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The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The labor laws provide for both the right to organize and bargain collectively between management and trade unions, and collective bargaining occurred throughout the public sector and the organized private sector. The Labor Minister could refer unresolved disputes to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) and the National Industrial Court (NIC). Union officials questioned the effectiveness of the NIC in view of its inability to resolve various disputes stemming from the Government's failure to fulfill contract provisions for public sector employees. Union leaders criticized the arbitration system's dependence on the Labor Minister's referrals. The Labor Minister made several referrals to the IAP during the year. The IAP and NIC were active; however, both suffered from a lack of resources.
Workers had the right to strike; however, certain essential workers were required to provide advance notice of a strike. A worker under a collective bargaining agreement could not participate in a strike unless his union complied with the requirements of the law, which included provisions for mandatory mediation and for referral of the dispute to the Government. The law allows the Government discretion to refer the matter to a labor conciliator, arbitration panel, board of inquiry, or the NIC. However, in practice the law does not appear to be enforced; strikes, including in the public sector, were widespread.
In January, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced a 6-month strike to protest, among other things, the nonpayment of research allowances and the nonimplementation of an agreement reached in 2001 to re-admit 49 dismissed lecturers of the University of Ilorin who had previously participated in a strike. ASUU suspended the strike on June 18 following the intervention of the IAP.
On March 31, the NLC directed all public sector employees to commence a 3-day warning strike to protest federal government refusal to pay an agreed upon 12.5 percent salary increase (see Section 6.e.). The strike followed the expiration of a 2-week ultimatum. Organizers called off the strike on April 1 after the Government agreed to prepare a supplementary budget the National Assembly to accommodate salary increases.
On June 30, NLC, joined by senior staff associations under the umbrella of the TUC, commenced a nationwide strike action to protest increases in gas prices. In the 10-day national strike, there were 18 confirmed killings of protestors by security forces. Security forces forcibly dispersed several demonstrations, arrested union leaders, and brutalized a journalist in Abuja. The strike was suspended following an agreement reached between government and labor leaders.
During the year, the Medical and Health Workers Union went on strike for 3 days regarding salary increases and payments of other allowances. They reached an agreement with the Ministry of Health, resolving the issue.
The Anambra State Government reached an agreement with public sector unions on the modalities for the payment of outstanding arrears during the year. The Government paid several months arrears; however, salaries were in arrears again at year's end. The state civil service was nearly paralyzed as many workers declined to work until salary arrears were paid.
During the year, smaller strikes continued in the oil sector, particularly in the Niger Delta. The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and its senior staff counterpart Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) were particularly concerned about the increasing use of contract labor and the number of indigenous workers in management positions. On February 15, NUPENG and PENGASSAN branch units in Chevron and Shell staged warning strikes that lasted 5 days to protest an alleged plan to severely cut jobs and replace indigenous employees with third country nationals.
There were no developments in the following 2002 strikes: the January general strike protesting the Government's 15.3 percent fuel price hike; the February police strike demanding payment of 1-year's wage arrears; the May strike by the Nigerian Union of Railwaymen (NUR) over the nonpayment of 3 months' salary; and the July strike by the Lagos State Truck Owners Association, Port Harcourt dockworkers, and Shell (SPDC) contract workers.
There were no laws prohibiting retribution against strikers and strike leaders, but strikers who believed they were victims of unfair retribution could submit their cases to IAP, with the approval of the Labor Ministry. The IAP's decisions were binding on parties but could be appealed to the NIC. In practice the decisions of these bodies infrequently carried the force of law. Union representatives described the arbitration process as cumbersome and time-consuming, and an ineffective deterrent to retribution against strikers.
On October 3, the Inspector-General of Police in Abuja called President of the NLC Adams Oshiomhole in for questioning following a 3-hour meeting in Lagos on how to mobilize against higher fuel prices. Later in the month, as the fuel price crisis deepened, six leaders of the NLC were arrested as they picketed filling stations selling gasoline at above the official price. The leaders were detained and refused bail for 1 week.
The Government retained broad legal authority over labor matters and often intervened in disputes seen to challenge key political or economic objectives. However, during the year, the NLC increasingly spoke out on economic reform, fuel price deregulation, privatization, globalization, tariffs, corruption, contract workers, and political issues.
EPZs in Calabar, Cross River State, and Onne Port, Rivers State, operated during the year. Workers and employers in these zones were subject to national labor laws, which provided for a 10-year amnesty on trade unions, strikes, or lockouts following the commencement of operations within a zone. In addition, the law allows the EPZ Authority to handle the resolution of disputes between employers and employees instead of workers' organizations or unions. The ILO has criticized the EPZ Decree for not allowing any unauthorized person to enter any EPZ consequently making it very difficult for workers to form or join trade unions since union representatives are not allowed access.
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