From: Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has said that he was sill studying the letter sent by the leaders of the organised labour in the state over the three weeks ultimatum given him to pay workers salary or face industrial action.
The State Executive Council (SEC) meeting of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Benue State Council, had last Thursday, issued a three-week ultimatum to settle its unpaid salaries or face industrial action by the workers.
Governor Ortom said that the labour leaders had shown tremendous understanding with his administration in the past two years. He maintained that workers deserve their wages adding that he would soon meet with the organised labour to dialogue on the matter.
The governor also said that the accumulated arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities were not attended to due the high wage bill he inherited from his predecessor which was compounded by the shortfall in federal allocation to states, occasioned by dwindling oil prices and recession.
He reiterated that his administration inherited N69b arrears of salaries and a monthly wage bill of about N8.2 billion which increased to N8.5b with the implementation of the new minimum wage for primary school teachers.
Governor Ortom said owing to the series of screening exercises ongoing and prudent management of resources as well as plugging of leakages by his administration, the state’s wage bill has been reduced to N7.8 billion even with overheads and pensions. He further said about N40 billion was needed to clear the backlog of salaries, pensions and gratuities.
He explained that what comes from the federation as allocation to the state in addition to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) was usually between N5 billion and N6 billion with a deficit of over N2 billion, which is grossly inadequate to pay salaries of workers across board.
He further said that the intervention from the Federal Government through bailout and Paris Club refunds had succeeded in reducing the salary arrears significantly.
On labour’s suggestion for his administration to borrow money to offset arrears of salaries, Governor Ortom said there was a limit to borrowing and that the state could not borrow more than what it could accommodate.