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N30,000 Minimum Wage: Backlog of pensions, salaries bog down Southeast governments

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There are fears that backlog of pensions and salaries owed workers in the states across the Southeast might encumber full implementation of the new minimum wage, passed into law by the Federal Government recently.

The Guardian gathered that while the workers are jostling that the new wage be implemented fully, retired workers, who are owed many years pension, are asking that they be paid before any attention is given to the new pay.

On their part, the state governments are handling the matter with caution and have opted for negotiations to avoid anything that could cause workers unrest in the zone.

It was gathered that aside Anambra, the four others states of Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia are seriously indebted to pensioners. These debts vary from one state to the other.

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For instance, Enugu is said to owe pension of local government workers and primary school teachers as well.

A retired primary school teacher in the state, Mr. Onyekachi

Okolie recently cried out that government should pay his backlog of about 36 months pension.

In a petition, Okolie said he was terminally sick and needed the money to solve his health challenges.

However, the State Executive Secretary of Local Government Pensions Board, Mr. Nana Ogbodo, described Okolie’s claim as outrageous.

Teachers in public primary schools in Abia State resumed work on June 18, after suspending their three-month-old statewide strike.

The teachers embarked on strike in April to press home their demands for payment of 10 months salary arrears and implementation of teachers’ salary scale (TSS). Other demands were payment of outstanding promotion and leave allowances by the state government.

Pensioners in Imo are being owed many years. The immediate past administration of Rochas Okorocha continued to play politics with payment of pension, until it accumulated. At a point, the government agreed to pay one month on the condition that each beneficiary signed away whatever was owed him/her.

Addressing reporters recently, the senior citizens expressed concern over the pension situation in the zone, particularly in Imo State, where it was reported that the immediate past state government slashed pensions to 40 per cent and was indebted to retirees to the tune of N56.4bn in arrears as of last year.

Ibuchukwu Ezike, National President, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) said it would be criminal for any government in the Southeast not to pay the new minimum wage. He said failure to obey the law could attract imprisonment.

He said: “I do not see why they cannot pay. Which project has any of them executed that will make them unable to pay? Are they not getting allocation? Are they not getting their Internally Generated Revenue? What are they doing with their security votes? They have enough resources to pay, just that they sometimes try to be smart, by engaging workers in a long battle.

“We at the CLO are even saying the new wage is not enough. Very many poorer countries in Africa pay higher wage than Nigeria, and if in their poor state, they still take good care of their workers, how much more Nigeria? Go to Tanzania and see what they are paying their workers in their local currency.

“What we are saying is that all of us buy from the same market and we are talking about N30, 000 as minimum wage. Enter the market with N30, 000 and see what will be left by the time you are through. We are not doing what we are supposed to do in this country. We don’t take care of the needy among us…”

[FILE PHOTO] Enugu state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

Enugu: Government, Labour Negotiating
In Enugu, expectations are high among workers that the new wage will be fully implemented. Indeed, a great number of workers that gathered on May 1 at Michael Okpara Square for the 2019 Workers’ Day celebration came in anticipation that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who was the Special Guest of honour, would announce immediate implementation of the approved wage.

This was clearly captured in the addresses delivered by the state chairmen of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Virginus Nwobodo and that of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Chukwuma igbokwe.

At the occasion, they urged the Governor to “approve and ensure that the new minimum wage is fully implemented for the workers of Enugu State” to the admiration of the crowd of workers.

But Ugwuanyi had disappointed them. He said his government
would consult with relevant stakeholders and agree on how to go about it, assuring that the workers would be the ultimate beneficiaries.

It was gathered that since that celebration, negotiations have been going on between government representatives and labour unions on the method of implementation.

Igbokwe told The Guardian that Joint Negotiation Council was set up by the state government, made up of 10 representatives from each flank.

He said: “What they are proposing in the committee was rejected by us because we wanted it to spread across board. If they don’t agree, the people will hear our voice. Whatever formula it takes to move a junior worker to N30, 000 should also be used for a senior worker. That is where we are presently. We have not got to the stage where we will engage in mass action.

