From Emmanuel Adeyemi, Lokoja
The Organised labour and the Kogi State government have been having a running battle over welfare of workers via payment of salaries and now the seemingly unending staff screening exercise which has taken well over six months, yet a large chunk of the workers are yet to be paid.
Recently, the labour embarked on a six weeks strike over the prolonged screening exercise and the attendant problems. But recently, the labour made a volte face and suddenly called off the strike.
Daily Sun sought an interview with the state chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade, Onuh Edoka to give his own explanation over the issue.
Why the sudden call off of the six weeks strike?
The strike embarked upon by workers of the state though has been called off is a win-win situation for both government and labour. We have been able to come to the round table to see to the situation that made us go on strike. I want to believe that both government and labour would stand by the terms of the agreement to ensure that we move the state forward. Workers should give their maximum cooperation to governance and government should carry the workers along to ensure a conducive and improved working environment for government/labour relations.
How would you react to rumours that Labour leaders were induced before they called off the strike?
It was a wrong perception against us; nobody can buy us, we have built an integrity that money does not count anything to us.
I have an obligation to be sincere to workers and even the government, and if they (Government officials) are being fair to labour, they will generally speak for us that there was no transaction that involved money before, during and after the strike was called off. I make bold to say, government, led by the deputy Governor, never gave me a kobo to call off the strike. What we did was to come to a roundtable during the over eight times we met to discuss on the grey areas that made labour go on strike. I was not part of the negotiating team that met with the Deputy Governor before agreements were signed to call off the strike. Under the leadership of the organised labour, the interest of money, was not paramount to us. We were particular about ensuring that our members get a fair deal. I challenge government to come out to state how much was given and to whom. Our concern was improving and touching the lives of workers. The Deputy Governor, SSG, the HOS, and others on the government side would testify that labour did it best to protect the interest of workers and not for any personal financial benefit as may be insinuated by some fifth columnists. I have my integrity, it has been kept intact and I can state boldly that I have my head and shoulders high to say, the present set of labour leaders are people who are integrity personified.
We hear of some affiliate group pulling out of NLC because of some infractions; can you give an insight on this?
The Labour Union under my administration is united and I am proud to say we are together and more united in the course of pursuing issues that affect the interest and welfare of our members.
All what we did during the strike and up to the period we suspended the strike, was unanimously taken without any dissenting voice.
Every industrial union has the capacity to protect the interest of its members in terms of going on strike in demanding the interest of its workers. What NLC does is to see to an enlarged agitation around the corridor of all affiliate members to organise a single strike.
So, anyone saying they are not being carried along, is not sincere, as under my leadership, everyone is carried along. Every leader of his union participated and signed all our bulletins during the last strike, so it will be difficult to say, there were dissenting voices during the strike.
Payment of salaries at the local government level is not done by the NLC. The NLC is not the one paying the salaries of workers. What we do is to agitate for government to pay workers their legitimate entitlements. And if government fails to meet its obligations to workers, the blame should not come to NLC or the organised labour.
In the last strike, we agitated that all salary arrears owed workers be paid. Unfortunately, what the government has as bailout or allocation was what the government claimed it has used to have paid the salaries. So, where will the NLC go to ensure that its workers are paid. We cannot manufacture money. Government’s position is we have no money. So it would be wrong to blame labour for NULGE, NUT or other affiliate unions thinking its interest was not rightly presented by labour or to think they were not carried along during the course of the last strike.
But NUT is complaining that NLC is not doing much about the plights of teachers who are not paid for months
Every industrial union has the capacity and wherewithal to agitate and go on strike on its own. In the course of the strike we went on, the NUT Chairman is the Vice Chairman of NLC. He participated in all the protests and when we got to the time to sign agreement with government, because he feels their interest was not protected, he pulled out because the issue of teachers N18,000 minimum wage was not covered by the NLC/ government agreement. This was because of the increment demanded by NUT, the Deputy Governor and his team said they could not take responsibility, thus, we decided to set up another committee that will interface between teachers/government. Following submissions on increment which the government team said they could not handle, NUT pulled out to allow for a fresh agitation. The NUT pulled out because they reserve the right to pull out and to equally go on strike. I want to say the NUT has given government an ultimatum of 21 days. As NLC we have also made a reference to the NUT letter to government, urging government to do the needful, or face another round of strike action by NUT, to press home their demand for N18000 minimum wage.
With these explanations, can it be said that NLC is transparent enough?
Yes, the NLC provides platform for three umbrella unions to affiliate, just like TUC, and Joint Public Service Negotiating Council with affiliate to form organised labour, making in-house unions, who are affiliate to be subsumed. It is the leadership of these three umbrella unions and leadership that sign for the three unions coming together under organised labour to collapse into organised labour.
The NLC has 41 industrial unions and affiliates. Chairman and Secretaries of the three unions I mentioned earlier sign agreement on behalf of affiliates. But because of distance, we in most cases allow affiliate unions to sign as a way of bringing the union and members close to decision making.
I have ran the Kogi State NLC with utmost transparency with affiliates contributing to NLC on the basis of what they get as union due and pay percentage of it to NLC, which in turn is paid to the National headquarters and in turn, the NLC headquarters gives to us at the state what is due to us which is 10 percent for us to run labour related activities. The NLC is not as rich as perceived.
The secret of my transparency is that we follow laid down rules and guidelines to keep our hands clean.
Advice to workers and government
We are not in opposition to the submitted report. Thousands are however still coming out to be screened and verified. Where are they coming out from? Let us come to terms with reality so that the genuine workers would be paid. That is our interest and wish it can be done quickly for the right environment for peace, and prosperity to be created for the state to make the desired progress.