Itodo Daniel Sule, Lokoja
There appears to be no end in sight in the ongoing trade disputes between organised labour and the Kogi State government over backlogs of unpaid salaries to workers and other sundry issues. The organised labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Public Sector Joint Negotiation Council (PSJNC), had commenced an indefinite strike action on September 22, which had since taken hard tolls on both economic and government activities in the state.
State Secretaries of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Olakunle Faniyi; Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Kolawole James and their Joint Public Services Negotiating Council (JPSNC) counterpart, Comrade Isah Abubakar, said their grievances bordered on issues of unpaid salaries/pensions, introduction of contributory pensions as well as clock-in-clock-out policy of the government.
“We are resolute on saying no to the casualization of the Kogi State workforce through the clock-in-clock-out policy, we reject completely the attempt by government to use a hoarse contributory pension scheme to further impoverish workers, and we insist that government pay the salaries/pension of workers/ pensioners who have been denied salaries/pension for the past 21 months and other categories of arrears ranging from 2 to 13 months. “As it stands today in Kogi State, over thirty percent of the workforce are being owed 21 months salaries; 21 percent have unpaid salaries between 11 and 18 months while about 45 percent took their salaries up till July this year. These are the categories of workers Kogi State government is forcing to embrace the ‘clock-in clockout’ policy of the government,” the labour leaders said.
But more than four weeks into the industrial action, there seemed to be no way out of the standoff soon as the state government by its body language and actions appear not ready to call the labour leaders for negotiations. It has instead been a war of words between the state government and organised labour.
While the state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello admitted that he was owing workers only two months salaries, organised labour has accused him of being economical with the truth, insisting that workers were still being owed cumulative of unpaid salaries running into 21 months.
Bello, who said so after his meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja recently, described those accusing him of owing several months of unpaid salaries as “political civil servants”.
Briefing State House Correspondents after the meeting, Bello said, “Those workers that are on strike are political civil servants. Real civil servants are coming to work. We are trying our best to keep up with the payment of salaries.
In a statement jointly signed by the secretaries of the Kogi State chapter of NLC, TUC and Joint Negotiation Council, they described the claims of the governor as “very unfortunate and ungodly”.
“Governor Bello is fully aware that there are workers and pensioners being owed their entitlement up to 21 months. To describe this set of people who are daily dying of starvation and treatable ailments as political civil servants is the greatest inhumanity to man.
“It is an irony of life for Governor Bello to describe the workers, who contributed immensely to his success at the polls, as political civil servants, when their entitlements are not being paid for over 20 months,” the workers said.
The impasse between labour and the state government took another twist following the recent death of a director in the state Civil Service, Mr Edward Soje, who committed suicide over alleged unpaid salaries of about 11 months.
This tragic incident prompted the House of Representatives to set up an investigative panel into the salary crises in the state.
The House also mandated the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to, within one week, report and explain the utilisation of Salary Bailout Fund given to states.
The directives followed a unanimous adoption of a Motion of Urgent National Importance moved by Rep. Sunday Karimi (Kogi-PDP) at the plenary presided over by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
Moving the motion, Karim said in spite of the federal statutory allocation, salary bailout funds and Paris Club refund received by Kogi government, non-payment of state and local government workers salaries lingered.
He said Mr Edward Soje, a director in the Kogi Civil Service Commission committed suicide for not being able to meet his obligations as a father and husband.
According to Karimi, if nothing was done immediately about the situation in Kogi, more civil servants who are frustrated will commit suicide.
The Kogi government has denied responsibility for the death of the late civil servant, saying the late Soje took his salaries up till December 2016 when it was stopped due to alleged falsification of age and efforts were on to pay his arrears after he was granted pardon prior to the incident.
On the House of Representatives directive on bailout funds, Paris Club Refund and salary payment updates, the Director General on Media and Publicity to the Kogi State Governor, Kingsley Fanwo, said the state has acted transparently by publishing all its receipts and expenditures in the national dailies.
“As a government, we have high regards for the House of Representatives as an institution but the House should be conscious of people who take political battles to the floor of the Green Chambers. The respected institution should not be dragged into the political vendetta of self-serving politicians,” Fanwo said.
Governor Yahaya Bello