“The duty of the Negotiation Council is to ensure that there is agreement on the new minimum wage to be paid by government. They must find ways of adjusting salary to reflect the new wage. We know that the situation may not be same for the various states.”

Asked whether the state government has the capacity to pay, he said government should check its income, its work force and expenditure and come to the negotiation table with it. “If there is no fund to pay, we have not been told that,” he said.

He, however, said it was wrong to allude that government should pay additional N30, 000 to every worker in the state.

He said: “What would happen is an adjustment of workers’ salary, based on the approved new wage. If government doesn’t have the money to pay, then it should come back to Labour and there will be negotiation on how it should be paid. We are looking at the Federal Government to get it right. It is FG’s that will be used as template for implementation.

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“We need not worry much for now, until our representatives at the meeting tell us that it will not be possible. Then we will take action… We are, however, comforted by the fact that the Federal Government has signed this into law with effect from May 2019. So, anytime the agreement is reached, they will pay us arrears.”

Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha

Imo Government Keeps Mum
From all indications, Imo State government has not begun any move towards implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage.

All efforts to ascertain government’s position on its level of preparedness did not yield results.

A few days ago, the Governor raised a panel to ascertain Imo’s financial state. However, he is yet to put in place any committee to interface with either Labour or workers on the issue.

Before the exit of immediate past administration of Rochas Okorocha last month, he categorically stated that the state government would pay the minimum wage.

When Okorocha made this declaration, civil servants did not take him serious, as they knew he would neither continue in office nor succeed in putting his anointed successor in office.

Circumstances brought Ihedioha, a different man from a different
political party into office.

The Chief Press Secretary to Ihedioha, Chibuike Onyeukwu, however, told The Guardian, that the Governor would comment on the issue in due course.

In the interim, the governor issued a directive restoring the 100 per cent of workers’ salary.

But in their May salary, workers received the same 70 per cent. The argument was that the state account officers had pay-rolled before the governor’s directive.

In 2017, Okorocha had reduced workers’ salaries from 100 per cent to 70 per cent, claiming that the state government could no longer pay, due to dwindling revenue.

Indeed, he had wanted to downsize the workforce, which was met with stiff resistance, resulting to a truce for 70 per cent payment.

Speaking on the issue, the state chairman of NLC, Comrade Austin Chilakpu, stated that they were very expectant that the State Government would implement the new wage. He urged for time.

Some workers, who spoke with The Guardian, said they were waiting for the Governor to implement the law.

A Civil Servant, John Nwosu, said they were not expecting any excuses from any quarter.

“I’m expecting that the payment of N30, 000 minimum wage, which is law, should be implemented without any excuse. Any excuse would be resisted,” he said.

For Ngozi Opara, the implementation is a matter of workers’ right as stipulated in a national law. She regretted that the approved benchmark was not enough, given prevailing economic circumstances.

“We are waiting for the state government to say something on that. We are, nevertheless, happy that the Governor has restored our 100 per cent salaries. We hope he will do the needful to pay the new minimum wage. If this does not happen, of course, the next move is to protest,” she said.

[FILE PHOTO] Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu

Abia Government, Workers Await Circular From Wages Commission
In Abia State, the issue of possible payment or otherwise of the new national minimum wage is hinged on the circular and salary table from the National Wages Salaries, Income and Wages Commission.

Representative of the state Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, at the 2019 Workers Day celebration rally, Mr. Onyii Wamah, who is also the state Head of Service, announced that the state government was willing to pay the new wage, but was awaiting the circular from the Wages Commission.

He said: “When the circular comes, government and workers will meet. Government will meet with leaders of NLC and TUC to decide on what would make workers happy and avoid  ‘Abia Formula.’

State chairmen of NLC and TUC, Comrades Uchenna Obigwe and Sunny Onwuma, had touched on the issue, while addressing the May Day rally at Ibeku High School in Umuahia.

Obigwe said: “Abia workers appreciated President Muhammadu
Buhari for signing the N30, 000 national minimum wage into law. The tables and circulars are already out, and will trickle down to the states and local governments. We are optimistic that our Governor will implement it without delay.”

