Nigeria Table of Contents
Labor unions have been a part of Nigerian industry since 1912, when government employees formed a civil service union. In 1914 this organization became the Nigerian Union of Civil Servants after the merger of the protectorates of Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria. In 1931 two other major unions were founded--the Nigerian Railway Workers Union and the Nigerian Union of Teachers (which included private-school teachers). Legalization of unions in 1938 was followed by rapid labor organization during World War II as a result of passage by the British government of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940, which encouraged the establishment of unions in the colonies. The defense regulation of October 1942 made strikes and lockouts illegal for the duration of the war and denied African workers the cost-of-living allowances that European civil servants received. In addition, the colonial government increased wages only modestly, although the cost of living rose 74 percent from September 1939 to October 1943. In June and July of 1945, 43,000 workers, most of whom were performing services indispensable to the country's economic and administrative life, went on a strike that lasted more than forty days. In large part as a result of the strike's success, the labor movement grew steadily and by 1950 there were 144 unions with more than 144,000 members.
Although the labor movement was federated in 1941, the period from the end of World War II to 1964 was characterized by numerous splits, regroupings, and further fragmentation. Factionalism was rampant, engendered by the reluctance of the Colonial Office to strengthen union rights, dependence on foreign financial support, the thwarting of labor's political objectives by nationalist leaders, and intramural ideological differences. The most visible manifestation of labor problems was the dispute over whether to affiliate with the East European socialistoriented World Federation of Trade Unions, based in Prague, or the more capitalist-oriented International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, headquartered in Brussels.
In 1963 union members numbered 300,000, or 1.6 percent of the labor force. Despite this low level of organization, labor discontent worsened as the gap widened between the wages of white-collar and those of blue-collar workers. In FY 1964, supervisors were paid thirty-three times as much as daily-wage workers and semiskilled workers in public service. After independence, many workers had begun to feel that the political leadership was making no effort to reduce the inequalities of the colonial wage and benefit structure. Corruption and conspicuous consumption were perceived to be widespread among politicians. An April 1963 pay raise for ministers and members of parliament further fueled labor resentment because rank-and-file civil servants had been doing without raises since 1960. The five superordinate central labor organizations consequently formed the Joint Action Committee (JAC) to pressure the government to raise wages. Numerous delays in the publication of a government commission report on wages and salaries provided partial impetus for a JAC-mobilized general strike of 800,000 supporters, most of them nonunionists, which lasted twelve days in June 1964. Although the strike demonstrated the government's fragility, the JAC could not translate its victory into permanent political strength; labor unity disintegrated in the face of overtures by political parties to segments of organized labor as the federal elections of December 1964 neared.
Political parties and communal associations were banned during the military rule of the late 1960s, so labor unions posed a potential organized threat to the government. The military government's decree in 1969 forbidding strikes was repeatedly defied during the next four years, most notably in 1973, when the regime gave in to demands by striking postal and telecommunications workers, about one-fifth of the federal civil service. Labor activities and internal strife among four central labor organizations continued up to 1975, when the military government attempted, unsuccessfully at first, to merge the four bodies into one unit, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). The government dissolved the four central unions, prohibited union affiliations with international labor organizations, and in 1977 banned eleven labor leaders from further union activity. Under terms of a 1978 labor decree amendment, the more than 1,000 previously existing unions were reorganized into 70 registered industrial unions under the NLC, now the sole central labor organization.
In the early 1980s, the civilian government found itself losing control of organized labor. Numerous wildcat strikes occurred in 1980-81, and in May 1981, the NLC mobilized 700,000 of 1 million unionized Nigerian workers for a two-day strike, despite the opposition of a government-supported faction.
Working days lost through strikes declined from 9.6 million in 1982 to 200,000 in 1985 in the midst of a decline in national income that had begun in 1983. Industrial unrest resulted, however, in demands by larger number of workers for payments of salary arrears and fringe benefits as real wages fell by almost 60 percent. The causes of the decline in real wages were the World Bank-advised SAP and the unfavorable terms of trade that resulted from the collapse of the world oil market between 1986 and 1989.
Data as of June 1991
Nigeria Table of Contents