Labour Relations In Nigeria


What is labour relation?

It is the system that attempts to regulate labour relationship  (employers, employee & state) in society.

It consists of various parties that are involved in power relations.  The vehicle or mechanisms through which the parties seek to exert   their authority or influence over the others are:

·Collective bargaining

·Recognition of agreement.

·Workplace disciplinary / grievance procedure

·Legislative framework: laws which impact on rights/duties of  parties, determine the voluntary/compulsory nature of  legislation.

·Worker participation.

·Dispute resolution.

The interplay of these factors determines the character of labour  relations regime. Anyone of the following could be the defining  characteristic:

·Authoritarianism – denial of rights.

·Acrimony/Disputes – state of anarchy.

·Dominated by ruling class.

·Unfriendly to workers – unfair laws & poor remunerations.

·Non-respect for collective agreement – weak tripartism.

·Restrict/restrain free collective agreement.


Forms of Labour Relations

Labour relation is informed by sets of beliefs that determine the  society’s political, social and economic relationships – the  ideological base of society. There are two extremes:


This is characterised by:

·Individual freedom.

·Minimum state interference.

·Private property/capitalism.

·Market forces (Adam Smith)..

2. Communitarism.

This is characterised by:

·Collective interests

·State responsible for well-being of its citizens.

·Common ownership of means of production (Karl Marx).

3.Convergence Theory.

This is a middle road between Smith & Marx. It is informed by  a philosophy of promoting individual endeavour and  competition but with due reference to needs of society – necessary for some state interference.

4.Other theories

There are other theories such as the unitarists, pluralists,  corporatism & co-determination.

External Factors that impact on Labour Relations.

1.Globalisation: search for markets/cheaper labour, resources,  continued dependence on global economy.

2.North – South divide: developed, developing & under  developed worlds.

3.Diminishing role of the state – rising influence of international  financial institutions and multinational corporations.

4. Forms of work: flexibility, casualisation, outsourcing, etc.

5.Democratic political system – impacts on socio-economic  relationships.

6.Forms of organisations – capacity & skills.

Political Economy of Labour Relations in Nigeria  Colonial Era

Beginning of modern Nigerian state dates back to four centuries  ago. Some of the factors that contributed in shaping the process of state formation include:

i. Islamic conquests of Northern Nigeria.

ii.  Patterns of trade.

iii. Inter marriages and alliances of kingdoms and empires.

iv. British colonial conquest emergence of limited liability  companies and later multinational companies (17th  centuries).

v.Occupation of Lagos in 1862 – proclaimed crown colony: the  beginning of direct colonial administration and rule in  Nigeria.

Therefore modern Nigerian state formation was laid between 1860  & 1898 by European commercial firms and local trading magnets  engaged in cut-throat competition in Lagos, old Calabar & Niger- Delta.

The purpose of state labour policy under colonialism in Nigeria was  the creation of wage – labour force to meet the commercial needs  of both local and European companies. The bases were laid after  Lagos became a Crown Colony in 1862.

The aims were to:

·Create a labour market .

·Develop a stable labour force.

·Ensure ready market for imported consumer goods and wares.

·Create conditions favourable for ‘legitimate trade’ and other  activities of increasing importance.

The Royal Niger Company was granted charter in 1886, which  recognise it as the official agent of British government and  therefore set the stage for military and direct political control.

The task of combining establishment and administration of the  political territory and ensuring profitable business in the face of  stiff local and foreign competition led to the establishment of West African Frontier Force to check threats against British. This task was  executed by Lord Lugard.

Between 1890 and 1910, there was systematic military subjugation  of local rulers in all parts of the country. The charter granted to the  Royal Niger Company was revoked in 1892 due to warfare and  resistance to monopolistic trading practices and by January 1, 1900  direct political control was established. Nigeria was divided into  three administrative units:

1.Colony of Lagos administered by the colonial office.

2.Niger Coast Protectorate (Old Bendel State & former Eastern Region with headquarters at old Calabar) administered by the  foreign office.

3.Empires of Sokoto & Kanem Borno & the confluence of Rivers  Benue and Niger (Lokoja area) administered by the Royal  Niger Company subject to supervision of the foreign office  with headquarters at old Asaba.

Poor communication, vast territory and prohibitive cost of European  civil servants made Lugard to start utilising indigenous political  administrative arrangement.

Institutional Development

Between 1862 & 1900, technical and professional departments  began to emerge. These include:

·           Customs

·           Medical

·           Sanitary

·           Public Works

·           Post Offices

·           Railways

·           Harbour

·           Engineering

·           Education

The functions of these departments include processing of  grievances.

