• Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Needed: A new model for labour unionism in Nigeria (Part 2)

Needed: A new model for labour unionism in Nigeria

The first part of this article made a case for a new model of labour unionism that is more cooperative with employers of labour in order to create a more harmonious and collaborative industrial relations environment conducive to the enhancement of productivity and economic growth with overall benefits to employees, employers, government, an and the entire populace. However, there is a need for more clarity of thought on the concept of ‘model of trade or labour unionism’ and some more details on the need and benefits of a new or revised model of labour unionism for an evolving democracy and an emerging economy like Nigeria’s. I will be using trade unions and labour unions interchangeably to mean the same thing.

By a ‘model of labour unionism,’ I essential mean the ‘the organising model’ of labour unionism, which is an encompassing concept that broadly includes how labour unions go about recruiting, operating, and advancing the interests of members, building strong networks across industrial unions within the workforce and across industrial unions, and employing confrontational campaigns to mobilise large numbers of union members. My advocacy for a new model of labour unionism in Nigeria is largely predicated upon the need for a change from confrontational campaigns, which is admittedly a strategy associated with the evolution of trade unionism in Europe during the Industrial Revolution and beyond.

Q: “Nigeria must evolve a new model of labour unionism that fits its own economic, political, and social realities.”

Every country develops its trade or labour unionism along the path of its historical, political, and economic evolution. The evolution of labour unionism in Nigeria has been significantly influenced by our colonial experience, specifically along the path of trade unionism in the United Kingdom, which, as I said in my article last week, was highly confrontational and influenced by socialism and class stratification in the United Kingdom. However, that has significantly changed since the Margaret Thatcher era.

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On the other hand, industrial relations in France have remained typically confrontational, with a strong socialist influence both in French politics and the labour movement. The government foots the bill for labour unions, and strikes are rampant. For example, days not worked due to industrial action per 1000 workers in France in 2018 were 113. This contrasts sharply with Sweden, which had just one day of work not worked per 1000 workers in 2022. Sweden had one of the highest labour strikes in the world until the 1930s, when a policy of cooperation replaced confrontational policies. Similarly, the harsh labour disputes of the 1950s and 1960s in Japan have been replaced with those of collaboration and cooperation. The organising unit of trade unionism in Japan is the ‘company’ rather than the industry, occupation, or region. The basic model is based on discussion between labour and management. Seldom do labour unions engage in labour-management negotiations based on positions of conflicting interests. This is partly what has given Japanese companies a competitive edge globally.

It has become imperative that Nigeria adopt a new model of labour unionism under a vibrant democracy and a free enterprise economy that recognises the primacy of labour as a critical factor in production and accords it its due reward, including the right to unionise and to collective bargaining to ensure fair and adequate wages commensurate with the level of productivity, among other factors, while at the same time creating a new atmosphere of cordiality, collaboration, and cooperation between the labour movement, employers of labour, and the government.

Reasons why we need a new model of labour unionism in Nigeria include the following:

To improve the industrial relations climate in Nigeria

To grow the economy at a double-digit rate, which is achievable.

To stem the tide of exit by foreign companies and encourage new foreign investments.

To embrace necessary economic reforms that will grow the economy.

To take into cognizance the changing structure of the Nigerian economy, which is now primarily service-driven with an emerging digital economy, and the impact of the 4th industrial revolution on the workplace

To protect the jobs of a dwindling formal sector labour force

Nigeria must evolve a new model of labour unionism that fits its own economic, political, and social realities. It should be part of our collective effort to build a new Nigerian democracy based on equity, justice, economic growth, and prosperity that serves the interests of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. The clamour for a new political order that is accountable and economic growth-oriented must also include a strong necessity for an equally accountable labour movement that is committed to the welfare of its members while seeking to achieve its objectives in a collaborative partnership with employers of labour and government.

Currently, poor infrastructure and high levels of economic instability are key factors driving the exit, even exodus, of major multinational firms from Nigeria. Labour movement antagonism and the abrasive style of the labour-employer relationship must not become another factor driving away investors. It is hoped that our labour leaders used the opportunity of attending the just concluded International Labour Organisation conference to compare notes with labour leaders from all over the world to reform their style of leadership.

Nigeria’s labour leaders should realise that they are not just labour leaders but key managers of the economy whose leadership style has far-reaching implications for the growth and health of the Nigerian economy. They therefore require the best education, training, and exposure they can get to equip them for the challenges ahead. Remodelling labour unionism in Nigeria will require the willingness of labour leaders, the support of employers of labour, the government, and other stakeholders interested in reinventing industrial relations in Nigeria to the maximum benefit of all.