The Federal Government, on Tuesday, pleaded with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, to stop its opposition to the registration of two new academic unions in the Nigerian public university system.
Recall that the new unions – the Congress for Nigerian University Academics, CONUA, and the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Academics, NAMDA – received letters of recognition recently during a ceremony at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in Abuja.
However, the Head, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, quoted a letter to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, by the President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, which demanded the withdrawal of the letters issued the new unions, on the grounds that their registration contravened the laws guiding trade unionism.
In the reply letter dated October 12, 2022, Ngige appealed to NLC to allow the new unions to exist in the spirit of Freedom of Association, insisting that the Trade Dispute Act 2004 gives him the sole power to register new trade unions, either by registering a new union or regrouping existing ones.
The minister reiterated that the new unions were offshoots or by-products of regrouping and their applications were considered by two committees of his ministry, with the Registrar of Trade Unions participating when the first recommendation for approval was given in 2019, and again in 2022.
He explained that CONUA and NAMDA were regrouped from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), for efficiency and effectiveness in the system and more importantly, to protect these groups of university teachers whose worldview differs from the restive parent union.
Ngige said: “President, do not unnecessarily oppose the registration of these new academic unions because, with ASUU, they are all like seeds on the academic soil of Nigeria and which will grow into big trees we don’t know.
“But the one which her trees are not bearing good fruits, we already know.
“So, as an uncle of the unions, oppose none in the spirit of Freedom of Association.
“It should be noted that Section 3 (2) of the Trade Dispute Act, CAP T14 gives the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, the sole power to register new trade unions, either by registering new trade unions or regrouping existing ones.
“This matter was a subject of litigation in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) in the most recent case which the President of the NLC failed to mention in his narration of court cases.
“It was the case of the Nigerian Union of Pensions (NUP) and the regrouped Federal Parastatals & Private Sector Pensioners Association of Nigeria (FEPPAN) from NUP, where the Law on Regrouping of Trade Unions was extensively explored and ruled upon unlike the cases cited by the President of the NLC to misinform the general public and unfortunately lead astray his affiliate Trade Union – ASUU.”
He recalled that the NICN in Suit no. NICN/ABJ/219/2019, buttressed its earlier ruling on the matter and which had stated inter alia that the power to register trade unions resides with the Minister of Labour and Employment.
According to the Minister, the “last segment of Section 3(2) does not refer to the regrouping of existing trade unions, hence, the differentiation within the section between registering a new trade union and regrouping existing ones.
“We note your reference to Section 5 of the same Act, which deals with the ‘Procedure on receipt of the application for registration- of a Trade Union.
“Section 5(4) in particular states that the Registrar shall not register a trade union if it appears to him that any existing trade union is sufficiently representative of the interests of the class of workers concerned – CONUA members were ostracised and de-unionised by ASUU.”