At a meeting called to resolve the standoff between Automobile Boatyard Transport Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE) and the management of Coscharis Group which took place at the Federal Ministry of Labour & Employment on 11 October, the company secretary and legal adviser of Coscharis, who represented management claimed that the company is not averse to respecting the right of the workers to join a union. However, he added the rider that unionization will not be allowed on the premises of the firm or during working period.
This reactionary perspective is self-contradictory. But that did not come as a surprise because for months the management has consistently expressed its anti-union prejudice. For instance, until late September, the management would ask for the list of workers who have expressed interest to join the union before they can allow unionization in the firm. But we had justifiable basis for realizing that its intention was to sack everybody that could be found to be on that list.
And at the last meeting held at the offices of the Federal Ministry of Labour in September, the company’s legal adviser requested for the legal instrument that provides for the union to inaugurate a branch in the firm without submitting the list of interested workers. He chose to disregard the Labour Act Section 9(6bi) that says;
“No contract shall –
(b) cause the dismissal of, or otherwise prejudice, a worker –
(i) by reason of trade union membership, or”.
For this clause to take full expression, the list of workers who have shown interest to join the union cannot be revealed to the management till inauguration is done.
Although, on several occasions the management has mentioned that the firm is not averse to unionism, in reality the management is totally opposed to workers’ unionism in the firm. We have information on good authority that the management of Coscharis Group once sacked workers that expressed interest to join the Steel and Engineering Workers Union (SEWUN). Clearly the management’s attitude to employees and unionism hasn’t changed a bit, it can be inferred from the management’s incessant request for the list of interested workers that they are prepared to victimize these workers so as to frustrate the unionization process.
Similarly, the logical conclusion of the latest position of the management is that the workers can join any union but cease to be a member of any union from 8am to 6pm or beyond so far as they are in the premise of the company. In other words, management’s position implies that the workers’ right to join or form labour union is outside of work. That erroneous position by the management undermines the explicitly stated position of Section 40 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria on freedom of association as a fundamental right! The first of the International Labour Organisation’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) is also that of Freedom of Association, which is deemed binding on all employers and governments.
It is impossible to separate the mind from the body. The Labour Union conventionally is the association of workers which exist by virtue of their labour activities in the workplaces that is; the labour union can exist where the workers are, not outside them. We will not allow the Coscharis management to stand logic on its head!
The management of Coscharis Group would do anything to prevent association of workers in the firm because it engages in all sorts of anti-worker practices. Coscharis Group as we have mentioned earlier, subjects workers to terrible working conditions such as; long working hours including overtime without benefit, poor in-plant health and safety arrangements, inadequate leave periods and labour casualization among many others. Also, the management engages in fraudulent employment practices, that is; a subsidiary of Coscharis Group, SIXT Mobility outsources workers to Coscharis Motors. The management is aware that unionization of the workers would be a first step towards ending the precarious working conditions in the firm, with concerted struggle.
Obviously, the negotiation method to resolve AUTOBATE’s unionization of workers has reached a dead end as the management does not only oppose unionism but also opposes logic. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment’s officer in his statement made it known that he has done everything in his capacity to resolve the matter, but he cannot help the unyielding position of the management. He further stated that, “at this stage we have to close this matter, I urge both parties to explore other methods as provided by law”.
Coscharis Group just like every other capitalist establishment, is resolved to put profits above the lives and welfares of workers that create the wealth. And an appeal to the management’s sense of logic or conscience will not make the bosses to change from their greedy and oppressive character. We make bold to say that labour unionism is not a privilege that can be handed out of goodwill rather it is a fundamental right, and just like every other workers’ rights under this exploitative system of capitalism, they are won by struggle.
It is against that background that we implore the workers of Coscharis Group to organize and stand against indecent working conditions and attacks on their fundamental right to freedom of association. Also, we urge the Trade Union Congress of Nigerian (TUC), AUTOBATE Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE) and Steel and Engineering Workers Union (SEWUN) to mobilize for massive action at the Coscharis Group. Socialist Workers and Youth League will continue to fight along with the workers of Coscharis Group and AUTOBATE till victory is achieved in that workplace. If we fight, we can win!
by Lai BROWN