The suspension of the payment of the new minimum wage by the Delta State government for civil servants grade 7 to 17, has generated heated reactions by the main opposition parties the All Progressives Congress ( APC ), the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and various stakeholders in the state, INNEH BARTH writes.
Delta State Government and organised labour unions in the state have agreed to temporally suspend the payment of N30,000 minimum wage for civil servants of grade level 7 to 17 and to revert to the N18,000 old minimum wage.
The agreement was reached at the end of a meeting between the government representatives, Nigerian Labour Congress NLC, Trade Union Congress TUC and witnessed by Joint Negotiating Council (JNC).
Part of the resolutions on the part of government, elected and political appointees including Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, his deputy, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro and the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon Sheriff Oborevwori are to forfeit between 20 and 25 per cent of their salaries.
It was however learnt that the state government would return to the status quo if the state revenue record improves even before the agreed six months reached with the labour leaders.
It was further gathered that a delegation of the state government acting on the directive of the state governor, Senator Okowa, told representatives of the NLC and other unions that government can no longer sustain the payment with the current economic reality globally.
The commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, had told newsmen before the agreement was reached, that the state government and organized labour unions in the state were already working out modalities on percentage of salary cut across board, citing the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy.
According to Aniagwu, the salary cut will enable the state government have funds to tackle other developmental projects, saying the salary cut will be a temporary measure as the state will not hesitate to pay the backlog when the economy improves.
The options, according to a statement released by NLC after the tripartite agreement were, firstly, “that Cooperative and other deductions will not be remitted for the next six (6) months in order to meet the payment of the net salary and to enable the state government focus on key projects of the Okowa administration.”
Other conditions were that, “grade levels 1 to 6 are to receive new minimum wage, while grade level 7 to 17 are to revert to the old wage and the difference to be paid when the economy improves. In other words, they are to sacrifice their percentage increase for the period.”
The third option proposed by the government was retrenchment in the state civil service, especially department that were currently redundant and not effective.
It was however learnt that after series of negotiation meetings, the union leaders led by the state NLC chairman, Comrade Goodluck Ofobruku, settled for the salary cut option which is the suspension of the payment of the new minimum wage for civil servants of grade level 7 to 17.
Also to ensure fairness, the union leaders at the meetings recommended 20 and 25 per cent pay cut for elected and political appointees including the governor and members of the State Executive Council (SEC), which Governor Okowa was said to have approved.
However, the main opposition party, the APC has criticised vehemently this plan by the government and organized labour describing the move as unconscionable, anti-people and a calculated attempt to further subject civil servants to dehumanization.
According to a statement endorsed by the State Publicity Secretary of the party, Sylvester Ogheneluemu Imonina, the APC frowned at the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), for betraying the trust of workers.
“Some days ago, a purported statement emanating from Nigerian Labour Congress, Delta State Chapter, a body that was supposed to be the mouthpiece of workers in the state, informed Deltans that the government of the state had concluded plans to reduce or revert the salary structure of civil servants of levels 7 to 17 to the old minimum wage as against the present nationally agreed minimum wage of N30, 000. 00.
“Unfortunately, few members of the state NLC, without comprehensive consultation and for ulterior motives, acquiesced to this plan of the state government not minding the adverse effect same would have on workers.”
The party said, “APC Delta State is aware that Delta State got the highest monthly allocation from the federation account between January 2020 to June 2020. Further findings also show that in the South South and South East of Nigeria, Delta State gets the highest internally generated revenue besides other sources of income from the Federal Government.
“Presently, it is only Delta State Government that has conceived and made public the idea of salary reduction of civil servants in the South South despite the fact that the state is more financially viable than other states in the region.
“We therefore state without any air of equivocation that if some states in Nigeria are towing the line of salary reduction for its civil servants, Delta should not be among, in view of what comes into the state coffers on a monthly basis which is about four times what some other states get.
Opposition Party Should Leave Alone – NLC
Meanwhile, the state chairman of the NLC, Comrade Goodluck Ofobruku who threw more lights on the rationale behind the tripartite agreement called on the APC to leave workers alone saying, “the workers wore the shoe and they know where it pinches.”
Ofobruku said the move is to enable the government have funds to meet other obligations saying, “as at today the state government is spending N1.2 billion on pension alone – there is also the contributory health scheme where the workers contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries and the state government also contributes 1.75 percent to the scheme – to enable workers get free treatments when they fall sick.
“After looking at the scenarios, it was obvious that government cannot pay the minimum wage because there is significant drop from what used to come from federation account, as well as drop in the IGR. So after consultation and considerations we resolved that government should stop the implementation of the new minimum wage for officers on salary grade 7 to 17. We must make it clear that it is not only civil servants that are sacrificing for this six months in the first instance.”
He said political office holders in the state will equally sacrifice 20 percent of their gross salaries, adding that what was added to the workers salary for the implementation of the new minimum wage was very small – some people got 4 percent, 5, 6, 8, 10 percent addition from their salaries depending on level.
“So the suspension of these percentages is what we have agreed for the senior workers, to enable government also pay the pensioners, and continue the health scheme. The minimum wage will continue for the officers in salary grade 1 to 6. However, we equally agreed that if before the 6 months period and things improve the government will automatically reverse to the new minimum wage.
“We must not forget that more than 70 percent of the work force have been at home since March this year, and the government is paying them, so we don’t want a situation where the state government says we won’t pay – we have over 33, 000 primary and secondary school teachers and they have been at home since March, but they have been getting their salaries.
