BY ISSA AREMU, 26 MARCH 2012
Mni â€” 10th Quadrennial National delegates’ conference of our great union, National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers (NUTGWN) commences on Wednesday 28th in Asaba, capital town of Delta state.
Precisely because yours comradely is involved and informed, I bear witness that this 10th historic conference makes the statement that textile union keeps faith with the aspiration of pioneer textile workers who desired 34 years ago, strong, independent and democratic organization of workers in the Nigerian textile industry, capable of defending the rights and interests of workers at work and in the society.
Textile Union is one of the 43 affiliate industrial unions under the pan-Nigerian labour centre, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). 10th edition of this conference further exhibits the union’s commitment to culture of internal democracy notwithstanding the current challenges facing the industry, namely factory closures, job losses, deindustrialization and general slide into underdevelopment of the country.
Delegates Conferences of Textile union since 1978 have become platforms for celebrations of members-workers’ struggles the following areas of Collective bargaining and improvement in living and working conditions, defense of workers’ rights, Health and Safety and general working conditions, Unionizing the unorganized workers, national and global solidarity with the working peoples’ struggle.
Delegates’ conference is about taking stock of the progress that has been recorded in these areas of union’s activities in the past four years and setting agenda for the future.
President Obama visited Ghana in 2009. During that visit he made his famous quote on Africa; “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men.” But trade union struggles in Africa had revealed that the continent needs both strong institutions and strong men and women.
We need strong men and women to build strong institutions. Conversely we need strong institutions to throw up strong men and women.
Therefore the two are not mutually exclusive. From our record in the past years, Textile union has shown that Africa indeed has built strong institutions with strong men and women.
Since the last delegates conference using the instrumentality of collective bargaining textile unions had won wage increase wages on an annual basis. Within the period we have succeeded in improving wages by over 60%.
The union is yet to attain a living wage level in country with macro economic shocks and instability, but it has made appreciable progress in the match towards living wage. Despite some of the initial reservation about Pension Reform Act 2004, textile union is one of the unions in the private sector to ensure payment of the restructured gratuity and regular commitment to the new contributory scheme.
The union also negotiated increase in pension contributions beyond the statutory 7.5%, following the new Pension Reform Act 2004, after almost two year negotiations, billons of Naira were paid as gratuity to members.
The struggle to improve pension/gratuity arrangement is an ongoing process especially in some collapsed state textile mills through collective bargaining and industrial pressures. Textile union remains committed to a policy advocacy programme on revival of industries. Without industry there are no workers. Without workers, there cannot be no union.
Over the years, we have partnered with Textile Employers, NLC Affiliates in the private sector and development partners like Bank of Industry (BOI), United Nations Industrial Development Organsiation (UNIDO), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) to fight for favorable industrial policy and the protection of jobs. In 2009, textile workers and allies matched in thousands on the streets of Lagos, for Re-industrialization of the country.
Our effort has brought some stability to the textile industry in the last 12 months particularly with the intervention of the Bank of Industry (BOI). The highpoint was the re-opening of United Nigeria Textile Plc. Kaduna in December 2010. UNT, the largest textile mill in Africa closed in 2007. As at the last count, UNT Plc has re-employed about 1,252 workers and the group is still employing more. The policy advocacy on revival of industry has been combined with unionization drive.
We have made appreciable progress in our recruitment effort as over 5000 new members were recruited in factories in Kano, Lagos and Kogi as well as informal sectors. Some progresses were made in organizing workers in the garment sector as well.
We have also deepened our informal sector organizing as over 20,000 self employed tailors have joined forces with the union through their Associations across the country. The union continues to strengthen shopfloor education and deepens officer development training activities.
The union has kept faith with the rich and vibrant tradition of workers’ education. Within the last four years over 5000 workers were trained by Education and Research Department of the union. We continue to expose our officers to local and international courses. An important aspect of education work in the last four years is in the area of HIV/AIDS. 105 workers were trained as Peer Educators, 62 as Mobilizing Agents (HMAs) and about 15,448 workers were reached with preventive messages.
Several hundreds were counseled and tested voluntarily. As a union, we are already reaping the fruits of these efforts as some of our members now live openly with HIV/AIDS without stigma or discrimination or the fear of losing their jobs. The above modest achievements show that rather agonizing over the crisis situation in our industry, we must keep organizing.
The theme of the Conference is Transforming Nigeria Through Re-industrialization, Employment and Decent Work. In a sense, conference sets to increase the noise level of (and indeed compliment) the transformation agenda of the Federal government with respect to re-industrialisation and job creation.
Thousands of Delegates are drawn from the textile and garment industries across the country as well as self-employed and garment makers. Distinguished Guests include the Comrade Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole mni., host Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Chairman Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote GCON, Honourable Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, Honourable Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, Honourable Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga and Chairpersons Senate and House Committees on Labour and Industry respectively.
Other dignitaries expected at the occasion are the Chairman, Nigeria Textile Manufacturers Association, Mr. Ibrahim Iganmu and Director General, Mr. J.P. Olarewaju, captains of industry, members of the civil society and international guests. The Vice President of Nigeria, Arch. Namadi Sambo GCON is expected to declare the conference open as Special Guest of Honour.
The 3-day conference features a Dinner/Award Night on Thursday March 29, 2012 in which eminent trade union activists, governors and veterans will be honoured for their contributions to the labour movement and national development. Union truly makes us strong to replace poverty with prosperity.
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