The decision of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment to split the pension union into three different unions has pitched the government against organised labour and pensioners in the country.
Acting on a petition to the President against the decision which was taken in the last days of the former Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, The Nation can report that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation wrote the Ministry demanding explanation as to why the union should be split into three.
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba also wrote the SGF informing him that the decision to create two new unions out of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners was a violation of the laws of the land which stipulates that no new union shall be registered to represent workers where a union already exist.
In his response to the letter from the SGF, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, William Alo said the former Minister acted based on the powers conferred on him by the Trade Union Act.
Alo said the Ministry has overtime received applications from different interest groups seeking to register other trade unions of retirees who fall under the jurisdictional scope of Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP).
The Permanent Secretary conceded the fact that “Part B of the Third Schedule of the Trade Unions Act CAP T.14 (LFN) stipulates the jurisdictional scope of the NUP as covering “all Pensioners from me civil service of the Federation Including Local government salutary corporations , government-owned companies, educational institutions for which the Government of the Federation is responsible. All such similar establishments. Also private sector pensioners.”
He argued that “the reasons adduced for the agitation that other unions should be carved out of the NUP included amongst others; alleged structural defects with particular focus on the State and Local Government pensioners, lopsidedness In the appointment of national leaders, aged/dysfunctlonal leadership, lack of accountability, general inefficiency and failure to effectively represent the interest of its teeming members.
“Sequel to the above, It became evident to the Ministry that the NUP as the only existing trade union for pensioners had become too big and could no longer cope with the burden of catering for all retirees In the country.
“The then Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, pursuant to me powers vested on him by the provisions of Section 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act CAP. T14 (LFN) 2004 which states that the Honourable Minister on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the union either by regrouping existing trade unions.
“Arising from the need of the Ministry to holistically look at the extant labour laws with the objective of enhancing continued stability, viability, including adequate coverage of the vulnerable groups of retirees as part of constitutional requirements, the then Honourable Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige constituted a 6-Man Technical Working Committee (TWC) to look into the possibility of regrouping the NUP with a view to address the Issues raised by the different groups.”
He informed that with the new registration, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners: Federal CIVII Service defined, State and Local Government pensioners, Federal Tertiary Institutions and State Tertiary Institution pensioners; Association of Retired Public Servants of Nigeria: Federal Parastatals, State Parastatals pensioners, Electricity Sector pensioners and other private sector pensioners and Contributory Pensioners: Federal Contributory Pensioners State Contributory Pensioners , Local Government Contributory pensioners.
But in his own letter to the SGF in response to the letter from the Ministry, NLC President, Ayuba Wabba said the Permanent Secretary was being economical with the truth when he said that the action of the former Minister was to create a union that will be more effective.
Wabba said the Minister has no power to regroup any existing union without tripartite social dialogue, stressing that if new unions are formed because of simple disagreement among members of existing union, the industrial space will be saturated with unions which may be uncontrollable.
He said “Section 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act states that “…no trade union shall be registered to represent workers or employers in a place where there already exists a trade union”. The former Minister of Labour and Employment. yielding to other interests lesser than noble, violated this section of the law by registering other unions where there already existed NUP.
“Similarly, in pursuance/enforcement of the provisions of S. 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act. the Supreme Court held in the cases of Registered trustees of National Association of Community Health Practitioners of Nigeria and 2 Others v. Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria [2008) 2 NWLR [Pt. 1072) 575, and Osawe v. Registrar of Trade Unions (I985) l NWLR (Pt. 4) 755, that new unions cannot be registered where there is an existing union.
“Resort is often had to 5.40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I999 (as amended) (as is the case in annexure ‘A‘ page 3 of 4 para 7 (i) to the Permanent’s letter] as a basis for wanting to create new unions.
“However, we find it necessary to point out that S. 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [ as amended 1 is not absolute but subject to the provisions of $.41 and 5.45 of the Constitution. In other words, the right to freedom of association is only exercisable subject to the fulfilment of the conditions spelt out in Ss. 41 and 45.
“And although a section of S. 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act does state that the Honourable Minister ‘ on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the union either by regrouping existing trade unions…’, this power is not without some conditions as per S. 4(4) TUA which states inter alia. ‘The Registrar shall not register the trade union if it appears to him that any existing trade union is sufficiently representative of the interest of the class of persons whose interest the union is intended to represent.
“The jurisdictional scope of NUP in Part B of the Third Schedule of the Trade Unions Act CAP T.l4 (LFN covers ‘ all pensioners from the civil service of the Federation including Local Governments, Statutory corporations, government-owned companies, educational institutions for which the Government of the Federation is responsible. All such similar establishments. Also private sector pensioners”.
“Clearly, the jurisdictional scope of NUP has never been in doubt, and over the years, it has diligently serviced this constituency in spite of the challenges in the pension sector.
“We therefore do believe it is inappropriate and unlawful to regroup or register new unions in a sector where a union already existed on the basis of a minor dispute arising from an election issue as this will be tantamount to validating vaulting ambition of a select few, driven not by passion for service but filthy lucre and inordinate ambition.
“For instance, one of the promoters of these unions, Temple Ubani is a former unit Chairman at NUP.
“It is also trite knowledge that the Minister cannot unilaterally regroup unions without tripartite social dialogue. Even when there are manifest conditions for regrouping a union, there is a prescribed process that ‘involves the tripartite members.
“This condition was not met. Rather, what we had was a process tele-guided by the Minister in contravention of Convention 144 which harps on tripartite consultations. lt similarly bonders an interference in the internal affairs of the union.”