“Our tertiary institutions, the university, three polytechnics, three colleges of education, three schools of nursing, two schools of midwifery, so all these institutions both academic and non academic have been at home and they are receiving salaries. So asking us to sacrifice 3, 4, 5 percents that was added last few months ago is not too much for the workers because if the government say they won’t pay workers salaries because there is no money what happens?
“So we also compare Delta and other states, Delta is among the first states to implement the minimum wage, the moment the COVID-19 pandemic started most state governments stopped negotiation on the minimum wage – the entire South East have not implemented the minimum wage, the entire South West save for Lagos State, have not implemented the new wage. In the South South only Edo and Delta are paying the new minimum wage whereas Edo has about 11, 000 work force Delta has 49, 000 plus work force – so when we looked at all the parameters we found out that Delta government is doing very well.”
According to him, “as the chairman of NLC I will not want to preside over a work force that will not receive their salaries – if your salary is N220, 000 and N20, 000 is deducted it is not bad! After the agreement with the government the state executive council of NLC met to ratify the resolution. It is just a temporal suspension the state government has not cancelled the minimum wage.
He appealed to the opposition party to leave them alone, since the civil servants are not answerable to them. “Workers in the state are happy with the decision. We are the workers, we wore the shoe and know where it pinches – so we know where to make the necessary sacrifices in this case. We have to make sacrifices to enable our people who have not been to work since March continue to get their salaries,” he pointed out.
2020, A Year Of Survival – SDP
The Social Democratic Party (SDP), was of the view that salaries should not be cut as year 2020 has great challenges for citizens globally. He appealed to the Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to reconsider the government plans to suspend the payment of the new minimum wage for civil servants grade 7 to 17 owing to the fall in revenues of the state occasioned by COVID-19.
The chairman of the party in Delta State, Amb Oke Idawene JP, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that year 2020 due to the effect of COVID-19 on the lives of citizens, it has become a year of survival, hence Okowa should not contemplate cutting down salary of any worker in the state.”
He added that the majority of the civil servants were not happy with the development saying year 2020 has become a year of ‘survival and not a year to carry out massive projects’. “If salaries are cut what happens to their needs?” He queried.
LEADERSHIP Sunday however gathered that the state wage bill before the implementation of the new minimum wage in February this year was N7.7 billion, while the new minimum wage was additional N750 million. The planned suspension of the additional N750 million to the wage, the stakeholders say is uncalled-for.
The Governor Should Prune Down Numbers of Appointees – GLAFA
The president, Good Leadership Advocacy for Africa (GLAFA), Dr O’Diakpo Obire condemned, in strong terms, the planned suspension of the new minimum wage by the state government, describing it as “callous, reprehensible, wicked, anti-people, and a loud evidence of poor and myopic governance.”
Dr Obire in a statement he made available to news men stated that, “It is most shameful for a state that receives one of the highest monthly allocations from the Federal Government , to reduce the salaries of civil servants thereby subjecting them to further dehumanisation. It is a loud evidence of poor governance that borders on recklessness while resources of the state is being squandered on thousands of political appointees to the detriment of career civil servants who make things work in the state.
“It is as inconceivable as it is ludicrous for the state governor to be comfortable paying the salaries of thousands of redundant and unproductive Special Advisers, Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Executive Assistants, etc, but has no qualms in chopping off huge parts of the little salaries of poor civil servants who toil night and day in service to motherland. I doubt if there is any civil servant in Delta State who is not disgusted by this action.
“When some state governments in Nigeria proactively took steps to diversify their economies by establishing industries that create hundreds of thousands of jobs and generate income, Delta State government was busy recklessly appointing thousands of SAs, SSAs, EAs and others. Now that the ‘chickens have come home to roost’, civil servants salaries must not be cut.
“The governor should instead drastically prune down the number of his bloated and redundant appointees and reduce official vehicles. These are drain pipes. Civil servants shouldn’t bear the brunt of the Government’s lack of foresight and financial recklessness,” the statement concluded.
Okowa Should Resign – Right Activist
However, a right activist, Comrade Christian Moses Abeh, coodinator, Deltan Lives Matter, called for the outright resignation of the governor for contemplating the suspension of the payment of the new minimum wage, arguing that the governor was ruling the state with lies and deceit despite the love the citizens had for him.
“While we are praying for the quick recovery of the governor and his family who have been in isolation for testing positive to COVID-19, the same day he came out from isolation was the same day the state government announced the implementation of property tax law, and the next day the NLC leadership released a document indicating the tripartite agreement on the suspension of the payment of the new minimum wage. How can the citizens believe the governor was infected with COVID-19?
“He couldn’t fumigate public places and made no provision for the unemployed populace against hunger, but quick to look for avenue to make money for the state. Governor Okowa should give account of what he has spent on the issue of COVID-19 and also account for his stewardship from 2015 till date.
“How can the governor be ruling us as if we are slaves and nobody is talking, including the rubber-stamp House of Assembly members we have. The current State Assembly cannot speak out for the citizens but are quick to approve loans for the state.
“Go to Ebonyi, Cross River or Rivers States and see what their governors are doing for the well-being of their people, yet Delta governor is looking for means to enrich himself and kinsmen. Governor Okowa is a monumental failure and should resign for his incompetency immediately. He has nothing to offer than hardship and deceit, he is telling Deltans that himself, his deputy and speaker will cut their salaries as if they are living on salaries, and the compromised labour leaders in the state accepted such rubbish against their own people because of crumbs and unnecessary fear.
Despite Delta receiving the highest monthly allocation and generating money more than Cross River, Ebonyi, Oyo, Adamawa and so many states in the country the governor is slamming us with hardship, yet no meaningful developmental project or policy that will better the lives of Deltans for these monies he has received.”