Fed Govt, Labour disagree on registration of new pension unions

The decision of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment to split the pension union into three has pitched the government against organised labour and pensioners, it has been learnt.

Acting on a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari against the decision taken in the last days of the immediate past Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, it was reported that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) wrote the ministry, demanding explanation on why the union should be split into three.

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba also wrote the SGF, informing him that the decision to create two new unions out of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) was a violation of the laws of the land which stipulate that no new union shall be registered to represent workers where a union already exists.

Responding to the letter from the SGF, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, William Alo, said Ngige’s action was based on the powers conferred on him by the Trade Union Act.

Alo said the ministry had received applications from different interest groups seeking to register other trade unions of retirees who fall under the jurisdictional scope of the NUP.

The permanent secretary conceded that “Part B of the Third Schedule of the Trade Unions Act CAP T.14 (LFN) stipulates the jurisdictional scope of the NUP covers all pensioners from me civil service of the Federation, including local government salutary corporations, government-owned companies, educational institutions for which the government of the Federation is responsible; all such similar establishments, also private sector pensioners”.

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He said: “The reasons adduced for the agitation that other unions should be carved out of the NUP included, amongst others, alleged structural defects with particular focus on the state and local government pensioners, lop-sidedness in the appointment of national leaders, aged/dysfunctional leadership, lack of accountability, general inefficiency and failure to effectively represent the interest of its teeming members.

“Sequel to the above, it became evident to the ministry that the NUP, as the only existing trade union for pensioners, had become too big and could no longer cope with the burden of catering for all retirees in the country.

“The then Minister of Labour and Employment, pursuant to the powers vested on him by the provisions of Section 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act, CAP. T14 (LFN) 2004, which states that the minister on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the union either by regrouping existing trade unions …decided to regroup the NUP and create other unions for retirees with a view to making the unions more effective, considering the myriad of complaints from members against the size and the leadership style of the NUP.

“Arising from the need of the ministry to holistically look at the extant labour laws with the objective of enhancing continued stability, viability, including adequate coverage of the vulnerable groups of retirees as part of constitutional requirements, Dr. Ngige constituted a six-man Technical Working Committee (TWC) to look into the possibility of regrouping the NUP with a view to addressing the issues raised by the different groups.”

Alo explained that with the new registration, the NUP, Federal Civil Service defined, state and local government pensioners, Federal tertiary institutions and state tertiary institution pensioners, Association of Retired Public Servants of Nigeria, Federal corporations, state corporations pensioners, Electricity sector pensioners and other private sector pensioners and contributory pensioners, Federal contributory pensioners, state contributory pensioners, local government contributory pensioners are redefined.

But in his letter to the SGF in response to the letter from the Ministry, Wabba said the Permanent Secretary was being economical with the truth when he said that Ngige’s action was to create a union that would be more effective.

He said: “Section 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act states that ‘…no trade union shall be registered to represent workers or employers in a place where there already exists a trade union’. The former Minister of Labour and Employment, yielding to other interests lesser than noble, violated this section of the law by registering other unions where there already existed the NUP.

“Similarly, pursuant to/enforcement of the provisions of S. 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act, the Supreme Court held in the cases of registered trustees of National Association of Community Health Practitioners of Nigeria and Two Others v. Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria [2008) 2 NWLR [Pt. 1072) 575, and Osawe v. Registrar of Trade Unions (I985) l NWLR (Pt. 4) 755, that new unions cannot be registered where there is an existing union.

“Resort is often had to S.40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I999 (as amended) (as is the case in annexure ‘A‘ Page 3 of 4 para 7 (i) to the Permanent Secretary’s letter) as a basis for wanting to create new unions.

“However, we find it necessary to point out that S.40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [as amended) is not absolute but subject to the provisions of S.41 and S.45 of the Constitution. In other words, the right to freedom of association is only exercisable subject to the fulfilment of the conditions spelt out in Ss. 41 and 45.

“And although a sub-section of S. 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act does state that the Honourable Minister ‘on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the union either by regrouping existing trade unions…’ This power is not without some conditions as per S. 4(4) TUA, which states inter alia: ‘The Registrar shall not register the trade union if it appears to him that any existing trade union is sufficiently representative of the interest of the class of persons whose interest the union is intended to represent.

“The jurisdictional scope of NUP in Part B of the Third Schedule of the Trade Unions Act CAP T.l4 (LFN covers ‘all pensioners from the civil service of the Federation, including local governments, statutory corporations, government-owned companies, educational institutions for which the Government of the Federation is responsible; all such similar establishments, also private sector pensioners’.

“Clearly, the jurisdictional scope of NUP has never been in doubt, and over the years, it has diligently serviced this constituency, in spite of the challenges in the Pension sector.

“We, therefore, do believe it is inappropriate and unlawful to regroup or register new unions in a sector where a union already existed on the basis of a minor dispute arising from an election issue. This will be tantamount to validating vaulting ambition of a select few, driven not by passion for service but filthy lucre and inordinate ambition.

“For instance, one of the promoters of these unions, Temple Ubani, is a former unit chairman at NUP…”

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