THE PRACTICE OF TRADE UNIONISM AND THE IMPROVEMENT 0F ECONOMIC WORKING CONDITIONS IN NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF THE NATIONAL UNION OF TEXTILE, GARMENT AND TAILORING WORKERS OF NIGERIA, KADUNA
1.0 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The human element in the place of work makes the difference between man and any beast of burden or automation. This informs the emergence of Industrial or Labour Relations as a field of study and area of practice. Labour Relations is a fascinating subject, for it is about people and about people in the world of work. This world covers a vast range of types of production activities carried out in diverse surroundings in every country. The terms and conditions governing people at work, and the way these are arrived at, are the core of Labour Relations, and they are actually of crucial concern to the people involved. It is they who are not just close to the actions but immersed in it.
However, it is not only employees and managers “in a textile mill” who have interest in Labour Relations. The government of the country has an important stake, in part because it is an employer in its own right, also because it is the custodian of the public interest in Labour Relations policies and practices. “We associate Industrial Relations with the spread of industrialism, a process which began in Britain in the eighteenth century, with the first industrial revolution. It is topical, practical, and involves studying the working behaviours of a very large proportion of the people in any country, namely the labour force” (Johnson, 1983).
The issues of Labour Relations tend to shift from the question of the size and share of the proceeds of output to one of decision making:What and how much to produce, who to employ and dismiss, what benefits to institute, and who shall partake thereof. The problem is who shall make these decisions and how? Labour Relations is fundamentally concerned with the complex of power relationships and power sharing, economic and other decisions which affect or emanate from employment, conditions of employment and remuneration – between management, the employees (Trade union) and the state. “The central issue of Labour Relations is how to attain and maintain optimum level of productive efficiency and how to share the economic returns” (Yesufu, 1984).
In most organizations the sharing of the economic returns do not adequately reflect the contributions of the employees, simply because the managements in such organizations are usually obsessed with the development of the organization than that of the employees. This has had adverse economic effect on employees’ standard of living in a typical African country like Nigeria. “Workers throughout the world particularly in Africa, contributed immensely to the attainment of independence in their countries. But today, the greatest struggle is the eradication or alleviation of poverty, which recently became the campaign of halving global poverty level by 2050” (The Textile Worker, May 2005). A good economic working condition will make a good employee and consequently better output. One important way of achieving this is by wage supplements, that is, fringe benefits.
1.1 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Fringe benefits have become an important part of the total compensation of wage-earners. “These fringe benefits include those provided by law, those unilaterally introduced by employers and those obtained by unions through collective bargaining” (Rees, 1962:66). A labour union represents its members in negotiations with an employer over all aspects of an employment contract including wages and working conditions. These contract negotiations are known as collective bargaining. Where employees are represented by a union, the employer’s obligation to bargain has been interpreted by the courts to extend to fringe benefits as well as wages. By giving employees a united voice, a union can often negotiate better fringe benefits than individual employees can negotiate on their on. In the contemporary Nigerian economic society, fringe benefits are important in ensuring better income distribution for the employees.
Now, if wages are defined (as they usually are) as per hour paid for and not per hour worked, then fringe benefits include payments for time not worked. These include vacation, food subsidy and medical facilities, annual leave, maternity leave, gratuity and retirement, et cetera. Such fringe benefits should actually satisfy real needs. They are expected to be widely applied in the organization and there should be effective communication in educating employees concerning the fringe benefits.
However, one type of the general fringe benefits that has assisted the textile employee in coping with the impacts of the economic crisis on income more than any is perhaps the annual bonus. There has been consistent struggles by the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN) to see that its branch executives secure as much annual bonus as possible. “In the 1990s, bonuses had become an active issue in collective bargaining” (Aremu, 2001:38)
Bonuses have regularly been won by the union for its members, that is, the textile employees. But how far these have gone in improving the economic condition of its members is the concern of this study.
1.2 THE RESEARCH QUESTIONS
I. What level of economic working condition should the union ensure
its members attain?
II. What is the present economic working condition of members of the
III. How has been the contribution of the end of year bonus to the lives of union members?
IV. What other types of fringe benefits are of importance to the members of the union?
V. How can the union ensure the provision of better economic working condition?
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The main aims of this study are to:
I. Establish the present economic state of members of the union relative to where they should be.
II. Examine the performance of the end of the year bonus as a leading fringe benefit in the textile industry in the lives of members of the union.
III. Identify other significant fringe benefits and suggest better ways of improving the economic situation of members of the union.
1.4 JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY
The activities of trade unions have drawn attention to labour practices, economically, socially and politically. The study of the contributions of trade unions in improving the economic well being of employees is very significant. The relevance of the Labour Relations system in the contemporary Nigerian society cannot be over-emphasised.
This research work will highlight some of the reasons why the benefits of trade unionism should first be directed at the union members, who are the employees of the organisations. It will also bring to light issues that are of most concern to a typical Nigerian employee, as well as better ways of attaining the same. It will make studies in Labour Relations better understood and appreciated. It will give attention to better ways of meeting union members’ needs and also ensuring overall industrial harmony as well as improved national economic growth.
1.5 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
The global prevalence of trade unionism is well reflected in the Nigerian society. Various types of unions represent various categories of employees. However, because of its representation of a large number of the average employee in Nigeria and its contributions to the field of Labour Relations, the NUTGTWN is selected for this study.
The study is confined to Kaduna metropolis, and is concerned with union performance from 1994 to date. Like the city of Kaduna, the textile companies located here have employees from virtually all communities in Nigeria and the city is host to leading textile companies. The focus of the study is on employees of the textile companies who are also the members of the union. And end of the year or annual bonus, which is likely the leading fringe benefit, is the aspect of concern of the study.
1.6 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
This study is not without constraints encountered. However the researcher is confident that their effect on the outcome is to a negligible level. These are:
i. Access to the officers of the union and the release of the necessary data has not been cooperative enough.
ii. Respondents. A lot of them are not willing to fill the questionnaires. Some that fill the questionnaires made avoidable errors in spite of its simplicity.
iii. The time limit for the study was not enough considering how data will be obtained and other necessary steps to be taken.
iv. The cost has equally been a constraint. These basically are the print and transportation costs.
v. The study materials for research and research related on this study were rarely available.