Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), in the 40 years of its existence as the umbrella union of the nation’s working class, has come a long way. Founded in 1978 following a merger of four different organisations: Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Labour Unity Front (LUF), United Labour Congress (ULC) and Nigeria Workers Council (NWC),it is designed as a platform upon which workers can stand and articulate their views and positions on issues that relate to their welfare.
In the course of its history, conflicts with the military regimes twice led to the dissolution of the NLC’s national organs, the first in 1988 under the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida and the second in 1994, under the regime of General Sani Abacha. Under Nigeria’s military governments, labour leaders were frequently arrested and union meetings disrupted. Following democratic reforms in the country, some of the anti-union regulations were abolished in January 1999. Today, the NLC has 29 affiliated unions. In total, they gather around four million members, a statistic that makes it one of the largest trade union organisations in Africa. Still, impressive as this may appear to be, workers have continued to groan under repressive policies of their employers and their ineffective leaders.
The plight of the average Nigerian worker has continued to emphasise the urgency required of the congress to take its primary role of pursuing an enhanced welfare status for its members a little more seriously. The workers themselves are conscious of the necessity of coming together to form a unified force against perceived anti-labour policies and actions of employers both in the private and public sectors. But they are bugged down by a leadership that is decidedly corrupt, self-serving and which merely pays lip service to the expectations of those they claim to lead.
In spite of its long walk to this day, for the average Nigerian worker, victory over matters that hamper their strenuous efforts to reap the fruits of their labour seem all but achieved. In those years, workers still contend with such issues that workers elsewhere take for granted like regular payment of salaries, increase in minimum wage to cushion the effects of inflationary trend, integrity of terms of engagement and others that have to do with good governance and workers’ welfare.
As a non-state institution and at 40, it can be said to have come of age and as such ought to be able to rise in defence of the interests of its working and retired members in line with the objectives of its constitution. Though opinions remain divided on the effectiveness of the congress, its major achievement is being just a rallying point for Nigerians who feel oppressed. More will be achieved, in our judgement, if the workers themselves apply good reason in the selection of their leaders. Across the world, labour, especially, its leadership are always at daggers drawn with government and employers in the private sector.
Curiously, in Nigeria, labour leaders are so rich and comfortable as a result of taking undue advantage of the gullibility of the workers themselves and can be easily blackmailed into abandoning the fine points that are essential to the actualisation of the interest of the working class. Yet, the job of fighting for the welfare of workers must be done if they must be saved the wanton exploitation they are forced to experience as a critical factor in the production process.
The NLC, it must be admitted, has served as a mobiliser to sensitise the workforce on matters that relate to their welfare or the absence of it. Spearheading the negotiation of four national minimum wages since 1981, NLC deserves measured commendation for initiating moves that resulted in the provision of minimum pay standard for workers even if this standard is observed more in the breach ostensibly because the leadership can be bought and sold and the incidences of betrayal of workers trust all too glaring.
Even when the standard is applied, with naira devaluation and deregulation, the workers are made to hold the wrong end of the stick. This, in our opinion, makes it imperative for the leadership of the congress to think of other ways of alleviation the yoke workers bear beyond the hype usually associated with the demand for and approval of minimum wage.
It is clear, in our view, that Nigerian workers are not benefitting commensurably from these occasional pay hikes which have made it obvious that pay rise, on its own, is not all what the workers need in an economy that other key indices of national development are skewed against wage earners.
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