In Nigeria, the federal government, as the largest single employer of labour, plays a dual role in the industrial relations practice in the country. This study is an attempt to find out through interviews the contributions of major Trade Unions on the New democratic dispensation in Nigeria in ameliorating the problems of workers in Enugu State.
This paper examines the various contending labour problems in Enugu State from 2000 – 2009. Also, the various recognition, prohibition, and proscription of Trade Unions by both the federal government and state governments. The study will also focus on the strategies and processes of collective bargaining in Enugu State.
The result showed that, there have been some cordial relationships between Trade Unions and some successive governments in the state. And that, Trade Unionism in Enugu State has gone a milestone in ameliorating the problems of workers in the state between 2000 – 2009.
Finally, this paper suggested some measures to help maintain cordial and harmonious relationship between Trade Unions and government in the state.




Generally, a trade union is an organization of workers who are banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. Trade unions according to Ekanem and Iyoha, (2004) are “associations of workers who seek to attain some acceptable balance of increased wage – employment, improved conditions of service and efforts to curb government hostile decisions”. It does this through collective bargaining and strike or threat to strike. It is apparent that, the influence and power of the Nigeria Trade Unions for good or ill should not be underestimated (Ekekwe, 2000), since their activities are capable of holding the economy (socio-economic stability) to ransom. In the words of Yesufu (2001), “Trade Union through it‟s leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members (rank and file members) and negotiates labour contracts (collective bargaining) with employers”. This may include, the negotiation of wages, work rules, compliant procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies.
According to Richardson (2000: 5), a trade union is a continuous association of manual or non- manual workers including professionals formed to achieve such objectives as the safeguard and improvement of the working conditions of workers, promotion of their vocational interests and, not quite often, changing the economy and political institutions of the country for better. These explanations by Richardson emphasis, permanence or continuity which means that for an association of workers to be called a trade union, it must be permanent and not just an ad-hoc conglomeration of the workers of a plant or industry for the achievement of a particular objective.

Adam Smith, the 18th century economist noted imbalance in the rights of workers in regards to owners (or “masters”). In his Book “The wealth of nations” chapter 8, Smith wrote “we rarely hear, of the combination of masters, especially those of workmen. But whoever imagines upon this account that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but in constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate”. As Smith noted, unions were illegal for many years in most countries and there were severe penalties including execution for attempting to organize unions. Despite this, unions were formed and began to acquire political power which resulted in a body of labour law that not only legalized organizing efforts, but as well codified the relationship between employers and employees. Even after the legitimization of trade unions, there was still opposition, as the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs of 2002 shows.
Leeson R. A. (2005:1) of United States of America said “TWO conflicting views of the trade union movement strove for ascendancy in the nineteenth century”. This is because collective bargaining goes to the heart of employee relation‟s problems and power. Whoever has the power to fire an employee in performance evaluation has the power to affect significant human needs. Some employers have hired and given employees reasonable jobs, compensated them well, respected their dignity and retired them after rewarding careers. In Nigeria, employees are represented by the National Labour Congress (an umbrella organization for all trade unions and labour association).

In the United States of America, employees are represented by the American federation of labour congress of industrial organization (AFL – CIO). In most countries, it is expected that officials in the public service should not go on strike in the same way as the employees of private sector organization. There are some rules in some countries especially Nigeria which prevent certain categories of public servants from going on strike because, they perform essential services. For example, for the first in the history of Nigeria, the Nigerian police embarked on a one day strike in the year 2003.
Another important issue in the public sector is the co-existence of collective bargaining with specific procedures established to regulate the relationship between the state and it‟s appointed officials.


In Nigeria for example, the teaching service and most parastatals use the machinery of collective bargaining, while the civil servants rely on the National Council on Establishments (N.C.E). Ojeli D.C. (2001:5) opined that, “whatever roles the Nigeria Trade Unions should play, one thing is certain, and that is, that their primary function is to regulate and thus improve the worker‟s salaries/wages and conditions of employment. All other activities trade unions have undertaken and all other purposes which they have acquired should be regarded as a bi-product and auxiliary to their major purpose and activity”. Friendland P.C. (2000:20) recorded president Julius Nyerere‟s argument in these words that, “while it was one of the purposes of trade unions to ensure for workers‟ fair share of the profit of their labour, this “fair” share must be fair in relation to the whole society, but if it was greater than the country could afford, then it was not a fair shares”. Roseberg (2001) holds the view of African unions as that: “African unions must perform a substantially varied roles from their western counterparts which perform exclusively “consumptionists” function”. That is, they bear a major responsibility for increasing the economic output while accepting conditions of austerity and (SAP) so that, the entire society may benefit. Amucheazi, (1999:85) goes further to enunciate the functions of Trade Unions as follows:
1. Observing self-imposed wage restraint at all levels.
2. Educating their members to give up extra spend thrifts habits of the working class.
3. Encouraging small savings among the classes.
4. Increasing labour productivity through propaganda.
5. Settling the differences through the legally instituted machinery based on the principles of conciliation and/or arbitration
6. Helping the displaced labour, thrown out of employment as a result of rationalization by inducing them to take training in the new skills in the institutions set up by the government.
7. Initiating co-operative action in the enforcement of minimum wages.
8. Inducing the labour class to effectively participate in social security and provident fund schemes and
9. Sharing the profits on an acceptable basis which while, apportioning a significant percentage of profit of labour will leave significant incentive to the management to plough the profits back into the industries or institutions they own.
The economic implication of such trade union behaviour, Amucheazi continues are two folds; to restrict consumption and to bring about an increase in the desired level of production. But given a peculiar circumstance as a nation, the question now is, what roles have the trade unions played in the development process since their various formations.
History has it that, before the advent of trade unionism in Nigeria, there already existed some workers association which could not be strictly called trade unions. These include crafts and professional trades which were called African guides and crafts Association. It is a common belief that the modern trade unions emerged from them. Roper (2002) posits that, there was a sharp decline of guilds with the emergence of the trade unions. The major difference between what is called the trade unions today and the associations is that, the African guild and craft association was formed, to take care of the needs of workers viz; borrowing and lending money, tools and other items and also visiting members either for social reasons; illness or any other misfortune. One very important issue that form the fulcrum of industrial relations as a subject is collective bargaining activities which aim to address better conditions of workers well being.

