Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides all workers, except members of the armed forces, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and public employees who are classified in the broad category of “essential services,” the right to form or belong to a trade union or other association, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; some statutory limitations substantially restrict these rights. Trade unions must meet various registration requirements to be legally established. By law a trade union may be registered only if there is no other union already registered in that trade or profession and if it has a minimum of 50 members, a threshold most businesses could not meet. A three-month notice period, starting from the date of publication of an application for registration in the Nigeria Official Gazette, must elapse before a trade union may be registered. If the Ministry of Labor and Employment does not receive objections to registration during the three-month notice period, it must register the union within three months of the expiration of the notice period. If an objection is raised, the ministry has an indefinite period to review and deliberate on the registration. The registrar may refuse registration because a proper objection has been raised or because a purpose of the trade union violates the Trade Union Act or other laws. Each federation must consist of 12 or more affiliated trade unions, and each trade union must be an exclusive member in a single federation.
The law generally does not provide for a union’s ability to conduct its activities without interference from the government. The law narrowly defines what union activities are legal. The minister of labor and employment has broad authority to cancel the registration of worker and employer organizations. The registrar of trade unions has broad powers to review union accounts at any time. In addition the law requires government permission before a trade union may legally affiliate with an international organization.
The law stipulates that every collective agreement on wages be registered with the National Salaries, Income, and Wages Commission, which decides whether the agreement becomes binding. Workers and employers in export-processing zones (EPZs) are subject to the provisions of labor law, the 1992 Nigeria Export Processing Zones Decree, and other laws. Workers in the EPZs may organize and engage in collective bargaining, but there are no explicit provisions providing them the right to organize their administration and activities without interference by the government. The law does not allow worker representatives free access to the EPZs to organize workers, and it prohibits workers from striking for 10 years following the commencement of operations by the employer within a zone. In addition the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, which the federal government created to manage the EPZ program, has exclusive authority to handle the resolution of disputes between employers and employees, thereby limiting the autonomy of the bargaining partners.
The law provides legal restrictions that limit the right to strike. The law requires a majority vote of all registered union members to call a strike. The law limits the right to strike to disputes regarding rights, including those arising from the negotiation, application, interpretation, or implementation of an employment contract or collective agreement, or those arising from a collective and fundamental breach of an employment contract or collective agreement, such as one related to wages and conditions of work. The law prohibits strikes in essential services. The International Labor Organization (ILO), however, stated that government defined “essential services” in an overly broad manner. Essential services included the Central Bank of Nigeria; the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Ltd.; any corporate body licensed to carry out banking under the Banking Act; postal service; sound broadcasting; telecommunications; maintenance of ports, harbors, docks, or airports; transportation of persons, goods, or livestock by road, rail, sea, or river; road cleaning; and refuse collection. Strike actions, including many in nonessential services, may be subject to a compulsory arbitration procedure leading to a final award, which is binding on the parties concerned.
Strikes based on disputed national economic policy are prohibited. Penalties for conviction of participating in an illegal strike include fines and imprisonment for up to six months.
Workers under collective bargaining agreements may not participate in strikes unless their unions comply with legal requirements, including provisions for mandatory mediation and referral of disputes to the government. Workers may submit labor grievances to the judicial system for review. Laws prohibit workers from forcing persons to join strikes, blocking airports, or obstructing public byways, institutions, or premises of any kind. Persons committing violations are subject to fines and possible prison sentences. The law further restricts the right to strike by making regular payments of union dues conditional on the inclusion of a no-strike clause during the lifetime of a collective agreement. No laws prohibit retribution against strikers and strike leaders, but strikers who believe they are victims of unfair retribution may submit their cases to the Industrial Arbitration Panel with the approval of the Ministry of Labor and Employment. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties but may be appealed to the National Industrial Court. The arbitration process was cumbersome, time consuming, and ineffective in deterring retribution against strikers. Individuals also have the right to petition the Labor Ministry and may request arbitration from the National Industrial Court.
The law does not prohibit general antiunion discrimination; it only protects unskilled workers. Penalties for violations were not comparable with penalties for similar offenses. The law does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. A large number of alleged cases in antiunion discrimination and obstruction to collective bargaining were reported during the year. Specific acts include denial of the right to join trade unions, massive dismissals for trying to join trade unions, mass repression of union members, and arrests of union members, among others.
In 2013 the ILO ruled that many provisions of the Trade Union Act and the Trade Disputes Act contravened ILO conventions 87 and 98 by limiting freedom of association. While workers exercised some of their rights, the government generally did not effectively enforce the applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Inflation reduced the deterrence value of many fines established by older laws.
In many cases workers’ fears of negative repercussions inhibited their reporting of antiunion activities. According to labor representatives, police rarely gave permission for public demonstrations and routinely used force to disperse protesters. In Port Harcourt union members were harassed in an effort to silence opposition to the unilateral abolition of the 30,000 naira ($78) monthly national minimum wage. On July 21, the Trade Union Side of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council alleged the governor of Rivers State dispatched armed thugs to the National Labor Congress secretariat to vandalize property and abduct the chairperson of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria. The chairman was detained at Government House, dragged to a magistrate court on trumped up offenses, and kidnapped while undergoing trial; his whereabouts remained unknown.
Collective bargaining occurred throughout the public sector and the organized private sector but remained restricted in some parts of the private sector, particularly in banking and telecommunications. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the government and some private-sector employers occasionally failed to honor their collective agreements.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, except compulsory prison labor. Criminal penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes but were seldom appropriately enforced. The government did not effectively enforce these laws in many parts of the country. The government took steps to identify or eliminate forced labor, but insufficient resources and lack of training on such laws hampered efforts.
