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Socialist Democracy Aug - Sept 2005

 

Workers Right To Belong To Any Union Of Their Choice Is An Inalienable, Fundamental Right � CDWR Chairperson

With the new Trade Unions (Amendment) Acts signed into law by March 2005, some workers hitherto under Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) swiftly moved to another union, National Union of Shops and Distributive Employees (NUSDE). Socialist Democracy (SD) conducted an interview with Rufus Olusesan, Branch Chairman of Kabelmetal union and Chairperson, CDWR, who is the arrow head of movement of workers to NUSDE. Below is the excerpt of the interview.

Socialist Democracy (SD): Your union in Kablemetal and some others formerly in SEWUN have moved to NUSDE. Why?

Answer: Let me state from the onset that workers right to belong to any union of their choice is an inalienable, fundamental right. We left SEWUN in particular because of the ineptitude, corruption and compromising attitude of the leadership of the union. As you may be aware, the purpose of joining union is to protect and advance the interest of members in the union. But of course, reverse is the case with SEWUN. We feel strongly that our continuous stay in SEWUN will not fetch us the much needed progress for our members particularly this period of massive attacks on workers working condition vis-�-vis mass retrenchment, casualisation and contract labour.

SD: Don't you think that you might be called a union breaker being the arrowhead of this movement?

Answer: Like I said, the union leadership is enmeshed in corruption and we felt that the best way to address the problem is to seek clarification from the leadership. Based on this, we wrote the SEWUN leadership a letter dated 4/3/05 titled "Crisis Looms in SEWUN". This letter, in reality, was written to the leadership to fundamentally discuss some allegations levelled against it. Some of these allegations are arbitrary collection of union check-off dues in advance. The union was realizing more than N3m from monthly check-off dues, yet, it could not account for it and still engages in its collection in advance from company managements which implies that if there are issues between workers and management, it is not likely to be on the side of workers. With this kind of situation, it is better not to have a union at all.

For instance, from the Universal Steels Ltd, the SEWUN leadership demanded 3 months check-off dues in advance on its letter dated 5th August 2004 to the Managing Director of the company. On the same month, 9th August, 2004, another letter was written to MD WEMPCO Nig. Ltd by SEWUN demanding N400,000 check-off dues in advance. On 4th October 2004, it requested for N500,000 check-off dues from Universal Steel Ltd. Same 4th October 2004, it requested MD of WEMPCO Nig. Ltd N1m advance check-off dues. Again, same day 4th October 2004, in its letter to MD WAHUM Nig. Ltd, it requested N1m as advance payment of union dues just to mention a few.

In all companies under SEWUN, casualisation is the order of the day and if you call on the union leadership to do something meaningful on this, it turns deaf ear. Between 2001 and 2003, contrary to section 39 of Trade Union Act which states that unions must render their financial account yearly, SEWUN has refused to render an account up till now in spite and despite a letter by Registrar of Trade Union for an account. Even, the account rendered between 1999 and 2002, the financial returns and audited account were rejected by the Registrar of Trade Unions because of inadequacies in it and therefore returned for representation. In a letter dated 8th March, 2004 to SEWUN, Registrar states that: "the filed accounts do not satisfy all the provisions of section 36 and 38 of the Trade Union Act, Cap 437 of 1990". But up till now, SEWUN has not re-presented an account as there is nothing to write.

On the casualisation, SEWUN set up anti-casualisation committee but it is pathetic to note that instead of struggling against casualisation, the committee has been totally ineffective. For instance, in WAHUM, two third (2/3) of the workforce is casual. Equally, Tower Aluminum, where the incumbent National President of SEWUN, Mr. Monday Aguele works, is notorious for engaging workers on casual basis. All attempt to raise all these are silenced by the leadership. Recently in WEMPCO group, 350 permanent staff were retrenched at a stretch while the company is still harbouring more than 1,500 casuals. This retrenchment was carried out on the basis of the agreement signed with SEWUN leadership and the company management.

The SEWUN national leadership went to Eldorado Nig. Ltd to sign an in-house agreement far below national collective agreement signed between Association of Metal Product, Iron and Steel Employers of Nigeria (AMPISEN) and SEWUN. For instance, in the collective agreement, basic salary was put at N5,000 per month, transport N2,500, housing N2,500, annual leave 12% of annual basic salary whereas in Eldorado, basic salary is N3,000, transport allowance N1,540, housing N1,000, while leave allowance was as follows:

Supervisor - N1,200

Foreman - N1,100

Other workers - N1,000

This is far below SEWUN and AMPISEN collective agreement but nothing was done when all these crimes were perpetrated by the leadership of SEWUN.

SD: How do you assess the 2005 Trade Union (Amendment) Act which your movement from SEWUN to NUSDE is based on?

Answer: Firstly, most parts of the 2005 Trade Union (Amendment) Acts are against the interests of the workers. However, Section 12(4) of the Act empowers workers to join any union of their choice if the union they associate with does not protect their interest and advance their cause. With all the aforesaid atrocities amongst others, apart from refusing to intervene on crisis when called upon, our continuous stay in SEWUN is like endangering our interest as our rights are not protected. Hence, we declared our membership for NUSDE.

SD: What is the latest development in issue?

Answer: After our movement to NUSDE, some employers of labour, particularly Galvanising Industry Ltd and Crittal Hope Managements that have been having an unholy romance with SEWUN felt threatened and refuse to recognise NUSDE. Moreover, the attitudes of officials of Federal Ministry of Labour and Registrar of Trade Union show that they have equally compromised. Particularly, the Registrar of Trade Unions, Mr. I.A Fagbemi, a government official who supposes to protect government position on the newly passed Trade Union Acts has been running from one union to another, inciting management not to recognise NUSDE. This is a perfidious act. Those who are to protect government policies/laws are now breaking it. This partly explains why those who felt cheated, short changed have filed an action in court to protect their fundamental right to belong to any trade union of their choice.

SD: What type of Trade Union do we really need in Nigeria?

Answer: We need a vibrant, virile and dynamic union that will always advance the interest of the rank and file members. A union that is genuine and democratically run as against bureaucratic ones we presently have; a union that will be pro-active especially at this period of attacks and assaults on the workers interest and condition. We need a trade union that could initiate a political platform of the working people with a view to capture political power and implement pro-people policies of affordable housing, free and qualitative education and healthcare delivery, job for everybody, good roads, portable water and stable electricity amongst others. In and out of power, this party will fight for the rights and interest of the poor working people and when it eventually gets to power, it will implement programmes that will bring permanent decent lives for the poor. This should be the ultimate goal of a genuine trade union movement we need.

 

 

Socialist Democracy Aug - Sept 2005