Government, Wednesday, warned governors against reducing the remunerations and hours of work of workers. The warning came against the backdrop of actions of Imo and Benue state governments to compel workers in their employ to work for some days and go to the farm for other days of the week. While Imo asked its workers to work in offices for three days of the week and go to farm for the remaining two days, Benue set aside Fridays as the day for all civil servants to go to the farm, as part of efforts to reduce wage bills and diversify their economies through agriculture.
Imo State government also cut the monthly salary of civil servants in the state by 30 per cent, all in a bid to cut recurrent cost. Similarly, Nasarawa State government had been at loggerheads with its workers over months of unpaid salaries, which culminated in the killing of two workers as civil servants protested at Government House, Lafia, a few weeks ago. Incidentally, the three are all All Progressives Congress, APC-controlled states. But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who spoke on behalf of the government, said the action of the governors was illegal and asked them to reverse their decisions.
Ngige, in a statement issued by Samuel Olowokere, Deputy Director Press in the ministry, said the warning was necessary to restore industrial harmony and forestall breakdown of law and order. He said the warning followed protracted industrial crisis involving the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress, TUC, and Nasarawa State government, particularly, which led to the nationwide protests on Tuesday, as workers rallied in solidarity with their counterparts in Nasarawa. The minister said the step was pursuant to the powers invested in him by Section 5(1) and (2) of the Trade Dispute Act, Laws of Nigeria, 2004. He said this was also predicated on a letter to him by Governor Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State for the ministry to help resolve labour crisis in the state.
Ngige said all parties were invited for a crucial meeting, yesterday, at the Ministry of Labour to resolve the issues. He said: “Sequel to this, I hereby direct the unions to suspend the proposed picketing of government offices and demonstrations. I enjoin all parties to maintain the status quo ante, pending the outcome of the meeting intended to resolve the issues in dispute. Similarly, to avoid further escalation of disputes of this type all over the states of the federation, state governments are, hereby, advised to always negotiate any issue that touches on the salaries and wages of workers. This is in order to ensure that they obtain a Collective Bargaining Agreement, BCA, before these remunerations are tampered with. I wish to add, for the avoidance of doubt, that the issue of minimum wage flows from the Minimum Wage Act, 2011.”
Ngige said the law of the land must be respected by all in both public and private institutions. He, however, said the issue of arbitrary reduction in the hours of work was against the International Labour Organisation, ILO, regulation; Convention 1, which had been adopted and domesticated by Nigeria. He said the law prescribed eight hours of work in a day and not more than 40 hours in a week. Ngige added that the caution had become necessary to draw the attention of all concerned to these issues in order to avoid unnecessary industrial relations disputes that could be averted through proactive dialogue.
Reacting to the development, last night, Imo State government said it was not aware of any directive against the three-day work week for workers. Confirming the state government’s position when he was contacted on phone, the Commissioner for Information and Public Utilities, Chief Vitalis Orikeze Ajumbe, said the news was strange to the administration. “This administration is not aware of the development. Let me also state clearly that we have not been officially communicated by the Federal Government on the issue,” Ajumbe said.
While recalling that the State Executive Council took the decision at a properly constituted meeting, the commissioner also said the same body would discuss the issue whenever the state government got the directive. “The governor has just returned from his trip overseas. Let us not lose sight of the fact that this state is autonomous and it is our business to make laws and take decisions on how to run the administration,” the commissioner said. But the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Rochas Okorocha, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, said Labour leaders, including the President, Abdulawahab Wabba, signed an agreement with the state government that whatever was the accruing income of the state each month, including IGR, Labour would take 70 per cent for salaries and pension, while 30 per cent would be given to the government for projects, so the government didn’t cut workers’ salaries.
Benue State government, last night, said it did not contravene any law by asking workers to embark on farming activities every Friday, instead of being at their official duty posts. Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and ICT, Mr. Tahav Agerzua, said the decision of the government was necessitated by the shortfall in revenue accruable to the state and the inability of the government to pay salaries as at when due. Agerzua said: “We are certainly not among the states that are perceived to have contravened any law in that regard. What we did was to allow workers go to their farms between July and August to enable them cultivate to help feed their families. It’s not a permanent thing and I don’t think we have flouted the laws. We just want to create a situation where we would ensure that our economy is diversified in the face of inability to pay salaries as at when due so that they can produce to feed their families. We have not done it as a permanent feature, it is only going to last for two months. So we have not contravened any law as far as I know.”