Do you want to know more about the meaning and history of the Trade Union in Nigeria? Then, this write-up is for you; happy reading!
The trade union, also referred to as a labour union, can be described as an association of workers in a particular trade, industry, or company created mainly to secure improvements in pay, benefits, working conditions, or social and political status through collective bargaining as it is generally believed that it’s achievable individually but more achievable collectively.
Let’s trace the history of trade union in Nigeria
History of Trade Union in Nigeria
Trade unionism (also called organized labour) as an organized movement, originated in the 19th century in Great Britain, continental Europe, and the United States. In many countries, trade unionism is synonymous with the term labour movement. Smaller associations of workers started appearing in Britain in the 18th century, but they remained sporadic and short-lived through most of the 19th century, probably because of the hostility they encountered from employers and government groups that resented this new form of political and economic activism. At that time, unions and unionists were regularly prosecuted under various restraint-of-trade and conspiracy statutes in both Britain and the United States.
While union organizers in both countries faced similar obstacles, their approaches evolved quite differently: the British movement favoured political activism, which led to the formation of the Labour Party in 1906, while American unions pursued collective bargaining as a means of winning economic gains for their workers.
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Before the coming of the colonial masters, organizations of people that engaged in craft or trade have existed in Nigeria; these organizations could be referred to as trade unions because they were organized to regulate trade practices, offer mutual aid and fix prices –wages- for their services; such organizations included organizations of hunters, blacksmiths, carvers, and weavers as at then. These organisations consisted of tradesmen and their children or other blood relatives -usually sons-, there were no employment contracts as known today as the children learned the trades and took over from their fathers.
The functions of these organizations some of which still existed today in the villages included: settling disputes, regulating of the relationship between tradesmen, fixing prices and organizing the payment of tribute to the Oba – the King.
Organised trade unions otherwise referred to as labour movement officially started on Monday 19 August 1912 in Nigeria when workers in the then civil service organised themselves into trade unions as was done in Sierra Leone.
One Mr Henry Libert, a Sierra Leonean summoned a meeting of about thirty-three indigenous workers, and by the fifth meeting on 15 November 1912 after advice was received from Sierra Leone, the aim of the union was decided and this was to promote the welfare and interests of the indigenous workers of the Nigerian Civil Service. It was known then as the Civil Service British Workers Union but later changed to the Nigerian Civil Service Union shortly before independence.
It remained an exclusive union of Africans of 1st class workers until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. This brought about an astronomical rise in the cost of living and the union had to seek the support of other workers outside the 1st class to agitate for a 30% increase in basic salaries as the war bonus which was granted by the colonial administrators.
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The union later discussed other grievances which included: discrimination in salary, scale in favour of Europeans against African workers performing the same jobs, and the abolition of the ‘frequent imposition of fines as a measure of discipline’.
With the passing of the Nigerian Trade Union Ordinance in 1938, the numbers of registered trade unions, as well as memberships, increased massively; for example, in 1940 only 14 unions were registered with 4,629 members but by 1944 this had increased to 91 registered unions with over thirty thousand members.
By 1975, under the military regime of General Murtala Muhamed one thousand trade unions were registered. That same year (1975), his government established a Commission of Inquiry to look into the past activities of the unions. Administrators were appointed to manage the unions as the unions were polarized and ideologically divided therefore creating labour problems for the country.
The unions were restructured into 42 along industrial lines and a Labour centre was created. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) was created in 1978 and the 42 industrial unions became affiliates. This was given legal backing through the Trade Union Decree. In 1989, the trade union was restructured again with 29 industrial unions affiliated to NLC through the Trade Union (Amendment) Decree 22 of 1978. However, the workers continued multiplying their union.
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Structure of Trade Union in Nigeria
The structure of Trade unions in Nigeria refers to the basis on which they were organized, be it, staff, industrial, craft or general union basis. The structure of Trade unions can also be based on the history of its formation, its membership and coverage. For instance, the Nigeria Union of Journalists is a professional union and only those qualified can belong to the union unlike the Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Union of Nigeria which is a general union. The unions of different countries however have different lines of trade union depending upon socio-economic compulsions of industrialization and political and economic factors. The structure and types of trade unions differ from one country to another even from industry to industry within the same country. Nevertheless, the trade union can be classified on the following basis:
Conclusion: History of Trade Union in Nigeria
The introduction of trade union and trade unionism to Nigeria has been problematic mainly because the practice was well established based on the socio-cultural realities of the people in the territories that later merged to become Nigeria before the coming of the British colonialists. The fact that an organised trade union in Nigeria was initiated by a ‘foreigner’, Mr Henry Libert in August 1912, suggests that Nigerians would have preferred to cling to their ‘ethnic trade unionism.’ We can therefore conclude that socio-cultural factors were and still are important in trade union and trade unionism in Nigeria. However, Trade Unions play a vital role in helping their members achieve desired notions, hence the importance can’t be over-emphasized!
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