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21st June 2004

Campaign for Workers and Democratic Rights

Open Letter to the National Assembly

HANDS OFF NLC

The Campaign for Workers and Democratic Rights (CWDR) condemns, without reservation, the Bill recently sent to the National Assembly by President Olusegun Obasanjo to amend the Trade Union Act. This Bill centrally seeks to further put the trade unions under the control of employers and capitalist state institutions.

We note with grave concern that the proposed amendment is a ploy by the Obasanjo regime to weaken/dismember and balkanize the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) under the guise of liberalising and democratizing the labour movement.

While we concede that there is nothing sacrosanct in maintaining a single central organisation for the labour movement in Nigeria, just as was the case before 1976 when the Obasanjo military dictatorship unilaterally decreed the NLC into existence and proscribed the then existing various labour centres, we equally want to point out that the task of democratizing the NLC or forming other labour centres or central unions is the sole democratic right and decision of the Nigerian worker. Like the experience with the senior staff dominated Trade Union Congress (TUC) from which the Congress of Free Trade Union (CFTU) emerged, the decision to form and organise alternative or other labour centres cannot be taken through the legislature dismemberment of the NLC.

The present move coming on the heels of the denial of such intentions earlier in February 2004, no doubt reflects the growing discomfort of the Obasanjo administration with the role of the NLC in leading the Nigerian masses in opposition to the anti-poor people policies of the regime especially the intermittent increases in the prices of petroleum products.

Contrary to the claims of President Obasanjo that the intention to amend the Trade Union act is in "order to promote the democratization of labour, further strengthen it, enhance choice for all Nigerian workers in the true spirit of the constitution, comply with ILO requirements concerning democratisation in the organisation of labour unions and centres and consolidate the values of accountability and participation", the real intention just as the experiences with the students movement as shown is to weaken/dismember the NLC and outlawing the democratic rights of workers to strike, as and when necessary.

Allowing President Obasanjo to have his way with regards to amending the Trade Union Act is a tinderbox with far reaching consequences many of which we may not be able to enumerate immediately just as the case of the students movement has shown.

The right to decide which union to belong and which to associate with is a fundamental and inalienable right of the Nigerian worker, which the proposed amendment seeks to abridge by transferring such decisions to the minister in charge of each ministry.

What President Obasanjo intends to do is to get the National Assembly to give legality to the abridgement of the right of the Nigerian worker. We call on labour activists and general working masses to put serious pressure on the National Assembly to ensure that the proposed amendments of President Obasanjo is ultimately defeated.

In view of the foregoing, the only democratic option left for the National Assembly is to throw out this obnoxious and undemocratic bill immediately, failing which we will have no option but to come to the conclusion that the National Assembly is an accomplice in the plot to entrench the civilian dictatorship of the present regime and we will be left with no option than to campaign against the bill, its authors and accomplices in the work places, among youth organisations, students, artisans, market women, human rights and civil society organisations.

 

 

Rufus Olusesan Victor Osakwe

Chairman, CWDR Secretary, CWDR