Forced labor remained with reports of women and girls subjected to forced labor in domestic service, and boys subjected to forced labor in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, and begging.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Child labor was prevalent, especially in the informal sector.
By law age 12 is the general minimum age for employment. Persons younger than age 14 may be employed only on a daily basis, must receive the day’s wages at the end of each workday, and must be able to return each night to their parents’ or guardian’s residence. By law these regulations do not apply to domestic service. The law also provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and horticulture if the employer is a family member. No person younger than age 16 may work underground, in machine work, or on a public holiday. No “young person,” defined as a person younger than age 18 by the Labor Act, may be employed in any job that is injurious to health, dangerous, or immoral. For industrial work and work on vessels where a family member is not employed, the minimum work age is 15, consistent with the age for completing educational requirements. The law states children may not be employed in agricultural or domestic work for more than eight hours per day. Apprenticeship of youths older than age 12 is allowed in skilled trades or as domestic servants.
The Labor Ministry dealt specifically with child labor problems but mainly conducted inspections in the formal business sector, where the incidence of child labor reportedly was not significant. The NAPTIP has some responsibility for enforcing child labor laws, although it primarily rehabilitates trafficking and child labor victims. Victims or their guardians rarely complained due to intimidation and fear of losing their jobs.
The government’s child labor policy focused on intervention, advocacy, sensitization, legislation, withdrawal of children from potentially harmful labor situations, and rehabilitation and education of children following withdrawal. In an effort to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor, the government operated vocational training centers with NGOs around the country. The Labor Ministry confirmed that 2,996 children were removed from child labor during the year. Despite the policy and action plan, children largely were not adequately protected due to weak enforcement of the law and gaps in coverage.
Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor identified in the country including: commercial agriculture and hazardous farm work (cocoa, cassava); street hawking; exploitative cottage industries such as iron and other metal works; hazardous mechanical workshops; exploitative and hazardous domestic work; commercial fishing; exploitative and hazardous pastoral and herding activities; construction; transportation; mining and quarrying; prostitution and pornography; forced and compulsory labor and debt bondage; forced participation in violence, criminal activity, and ethnic, religious, and political conflicts; and involvement in drug peddling.
Many children worked as beggars, street peddlers, and domestic servants in urban areas. Children also worked in the agricultural sector and in mines. Boys were forced to work as laborers on farms, in restaurants, for small businesses, and in granite mines, as well as street peddlers and beggars. Girls worked involuntarily as domestic servants and street peddlers.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or social status. The government did not effectively address discrimination in employment or occupation except in the area of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6, Women). Women are legally barred from particular fields of employment, such as mining. Women often experienced discrimination due to traditional and religious practices. Police regulations provide for special recruitment requirements and conditions of service applying to women, particularly the criteria and provisions relating to pregnancy and marital status.
In January 2019 the government adopted the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, giving them the right to education without discrimination or segregation; the right to work on an equal basis with others, including the right to opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open. The act further provides that “all employers of labor in public organizations shall, as much as possible, have persons with disabilities constituting at least 5 percent of their employment.”
NGOs expressed concern regarding discrimination against women in the private sector, particularly in access to employment, promotion to higher professional positions, and salary equity. According to credible reports, many businesses implemented a “get pregnant, get fired” policy. Women remained underrepresented in the formal sector where labor protections and higher wages applied. Women did not receive equal pay for equal work and often encountered difficulty in acquiring commercial credit or obtaining tax deductions or rebates as heads of households. Unmarried women in particular endured many forms of discrimination. Several states had laws mandating equal opportunity for women.
Employers frequently discriminated against persons with HIV and AIDs. The government spoke out in opposition to such discrimination, calling it a violation of the fundamental right to work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In April 2019 President Buhari signed legislation increasing the legal national monthly minimum wage. The minimum wage was not higher than the poverty income level. Trade unions protested the failure of the new minimum wage to keep up with inflation. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from this minimum, and the large majority of workers were not covered. Government enforcement of the minimum wage, particularly by state governments, remained sporadic despite workers’ protests and warning strikes. For example, on December 23, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) conditionally suspended its nine-month strike (the country’s longest strike since 1999) in protest of the government’s nonpayment of salaries of ASUU members and failure to revitalize public-sector universities.
The law mandates a 40-hour workweek, two to four weeks of annual leave, and overtime and holiday pay, except for agricultural and domestic workers. The law does not define premium pay or overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime for civilian government employees. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar violations.
The law establishes appropriate health and safety provisions. The law requires employers to compensate injured workers and dependent survivors of workers killed in industrial accidents. The law provides for the protection of factory employees in hazardous situations. The law does not provide other nonfactory workers with similar protections. The law applies to legal foreign workers, but not all companies respected these laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcing these standards. The ministry did not effectively enforce occupational health and safety law and did not have a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce compliance. The department is tasked to inspect factories’ compliance with health and safety standards, but it was underfunded, lacked basic resources and training, and consequently did not sufficiently enforce safety regulations at most enterprises, particularly construction sites and other nonfactory work locations. Labor inspections mostly occurred randomly but occasionally occurred when there was suspicion, rather than actual complaints, of illegal activity. In addition the government did not enforce the law strictly. Authorities did not enforce standards in the informal sector, which included the majority of workers.