From Judex Okoro, Calabar
Organised Labour in Cross River State has defied all entreaties and insisted that Governor Ben Ayade must clear about N17 billion gratuities owed workers by his administration before they call off their strike.
Labour unions comprising of the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Unions Congress and the State Joint Public Negotiations Council initiated an indefinite industrial action on October 11 for refusal of the state government to adhere to the 14-point demands of the unions, including the implementation of promotions to both state and local government workers, non-remittance of deductions from workers salaries, and full implementation of the minimum wage to both state and local government workers.
Other demands include the non-implementation of full 27.5% teachers enhancement allowance, stoppage of tax exemption and allowance for teachers, payment of hazard allowances for medical and health workers, and inclusion of all staff employed but not yet patrolled by the state
Three weeks into the strike, the labour leaders have maintained that they are not prepared to back down on their demands, saying the current administration incurred 85% of outstanding arrears.
In Bulletin 14 issued by the Action Committee, the labour leaders reeled out the amounts owed retirees to include:
N1,956,890,148.37 in 2014;
2,719,864,487.47 in 2015; 2,373,002,817.61 in 2016;
3,575,561,423.25 in 2017;
2,692.485,561.09 in 2018;
2,014,670,853.07 in 2019 and
1,454,843,623.88 in 2020; and
859,488,981.34 in 2021 between January and July totalling N17,646,807,896.08.
According to the bulletin, ‘the present administration incurred 85% of outstanding arrears and 2023, about 70% of the current workforce would have Retired. If the Government of Ayade does not Pay, who shall bear this liability in the future?
‘The previous government paid gratuity up to June 2013. It is not a crime to have given 35/40 years of our active lives to the service of the state. Our retirees are dying. Pay them their gratuity… as [we will] continue to stay at home until you hear from us.’
Earlier last week, the state chairman of NLC, Ben Ukpebi, had told reporters after failed peace meeting with government representatives, that their demands stand until the governor shows positive signs in regard to workers’ and retirees’ welfare. Ukpebi said previous MoUs have failed
According to him, even the government threat to sack them would not break their resolve to continue to fight for the interest of their colleagues.
The state government has, in the meantime, declared the ongoing industrial action by the labour unions as politically-motivated, wondering why labour was bent on strike even when the government has met 14 of their demands, with just one remaining.
A statement signed by the Special Adviser to Governor Ben Ayade on Labour Matters, Effiong Ita Umo, regretted labour’s rigid stance and accused it of deliberately misinforming the public as to what transpired in the last negotiation meeting both parties held.
‘Labour’s conduct and utterances further give a flip to the insinuation that the industrial action it embarked upon has political undertone.
‘How does one explain labour’s continued obstinancy and rigidity even when the government has met 14 of their demands with just one remaining? What explanation does labour have for deliberately misinforming the public as regards its meeting with the government if not to score some cheap political goals?
‘For the avoidance of doubt, contrary to labour’s claim, the meeting between it and government ended in a deadlock because labour representatives walked out of the meeting without reaching an understanding with the government.
‘They failed to accept the fact that during negotiation, every action must be suspended to give room for normal ground. They also insisted on meeting with the governor for negotiation instead of those the governor had mandated to discuss with them,’ he said.
Umo said an MoU cannot be entered into when there is no understanding from both sides.