The Governor Dapo Abiodun-led Ogun State Government Thursday charged the representatives of the organised labour unions in the state to return to the negotiation table to resolve the grey areas over the demands for better welfare for the workers in the interest of the generality of the people of the state.
The Abiodun administration described the abrupt withdrawal of the labour team from negotiation and unilateral declaration of one-week strike as unfair, indecorous and violation of the principles of collective bargaining.
The government added that it was a surprise that labour would take the step even when the negotiation process was still ongoing.
Abiodun, in a statement by the Secretary to the State Government, Tokunbo Talabi, said government was taken aback as “labour manifested brinkmanship, where instead of labour input into the Pension Reform Bill as agreed, they issued a notice of Trade Dispute with demands that transcended the Pension Reform Bill.”
The statement traced the genesis of the crisis to the Pension Reform Bill passed by Ogun State House of Assembly which labour noted did not seek their opinion and inputs.
Talabi said the government after due apology for the lapses set up a team to liaise with the Assembly and representatives of labour union to trash out areas of concerns.
The secretary said on receipt of Trade Dispute Notice, government mandated its team to engage the labour union leaders with the first meeting held on September 14 progressing to September 15, where issues were narrowed down to specific towards amicable resolutions.
But surprisingly, he said, instead of notifying government of the outcome of the meeting, the labour union leaders took excuse to attend to their members in order to conclude the negotiation, only to proceed to declare the meeting deadlock and announced the commencement of warning strike the next day (September 16).
“This is most unfortunate and a negation of civility and expected ethos that should underpin negotiations between government (particularly one that has demonstrated in many ways its commitment to staff welfare) and organised labour who are presumed partners in the task of developing the state and catering for the welfare and wellbeing of all citizens and residents.
“This behaviour lends credence to insinuations that labour may be acting out a script,” he said.
Talabi gave the breakdown of the inherited outstanding personnel liabilities from the last administration: Gratuity of exited (retired) personnel: state personnel accumulated from 2014-2019 – N18.5 billion; Local Government and SUBEB 2011-2019 – N32.5 billion; Sub-total Gratuity – N51.0 billion; Leave Bonus from 2015-2019 – N9.2 billion; Contributory Pension Liabilities (state government) – N20.1 billion; Local Government and SUBEB – N26.4 billion; Sub-total Contributory Pension Liabilities – N46.5 billion; Promotion Arrears – N217 Million; totalling N106.9 billion.
According to him, the past administration only remitted the deductions from staff salary for check off dues and cooperative deductions in the twilight of its exit, leaving out accumulated Contributory Pensions.
On the financial implications of labour unions’ demands, the Abiodun administration said it was jointly agreed that a committee be set up to fashion out an appropriate pension system for the state, look into the implementation of New Minimum Wage which would increase the monthly wage bill by N1.04 billion and address the payment of Leave Bonus.
But the statement said labour unions wanted an immediate payment of three-year arrears, amounting to approximately N9.2 billion, while on payment of gratuity, labour leaders demanded immediate payment of three years arrears which is approximately N24 billion and they wanted additional payment of about N1.2 billion for the underpayment by the last administration to some categories of retired personnel.
The government added that labour unions demanded for Gross Salary Payment, regular remittance of deductions from staff salaries as appropriate, noting that government has already commenced regular remittance of these deductions and would continue to do so.
Other demands according to the statement were the outstanding three-year promotion (2018-2020), putting the summary of these demands by labour unions to about N32.5 billion for immediate disbursement and subsequent additional N2 billion monthly on top of the current wage bill.
The secretary noted that when government signed the agreement with labour unions for the implementation of the new minimum wage, “no one envisaged COVID-19 and its debilitating socio-economic impact that has constrained the Internally Generated Revenue of the state and the unplanned expenditures in the wake of the pandemic.
“This has forced Ogun State like most states in the country to review our 2020 budget down from approximately N450 billion to N280 billion, about 38 per cent downward review.
“A cursory look at the financial implications of the demands of labour in comparison to the budget size will see a glaring demonstration of the government to be as accommodating of the demands as possible, even in the face of manifest COVID-19 induced constraints and uncertainty,” he explained.
On the labour unions’ demand for the payment of the new minimum wage, which has been seen as a priority, the statement said government has agreed to the implementation of the new minimum wage for all categories of workers, commencing from November, 2020, while government would also continue to ensure regular remittance of deductions from staff salary to avoid addition to the backlog and gradually clear any outstanding arrears.
The statement, however, added: “The remaining demands will be subjects of further joint reviews, the first of which will be in March 2021.”
The government said: “As an administration, we remain committed to the welfare of Ogun State workers as we are to the fulfilment of our electoral promises to the generality of Ogun State citizens and residents.”