Similarly, Comrade Onwuma said: “Once the Salary and Wages Commission releases the salary table, our understanding Governor will be glad to do the needful, since the N30, 000 falls short of the N42, 000 he was willing to pay, as reported by the media.”

When contacted for an update on the workers’ position, Comrade Obigwe again told The Guardian that workers were still awaiting the Circular and Salary Table from the Commission.

He said: “It is only when the Federal Government releases this circular and table that workers can take a stand and begin our struggle. We are battle ready. It is also this Circular and Table that the state government is awaiting.”

Willie Obiano

Anambra Govt Says It Will Pay
In Anambra State, Governor Willie Obiano has assured workers that he would pay the new wage, as soon as the payment circular is received from the National Wages and Salaries Commission.

As at the time of filing this report, however, the circular had not been received, even as there is growing speculation among workers regarding when the implementation would take effect.

But a lecturer at the Anambra State University, Uli, John Ekwe argued that the state has the capacity, ability and financial wherewithal to fully pay the minimum wage.

He said this is because Obiano, described as the “alert governor,” has been regularly paying salaries and pensions.

He said: “The problem is that our politicians in general are greedy. During campaigns, they promised to pay the minimum wage, pensions and gratuity, leave allowances and any other money accruing to civil servants. So, I don’t see any reason they cannot fulfil their promises. Any governor who says he cannot pay should resign. Also, based on Federation allocation and grants received by states, governors ought to pay.”

Another respondent, Vincent Nwafor, said the state government generates over N500bn as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) annually. So, the governor should comfortably pay without waiting for federal allocation.

He said: “What is N30, 000? It is not sufficient for a family of four. Our problem is greed; we are self-centered. Even if governors are given N5bn monthly, they will still say it is not enough to pay salaries.”

In his own view, the state chairman of NLC, Comrade Jerry Nnubia commended Obiano for accepting to pay the new minimum wage.

He said: “We are waiting for the implementation order from the National Wages and Salaries Commission. And as soon as the circular on this is released, we will follow it up. Anambra government has the capacity to pay. The Governor had on May Day Celebration this year and at other fora, said he would pay. I have confidence that Obiano will pay.”

A civil servant, Lady Ann Okeke, however, accused governors of being fraudulent.

She said: “They cannot fight for the welfare of civil servants. They are only interested in their families and friends. How can a governor/politician move in a convoy of six to seven cars on the road? All these paraphernalia should be limited and used to pay staff salary.

“Why should an aide earn more than a civil servant? Is it not civil
servants that generate money for the states? Why can’t governors pay? Why do some states owe workers over three years salary back log?”

In her view, any governor that cannot pay should resign.

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State

Ebonyi Is Reviewing Taxes, School Fees Before Paying New Wage
The issue of payment of the new minimum wage by Ebonyi State government is generating heated argument among the people, especially civil servants, following Governor David Umahi’s declaration that before paying the new minimum wage, his administration would review taxes and school fees.

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Umahi, who said his government was committed to paying the new salary, made it clear that he would not be the first or last to pay.

Umahi has inaugurated a 20-man joint committee on the new minimum wage with mandate to look into implementation of the new salary and promotion of civil servants, even as he plans to send the outcome to the state House of Assembly.

He charged members of the committee to put more efforts on how to raise state’s internally generated revenue profile to enable it cope with the new wage.

He also said the committee’s focus should be more on junior
Workers, as well as ensure that no junior worker earned more than those of senior cadre.

The Governor reiterated that state government would definitely review payable fees, especially in the state-owned tertiary institutions, adding that the Vice Chancellor and others had been directed to go round and examine the fees paid in other universities to enable the state take a stand.

He warned that he would not accommodate lazy workers, and encouraged them to be on their toes in their various positions.

He said: “The next four years will be to work, and anybody willing to work will do so, but anybody not willing to work will cry. We will reposition the civil service by fire by force…

“When I was campaigning and said I needed your support, I wasn’t lying. There is no going back on the new minimum wage, but let me disappoint labour leaders, Ayuba and Chukwuma. I will not be the first to pay; I will not be the last to pay. But we will definitely pay.”

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