However, the subject industrial relations include other areas of relationship that are unstructured or informal. Typical of this is the study of personal, interpersonal behaviour within the organization industrial relations is therefore not limited to unionized work organizations. It covered what also happened in un-unionised organizations as well. Industrial relations, thus have been defined in various ways by scholars in this field according to their philosophical outlook of society.
Dunlop, A. C. (2000) in his book Trade Union systems defines Trade Unions as the network of rules which govern the workplace and the work
community that vary overtime. This definition includes the character of the rules, the manner in which they are formulated and administered or altered. In the same vain, Flanders look at Trade unions as a study of institution of job regulation. Like Dunlop, he focuses on Trade unions as a system of rules. In essence, Dunlop and Flander anchored their understanding of Trade Unions and collective bargaining on rules such as legislation, statutory orders, trade union regulations, collective agreements, arbitration awards, social conventions, managerial decisions, and accepted “custom and practice” (Hyman R. 2006).
Clegg (2002) on his own part tends to define Trade Union from the impact the informal work group, including the unofficial custom and practices; have in controlling many aspects of the organization of the organization of work as employment. One good example that is related to this definition is the situation in Japan where industry is established along family line. It is therefore believed that, this personal attachment is the source of less industrial conflict among workers and employers in Japan. Even though Clegg‟s definition differ a bit from Dunlop and Flander in form, for being based on unstructured or informal premise, in essence, they share a lot in common since custom itself, even though informal, serves as checks and balances and has become a very important component parts of societal rules, norms and regulations.

The situation in early Nigerian Trade Unions in the 50‟s and up to early 70‟s when factionalisation on ideological basis influenced both the conservatives and the radical unions to support the struggle of the workers so as to gain the support of rank and file workers was a good example of such unofficial custom and practice in Trade Unionism. More often than not, such competition and rivalry between both factions were ready source of industrial crisis against management.
The above definitions of Trade Unions have been criticized from Marxist point of view for only responding to the effects of industrial crisis. Marxist criticism against these scholars hinged on narrowing their definitions on rules, regulations and institutions which aim to regulate and maintain cordial relationship among the parties in industrial relations. Marxists therefore contend that this opinion, are conditional responses that emanated from the struggle going on within the parties. Sometimes, these struggles might be subtle and at times, open.

Taking such rules, regulations and institutions as the concrete content of Trade Unions, Marxists therefore contend that, this amount to reducing Trade Unions to the study of effects of relationship among parties without concern for the proximate cause of such relationship. It is on this basis that Marxist theorist, Richard Hyman (1999) for instance, in analyzing Trade Unions, advanced the position that, Trade Unions should take into consideration the processes of control over work relations that will involve both job regulation – collective organization and action. In defining Trade Unions therefore, Marxists take in cognizance the existence of contradictory processes and focus and insists that in the study of Trade Unions, should be placed on the same pedestal.

Hence equal priority should be given to the sources and consequences of industrial conflict. Marxist methodology in general as in industrial relations focuses on the property relationships that exist in class society. It pointed out the capitalist character of the economies of Western Europe, North America and Japan where Trade Unionism and industrial relations originated. Nevertheless, the development industrial Relations vary from one country to another. In the case of Japan, it is largely influenced by culture, while that of USA and Western Europe developed thorough statutory law/legal precedents) and legislation (Acts of parliament) respectively.

The different paths that development of Trade Unions took in the Western world is historically determined by how capitalism developed in these developed advanced capitalist countries. This necessitated Marx K. (1977: 67 – 72) position that the ruling ideas of each age have always been the ideas of its ruling class and that man‟s consciousness changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life.
In Nigeria, the practice of industrial relations was a period when management of industry started being complex as against the old way in a traditional society, where relationship was simple‟ and carried out on a personal and interpersonal levels. Even though what is now known as Trade Unionism did and early 20th century essentially before then, it had been studied in earlier works that can be categorized under such discipline as political economy (i.e. economics), history and sociology. Such works that will ever be remembered in history where industrial relations crystalised are: Karl Marx capital (3 volumes) 1887) and Frederick Engels Treatise. “THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND” (1844).


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