to all leaders in the country thus:
It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership – Nelson Mandela
With this, Industrial harmony will permeate every nook and cranny of our dear country. Thank you for listening.
Akinkurolere Susan O. and Ariyo K. (2014) ‘Promoting Leadership and Good Governance through Acts of Language: A Speech Act Analysis of Select Extracts in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God’ 2nd International Conference of Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication Studies, Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo. 21st -23rd July 2014.
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