The country’s public sector unions are experiencing a financial crisis, with some struggling to fulfil their obligations to members and employees, including salary payments.
Naija News gathered that the Federal Government had seized the check-off dues deducted at source from the salaries of members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its counterpart, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), from November 2023 until now.
It was also discovered that earlier last year, the government withheld the deducted check-off dues of these unions for several months until the NLC threatened a nationwide strike by May 20, 2023. Eventually, the Accountant-General of the Federation reluctantly released the money to the unions.
The situation appears to be repeating itself, as it has been discovered that the funds were processed for payment but later diverted before release.
Among the affected unions are the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE); Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU); Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU); Nigeria Union of Public Service Reportorial, Secretarial, Data Processors and Allied Workers (NUPSRAW); National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM); and Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN).
Vanguard’s investigations revealed that despite efforts by affected unions through the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) Trade Union Side, there have been no positive outcomes.
The matter was reportedly discussed during a recent meeting of JNPSNC in Nasarawa State, where the unions expressed grievances over the challenges resulting from the withholding of their statutory funds.
Additionally, the leadership of the trade union side of JNPSNC has petitioned President Bola Tinubu, seeking his intervention, but it has yet to be successful.
The NLC expressed strong concern over the situation and its broader implications for public sector unions. In a letter titled “Continuing Refusal To Release Check-off Dues Accruing To Public Sector Trade Union,” dated January 31, 2024, the NLC issued a warning, stating that the withholding of check-off dues accruing to trade unions constitutes interference in their activities.
The letter from the NLC, conveyed by its General Secretary, Emma Ugboaja, reads in part: “The Continuing unfortunate deliberate withholding and piecemeal release of Check-off dues accruing to public sector trade unions in the country has been brought to our notice by our affiliates in the sector.
“These unions have, therefore, accordingly expressed their grievances regarding this intentional withholding or partial release through the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, IPPIS, platform. We understand that this illegal act was at the instance of the Minister of Finance.
“This practice is totally unacceptable and runs counter to the traditions and principles guiding our engagement as social partners within the nation’s Industrial Relations sphere. We have had cause to have written to the Minister of Labour last year on this, but the report reaching us speaks to its unfortunate persistence.
“We find it inconceivable that check-off dues, deducted at the source from the salaries of public sector workers, would be subject to withholding or released in a piecemeal fashion when salaries themselves are not owed or disbursed piecemeal.
“We wish to draw your attention to the fact that this worrying development deprives not only our affiliates but also national labour centres of the financial resources necessary for their effective operation as workers’ representative organisations.
“Such actions represent a fundamental threat to trade unions and trade unionism in Nigeria, given that financial stability is crucial for the functioning of our organisations. We do not want to believe that this may be part of the ongoing onslaught against workers and trade union rights in Nigeria.
“It is imperative to remind you that the withholding of check-off dues accruing to trade unions amounts to interference in the activities of these unions. This interference is explicitly condemned by Article 2 and 3 of the ILO Convention Number 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, as well as Sections 17 and 18 of Nigeria’s Trade Union Act, LFN, CAP T14.
“We must also stress that sitting on already deducted check-off dues amounts to the impounding or illegal hijack of monies belonging to the trade unions. We may be forced to begin to see this as an intentional misappropriation of funds that rightly belong to trade unions driven by other motives if nothing is quickly done to put an end to it.
“As the supervising authority over public financial flows in Nigeria, we trust that you will act promptly to rectify this anomaly to avoid creating unsavoury workplace outcomes.
“We have followed, as always, due process in handling this and have exercised unusual patience, but allowing this to continue may put undue strain on our relationship.”
NLC demanded that “the Accountant-General immediately direct and ensure the release of all withheld check-off dues accruing to trade unions in Nigeria’s public sector.
“We understand the gravity of this situation and sincerely hope for your swift and positive action to remedy this breach of our statutes. We may not be held responsible for any negative consequences that might arise if the check-off dues of Nigerian workers continue to be held hostage by the government.”