It is very common to hear an employee say, ‘’I have freedom of association. Yes, you do. Every employee does. However, do you, as an employee, know what freedom of association entails and its extent? Do you know that the said freedom of association also applies to the employer?
Every employee needs to know that freedom of association is provided for by the International Law Organization treaty ‘’Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)’’
The treaty has 21 articles, divided into Parts I to IV. Part I contains the freedom of association from articles 1 to 10. Part II, which contains only article 11, protects the rights of employers and employees to organize by providing that each member of the International Labour Organization for which the convention applies undertakes to take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that workers and employers may exercise freely the right to organize.
Part III, which contains articles 12 and 13, provides for the extent of application of the convention by each member state of the ILO and the communication of such territorial coverage of the treaty. Part IV has articles 14 to 21 focusing on the communication of the formal ratifications of the convention to the Director-General of the International Labour Office for registration.
It extends to the rights of a member state that has ratified to denounce it after the expiration of ten years from the date on which the convention first came into force by an act communicated to the Director-General of the International Labour Office for registration. The duties of the Director-General of the International Labour Office are to notify all members of the International Labour Organization of the registration of all ratifications, declarations, and denunciations communicated to him by the members of the organization. Duties of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office and General Conference. The English and French versions of the text of the convention are equally authoritative.
Freedom of association applies to both employers and employees. The rights referred to and provided for under the said treaty extend to both employers and employees against a government and national authority. Once the treaty was ratified on the 17th October 1960 by Nigeria, it became binding, enforceable, and still in force in Nigeria.
The provisions of the treaty have been considered in some Nigerian municipal laws, like the Labour Act and the Nigerian Constitution. Freedom of association implies that;
1. Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, to join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization.
2. Workers’ and employers’ organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.
3. The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.
4. Workers’ and employers’ organisations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.
5. Workers’ and employers’ organisations shall have the right to establish and join federations and confederations and any such organisation, federation or confederation shall have the right to affiliate with international organisations of workers and employers.
6. The acquisition of legal personality by workers’ and employers’ organisations, federations and confederations shall not be made subject to conditions of such a character as to restrict the application of the rights above
7. In exercising the rights provided for in the convention workers and employers and their respective organisations, like other persons or organised collectivities, shall respect the law of the land.
8. The law of the land shall not be such as to impair, nor shall it be so applied as to impair, the guarantees provided for in the convention.
9. The extent to which the guarantees provided for in the convention shall apply to the armed forces and the police shall be determined by national laws or regulations.
10. The term ‘’organisation’’ means any organization of workers or employers for furthering and defending the interests of workers or employers.
A careful reading of the relevant provisions of the treaty reproduced above shows clearly that an employer equally has the right to freely associate and organise as much as employees. Freedom of association is not an exclusive right of employees alone.