Negotiations and consultations were restricted to public  admin and mainly European officers who by 1897 were not more  that 90. Colonial labour policy during this period was more a  response to demands and protests against working conditions and  wage rise by workers. Wage tribunals and commissions were major  features of the response. The following are lists of commissions that  were set up to address particular issues:

1.         Hunt Committee – 1934. It was charged with the responsibility of reviewing the wages  of unskilled workers and to determine reasonable standard of  living for labour.

2. Bridges Committee – 1941.

It reviewed wages of African government workers in Lagos &  recommended compensatory increases subsequently called  cost-of-living awards’ (COLA).

3.Harragin Commission – 1945.

Reviewed salaries of ‘established’ government staff.

4.Tudor Davis Commission – 1946.

It was appointed in the wake of June 1945 general strike. It  granted workers demand for COLA.

5.Miller Committee – 1947.

Looked into wage rates of daily paid workers.

6.Cowan enquiry – 1948.

Investigated and reported on methods of negotiations  between government and employees in state-owned industrial  establishments. The Cowan enquiry introduced Whitley  Councils:

·Junior Whitley Council (A) for clerical & other office  employees

·Junior Whitley Council (B) for industrial and manual  workers

7.   Fitzgerald Commission – 1949.

It examined the circumstances leading to violent protests and  deaths such as the Enugu coal miners protest.

8.Gorsuch Commission – 1954.

It reconciled the salaries and fringe benefits of federal and  regional civil servants.

9.Mbanefo Commission – 1958.

Set up the federal, eastern  governments. Looked into workers  agitation for competitive wages.

10. Morgan Commission – 1959.

Set up by the Western Regional government to look into  workers agitation for competitive wages.

These commissions, committees and enquiries form a significant  twists and turns to the evolution of labour relations practice in  Nigeria.

Legal Framework for Labour Relations Institutions in Nigeria

Trade Union Ordinance – 1938: The ordinance defines trade unions  as “any combination whether temporary or permanent, the  principal purpose of which are the regulations between workmen,  or between masters and masters whether such combination would  or would not, if this ordinance had not been enacted, to have been  deemed to have unlawful combination by reason of some, one or  more of its purposes, being in restraint of trade.


·The ordinance barred prison and police workers from  belonging to unions.

·All trade unions have to be registered within three months of  formation or disbanded.

·It created the office of Registrar of Trade Unions with powers  to register or cancel registration.

·Two copies of union rules/constitution and list of officers have  to be deposited with the Registrar.

Membership of unions restricted to persons above the age of  16 and as few as 5 persons can form a union.

· Illiterates and minors were not allowed to hold positions of  treasurer, secretary and president.

·Unions must keep comprehensive membership list indicating  occupation, trade, and names of employer and for the records  to be open to inspection by any person having an interest in  the funds of the union.

· Accounts were required to be kept and audited annually by  persons approved by the Registrar of Trade Unions and a copy  submitted to him within a month and general statement of  account to be rendered to him (Registrar) yearly before 1st  June.

· The Registrar had powers to call for Special Returns and  empowered to institute criminal or civil proceedings.

The Trade Union Ordinance also established labour inspectorate.  The labour inspectorate became Department of Labour in 1942 and  a full fledged Federal Ministry with a Minister in 1957. Part of the  function of the Ministry include administering laws and regulations  pertaining to organised labour and providing such services as  conciliation, arbitration and supervision of the provisions of the  Factories Act that periodically involve employees.

Trade Disputes (Arbitration & Inquiry) Ordinance was enacted in  1941.

Labour (Wage Fixing & Regulation) Ordinance No. 40 was enacted  in 1943. The Ordinance attempted price control and establish  higher minimum wage in tin mines.

Labour Code Ordinance was enacted in 1945. It:

·Sought to protect workers from abuses

·Prohibit force labour

·Regulate the employment of young persons and women at  night.

·Spell out the manner of payment of wages

·Concerned itself with other non-monetary benefits and  entitlements .

The ordinance was a response to the 1945 general strike. The Tudor  Davis Commission appointed in the wake of the strike deplored the  absence of official direction on matters of collective bargaining and  disputes and the ineffectiveness of the Department of Labour.  The Ordinance recommended the establishment of ad hoc National Negotiating Committee comprising state representatives, private  employers and workers.                            Labour (Wage Fixing and Regulation) Ordinance of 1943  established Labour Advisory Boards based on the recommendation  of the Bridges Committee of 1941. The Ordinance empowered the  Boards to make enquiries into conditions of service and wages  referred to them and to make recommendations for fixing statutory  minimum wage.

Wage Board Ordinance of 1957 established the Wage Boards.

Post Colonial Era

1.Junior Whitley Councils were reconstituted into a National  Public Service Negotiating Councils in 1974 following  recommendations of Udoji Commission.

a.Council I for adrnin 8: professionals.

b.Council II for clerical, executive and typists.

c.Council III for technical.

2.Joint Industrial Councils or Joint Consultative Committees  were adopted for public corporations and utilities  (parastatals).