Ogun govt faults workers’ seven days warning strike

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..commences payment of new minimum wage in November

Bankole Taiwo, Abeokuta

Ogun State government on Thursday condemned the decision of the workers to abruptly abandoned an ongoing negotiation with the government team to iron out some of their grievances and then declare a seven-day warning strike saying that it was quite obvious that the workers were only acting out a script.

The Secretary to the State Government, Mr Tokunbo Talabi in a statement made available to newsmen on Thursday, however said that the state government would begin payment of the N30,000 new minimum wage to its workers from November.

The SSG said this would mean additional N1.5bn to the monthly wage bill of the state.

This decision, Talabi said was hinged on the desire of the workers who had declared during the negotiation with the government that payment of the minimum wage came atop every of other requests from the government.

Talabi disclosed that the Pension Reform Acts of 2020 that was passed by the State House of Assembly without sufficient consultation with labour had been the initial grouse labour had with the government.

He stated that the essence of the reform was to correct the conflict between the Ogun State Pension Law of 2006 (as amended in 2013) and the Pension Reform Act of 2014, as a prelude to addressing the anomalies that characterised the pension practice for the State workers.

Talabi said the labour had written on the government on 31 August, 2020 to express its displeasure with the process and that immediately, Gov. Dapo Abiodun immediately constituted a team comprising of the Secretary to the State Government, Head of Service, Chief of Staff, Honourable Commissioner for Finance & Chief Economic Adviser, Accountant General, Permanent Secretaries (Bureau of Service Matters, Establishment & Training, Budget & Planning, Bureau of State Pensions, Bureau of Local Government Pensions), Solicitor-General, among other top state functionaries to engage with labour.

He explained that government team promptly invited the representatives of labour to a meeting the following day on 1 September, 2020 to obtain their input as the Bill was yet to be assented to by the Governor.

The labour team was said to be comprised of the Chairman of the State Chapter of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), his Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) counterparts, and other labour leaders, including the representatives of some affiliate unions.

He said that at the meeting, the government had regretted the inadequate consultation with labour and there was an agreement that labour’s input would be provided within a week so that the Bill could be returned to the House of Assembly for review. That same day, labour leaders were also said to have went to the House of Assembly and the Speaker, Rt. Hon Olakunle Oluomo reassured them that their input would be considered in a revised Bill.

In what would later manifest as a pattern of deliberate brinkmanship, on the day following the two  separate meetings with Government representatives and the Speaker of the House (2 September, 2020),

The government stated further that while it awaited the promised labour’s input into the Pension Reform Bill as agreed, the next thing it saw was a 21 days notice of strike action with demands that transcended the issue of Pension Reform.

The governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun at this instance again mandated the government team to invite and engage labour in another round of negotiation to resolve some of the issues tabled before the government.

The first negotiation meeting was said to have been held on Monday,14 September, 2020 and progressed very well such that by the following day, Tuesday, 15 September, 2020, the process narrowed down the issues and was seemingly approaching an amicable resolution when the labour team requested for a 30-minute adjournment for their own internal consultation and response on government offers.

Talabi said the government team had excused themselves from the venue of the meeting (the Head of Service Conference Room) and returned to their offices, awaiting a notification from the labour team to resume the negotiation process, as was the case the previous day.

The SSG said that rather than the labour team notifying the government team of the conclusion of their internal discussion and resumption of the negotiation, even if they differ on government offers, they left the venue of the negotiation and proceeded to declare a deadlock in the negotiation and a one week warning strike, commencing from Wednesday, 16 September, 2020.

Talabi said the government condemned this seemingly unruly behaviour of the labour leaders saying that this behaviour lends credence to insinuations that labour may be acting out a script.

The government explained that inherited from liabilities from the immediate past administration of Gov Ibikunle Amosun included accumulated gratuities for those who retired from the State from 2014 – 2019 totalling N18.5 Billion, local government and State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB (2011 – 2019) amounting to 32.5bn, five years leave bonus from 2015 to 2019 totalling N9.2bn, contributory pensioners liabilities of about N46.5bn and  promotion arrears of N217m all totaling N106.9bn.

He said the past administration only remitted the deductions from staff salary for check off dues and cooperativedeductions in the twilight of its exit, leaving out accumulated Contributory Pensions.

The SSG explained that some of the issues the labour want the government to resolve immediately are implementation of the new Minimum wage which means additional N1.5bn to the monthly wage bill, an immediate payment of 3-year arrears of leave bonus amounting to N9.2bn, immediate payment for 3 years arrears of gratuities of N24bn and additional payment of about N1.2bn for the underpayment by the last administration to some categories of retired personnel.

Others are gross payment of salaries to include regular remittances of all deductions as well as payment of outstanding 3-year promotion arrears from 2018-2020.

The summary of these demands by labour according to the statement was the immediate disbursement of about N32.5bn and additional N2bn monthly on top of the current wage bill.

The government said due to the preference of the workers during the negotiation where they have picked the minimum wage issue as the most priority, the government would begin its payment from November, 2020.

The government said that it would also from henceforth ensure gross payment of salaries including cooperative deductions while the accumulated arrears of deductions would be cleared.

It however said every other requests of the workers would be due for further discussion by March, 2021 while on the controversial Pension Reforms Act 2020 passed into law without adequate inputs from the workers which initially formed the basis of their disagreement with the government, a committee would be set up to decide the best pension system for the state.

The government revealed that the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the world economy leading to dwindling of resources which forced the state to reduce its budget by 38% from 450bn to N280bn remain major constraint to meeting up with the workers’ expectations.

The government insisted that it had always given workers’ welfare highest priority clearing backlog of promotion for over 10,000 teaching and non-teaching staff, absorbing into full employment almost 2,000 ASCON candidates engaged in the twilight of the past administration, pardoning and re-absorption into service of labour leaders sacked by the past administration with full benefits restored, prompt payment of salaries and pensions among others.

The government has however called on the workers to resume work while their leaders return to the negotiation table with the government to further dialogue on the way forward.

The government disclosed further that it would continue to demonstrate openness, transparency and sincerity in its dealings with the workers saying that any of its agreement with labour will be based on ability of the State to pay, without jeopardising the ability of government to discharge its obligations to the generality of the citizenry.