Trade Unions

Freedom to Join and Form a Union

Constitution of Nigeria provides freedom to join and form unions. Every person in entitled to assemble freely and form association with political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of their rights. Exception includes workers of armed forces; police; customs, Immigration and the prison service; the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company Limited; the Central Bank of Nigeria; the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited; and certain other government organisations. Young workers under the age of sixteen may not join a union.

Labour law states that the contract of employment must not make it a condition of employment to join or leave the trade union. An employer must not dismiss any worker due to his association with the trade union and the activities of the union.

Trade union is any combination of workers or employers, whether temporary or permanent, the purpose of which is to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers. Trade unions may not operate without being registered with the official registrar of trade unions, provided that the application of registration is supported by at least fifty members of the union. This registration must be approved by the government. Trade union may not be registered if a properly functional union is already operating in the organisation.

Trade unions must also have registered rules that includes provisions dealing with matters such as the union's purpose, funds, accounts, membership dues, officers and discipline. The mandatory rule is that no member of the union may take part in a strike unless a majority of members have voted in favour of the strike in a secret ballot.

Source: §40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, §9(6) of the Labour Act (Cap L1 LFN 2004); Trade Unions Act (Cap. T14 2004)

Freedom of Collective Bargaining

Labour Law defines collective bargaining as the process of arriving at, or attempting to arrive at, a collective agreement. Collective agreement is an agreement in writing regarding working conditions and terms of employment concluded between one or more trade unions or other organisations of, or representing, workers (or an association of such organisations); and an employer, a group of employers, or an organisation of, or representing, employers (or an association of such organisations). A collective agreement is interpreted by a National Industrial Court.

Collective bargaining takes place when a trade dispute arises. Trade unions elect a representative to negotiate with the employer. Both parties must try to settle the dispute by any agreed dispute resolution mechanism. In absence or failure of it, parties must appoint a mediator (mutually agreed on and appointed by the parties), within seven days to settle the dispute. 

If the mediator fails to settle the dispute within seven days, it is then reported to the Government within three days. Government appoints a mediator to bring about a settlement within seven days, otherwise the Government refers it to the Industrial Arbitration Panel. The panel establishes an arbitration tribunal to make an award within twenty-one days. Government can refer back an award for reconsideration. Once the award is accepted the parties have seven days to object to the award. In case of no objection, the award is published and becomes binding in the employers and workers to whom it relates.

In case of objection, the dispute is referred to the national Industrial Court for the final decision. The Government can refer directly to the court without going through arbitration tribunal stage.

The National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) is the national tripartite consultative mechanism that provides consultation and co-operation between the government and the organizations of workers and employers at the national level on matters relating to social and labour policies and international labour standards. The Council was reconstituted in 2009 in line with the provisions of Convention 144.

Source: §91 of the Labour Act (Cap L1 LFN 2004); §3, 16 & 48 of the Trade Disputes Act (Cap.432 LFN 1990)

Right to Strike

Strike is the cessation of work by a body of employed persons acting in combination, or a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons employed to continue to work for an employer in consequence of a dispute, done as a means of compelling their employer, or to aid other workers in compelling their employer or any persons or, to accept or not to accept terms of employment and physical conditions of work.

No individual, trade union or employer may take part in a strike or lockout if that person, trade union or employer is engaged in the provision of essential services;  the strike or lockout concerns a labour dispute that constitutes a dispute of right (rights already specified in law, collective agreement or employment contract);  the strike or lockout concerns a dispute arising from a collective and fundamental breach of contract of employment or collective agreement on the part of the employee, trade union or employer; and a ballot has been conducted in accordance with the rules and constitution of the trade union at which a simple majority of all registered members voted to go on strike.

Any person, trade union or employer who are found guilty of offence, are liable to a fine of N 1,000 or to imprisonment for a term of six months or to both.

Workers, who take part in strike are not entitled to any wages or other remuneration during this period and this period is also not considered as the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly.

Source: §18 & 43 of the Trade Disputes Act (Cap.432 LFN 1990); §31(7) of Trade Unions Act (Cap. T14 2004)

Regulations on Trade Unions

  • Labour Act (Cap L1 LFN 2004)
  • Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999
  • Trade Unions Act (Cap. T14 2004)
  • Trade Disputes Act (Cap.432 LFN 1990)
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