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Ogun workers strike: government wins two weeks reprieve


OgunThe two weeks strike by Ogun State workers to protest the conversion of their pension and other deductions to state revenue, is a forewarning to Governor Ibikunle Amosun that they can never be taken for a ride.
One could hardly believe that the once lively Oke-Mosan, the Ogun State Governor’s Office that hosted President Muhammadu Buhari during the state’s 40th year anniversary few weeks ago, could suddenly become a ghost town.

But for the presence of political office holders, members of the House of Assembly and some senior officials, driving in and out of the Secretariat, the ministries and their entire compound was like a grave yard, as the offices were locked, for the period the strike action lasted. This was the situation for all the parastatal, hospitals, schools, local governments and all government establishments across the state.

For the period, all government activities were grounded, no thanks to the indefinite strike by organised labour — the Joint National Negotiating Council — to press home its demands.

Despite arrests, threats and intimidation, via a no work, no pay order, the workers were resolute in their demands, describing the Governor Ibikunle Amosun-led administration as not being alive to its responsibility as government.

The workers grievances are in two phases; non-remmittance of their contributory Pensions, on one hand, and secondly, non-remittance of their monthly contributions. The Guardian learnt that since 2011, government has not remitted pension funds of over 67 months and nine months of monthly contributions, like bank loans, union due, leave allowances and others.

It was learnt that the union leaders, on different occasions, had met with the governor to pour out their grievances, which always fell on deaf hears. The recent meeting was an agreement, through the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), jointly signed by government representatives and JNC/TUC/NLC in January.

Though, it was generally known that the state seems to be going through a period of insolvency, like others, but what seems to be agitating the minds of workers is how the recent bailout from the Federal Government just disappeared, coupled with what they termed improper utilisation of the state’s robust Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to stay afloat.

Considering what transpired between the workers and labour from March 7 to 16, during which the strike lasted, if no solution is found during the two weeks window given to government, there might be another showdown.

The union leaders accused government of masterminding series of attacks on their members. They claimed that they were molested, tear-gassed, handcuffed and also arrested by the police on the instructions of the Secretary to the State Government.

Another thing was the threat to implement the “no work, no pay” rule of the Trade Dispute Act, from Monday, March 14, if the workers failed to resume.

In a statement signed by the Head of Service, Sola Adeyemi, “the state government has invoked the ‘no work, no pay’ rule of the Trade Dispute Act, in relation to the industrial action. The state government has also directed all workers to be at their duty posts from Monday, March 14, 2016.”

What annoyed JNC leadership the more, was the fact that the threat was issued at a time when the state lawmakers were appealing to the workers to end the strike. The House of Assembly, via a statement made available by its Head of Information, Lawal Jamiu, on Sunday, March 13,‎ resolved to intervene in the dispute over the non-remittance of deductions in workers’ salary.

The statement added that ‎at a meeting with the labour leaders, led by the Chairman of the state chapter of the Joint National Negotiating Council, Abiodun Olakanmi, the leadership of the House led by the Speaker, Suraju Adekunbi, called for the suspension of the strike to allow it look into the matter with a view to fashioning out a lasting solution to the dispute.

The Assembly blamed the situation on the global oil price, saying the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government in the state is a labour friendly one.

According to the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS), Wale Adenaya, “for the avoidance of doubt, it might serve a greater advantage to opinionate why some of us in this struggle felt and still feel strongly that the ongoing industrial action in Ogun State should be sustained until our government sees reasons why we must be attended to without delay.”

He noted that the apparent silence of the governor over the strike action is not only offensive, but also quite insulting to the collective sensibilities of workers and their dependants.

Adenaya added that the recent ordered attack, molestation, tear-gassing, handcuffing and eventual arrests of some labour leaders by the police on the instructions of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), without any clothing of decency have brutalised the psyche and psychology of the entire workers of the state.

A teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Guardian that the deductions, bank loans, unions’ dues, leave allowances, unpaid gratuities, and the unremitted pension funds have sent many of their colleagues to their early graves.

It was learnt that in the secondary school sector alone, between September 2015 and February 2016, over 40 teachers and principals had died. The situation is the same in other sectors, whose workers were affected by the issues.

Said he; “Our children’s education has been impaired, crippled and greatly retarded by these unremitted funds. And we are often told that these innocent kids are our future leaders: then “why kill them before they grow?

“The government’s many failed promises, for instance, the MOU jointly signed by government representatives and JNC/TUC/NLC in January, which led us to where we are today have created mistrust, feeling of betrayal and misgivings in the hearts of workers towards labour leaders in the state. Government is not doing civil and public servants in the state any favour, when salaries and allowances are paid as and when due. After all, payment of such is the responsibility of government in the first place.”

It was learnt that before this period, several warning strikes had been carried out and the governor, always promising the workers of settling the issue, never deemed it fit to fulfill his promises.

The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last election, Prince Gboyega Isiaka criticised the state government on the strike.

Also, a group within the party, PDP Action Movement, also berated Amosun for his insensitivity to the plight of the workers. They urged the governor to respect the Memorandum of Understanding his government signed with the workers in the state.

Isiaka said, “with the abundant resources available in the state and with government’s claim of generating over N6b as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) every month, government needs not to tamper with the contributory deductions of workers to finance its White Elephant projects.”

But is the state broke? The Guardian was on the trail of the commissioner for finance, Adewale Oshinowo, for three days without any result. When the reporter first got in touch with the Information Officer, she told The Guardian that the commissioner was not in the best position to speak on the issue.

When she was later told that it is only the finance ministry that can give the actual amount owed the workers, in terms of facts and figures, she demanded for the questions to be forwarded to her telephone line. She eventually sent the commissioner’s Personal Assistant’s contact.

Around noon last Tuesday, the PA said Oshinowo was with the governor and he was not aware when he would be back. When he was called on Wednesday, he told The Guardian to speak with the SSG, that he was in the best position to speak on the issue.

But the Commissioner of Information, Dayo Adeneye, told The Guardian that as at last Tuesday, some of the workers had resumed. “It is just a small fraction that has refused to come to work and we are not going to force them, it is their right, but they should not prevent those who want to come to work, they should not stop them, because we paid February salaries. Though they claim we are owing some deductions, but due to the economic situation of the country, the state is doing everything humanly possible to take care of their demands, but we cannot give what we don’t have.”

When asked of the actual amount owed the workers, he said; “I can’t give you figures, that was why we issued a statement; sincerely speaking we don’t want to do that. Giving the situation of the country, we know what the price of oil was last year. Ogun State pays one of the highest wages in Nigeria, in December, we paid salaries and bonuses, we have paid February salary and if we are doing that within our power, the least they could do is to cooperate with government. So, if we are owing, we would pay, if the financial situation of the state improves.”

He added that “Ogun is one of the four states that have paid salaries up to date; some are still paying October 2014 salaries. Somebody that pays February salary, is the person broke? The roads are bad, there is need to provide water, where do we get money to do all these? The situation calls for understanding.”

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