In ordinary common usage, trade union is understood as the organization of workers formed to protect the interests of its members. However, the legal definition as we shall see shortly is not as expansive as that. In Nigeria the principal legislation regulating trade unionism which is the Trade Union Act (the Act) requires that a trade union must be registered before it can carry out any of the purposes for which it was established. The questions that naturally arise here are how constitutional is the requirement for compulsory registration of a trade union before it can lawfully carry out its functions? Can the Registrar of trade union refuse to grant an application for registration? If yes, under what circumstance, and if registration is refused, what remedy is available to the applicants? what is the status of a registered trade union? These and other related questions shall engage the attention of this work. In other to do justice to this piece, the author has organized the paper in three parts. Part one analytically discusses the meaning of trade union.
Part two focuses on the registration of trade union.
Part three considers the status of a registered trade union
Some recommendations and closing remark conclude the paper.
DEFINITION OF A TRADE UNION.
Section 1 of the Trade Unions Act 2005 (the Act) defines a trade union as “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, whether the combination in question would or would not, apart from the Act, be an unlawful combination by reason of any of its purposes being in restraint of trade, and whether its purposes do or do not include the provision of benefits for its members”. Thus in Nigerian law, the purpose of the organization is restricted to the regulation of the terms and conditions of employment of workers. Analysis of the Legal Definition of Trade Union.
The first point to note is that for an organization to qualify as a trade union it must be a combination of workers or employers. This explains why in this country, we have organizations of employers also being referred to a as trade unions. This seems anomalous. The International Labour Organization (ILO) employs the terms “Workers Organization” and “Employers Organization” when referring respectively to the association of workers and employers. It is submitted that the ILO’s approach is more elegant and would avoid some of the needless confusion and ambiguity that often occur with using trade union to refer to the two types of organization. Second, the combination may be temporary or permanent. In practice, there is no union that has been formed for a temporary duration. Theoretically, however, if one is formed and registered by the registrar of trade unions, it would not be illegal. Third, under common law, a combination that is in restraint of trade is illegal except it can be shown that the restraint is reasonable. The statutory definition of trade union now permits a union to be in restraint of trade, provided the other ingredients in the definition are present. It follows that subscription to closed shop agreements which are necessarily in restraint of trade would not render a union illegal. Fourth, the purpose of the union must be to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers. This requirement is a little unclear. It gives the impression that the union can only have one purpose. It would have been more elegant if the text had concerned itself with the “principal purpose”. That would also be consistent as the section also talks about purposes when dealing with issue of whether or not it is mandatory for the union to have as one of its purposes the provision of benefits to its members. It is suggested that the omission of the word “principal” which was contained in the old definition is unintended. Section 7 (1) (d) provides that the Registrar of...
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