By Adejuwon Soyinka
THERE is a common saying that even though the tongue and the teeth reside under the same roof, they sometimes have cause to quarrel. But that is as far as it can ever go. They both know too well that their quarrel should never be taken as far as either of the parties abandoning the existing partnership between them. This analogy is in several ways true of the recent industrial dispute between workers acting under the umbrella of the Joint Public National Negotiating Council, JNC and the Ogun State government.
In spite of the fact that they are fortunate to belong to one of the very few states in the federation currently able to pay salaries as and when due, some civil servants in the employ of the Ogun State government recently embarked on a strike action to press home their demand for the payment of their cooperative deductions.
The apparently ill-advised strike action lasted for slightly over a week before reasons prevailed and the workers returned to their duty posts. But while it lasted, tempers flared and some cocktail of half truths and outright fallacies were thrown around in the media space.
Although the strike has since been called off and leaders of the workers union even had a meeting with the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun on Thursday, March 24, 2016 after which they expressed delight at having been properly made abreast of the financial situation in the state, it is important at this stage to set the records straight and correct many of the misinformation already in the public space. To start with, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that Ogun is one of the few states in the federation currently able to pay salaries as and when due. What this mean is that contrary to the misinformation that some may have been fed, Ogun State does not owe any worker any salary arrears.
Beyond that, it is important to make it abundantly clear that what is being owed is the cooperative deductions of some workers in the employ of the state government and not their salary. In this regard, it is imperative to emphasize the fact that these cooperative deductions only affect “some workers” and not “all workers” in the employ of the state government as not more than 17 per cent of the workforce is involved.
Equally important to highlight is the fact that for the affected workers, the cooperative deductions account for not more than 20 per cent of the total emolument. In view of this, it would therefore amount to a complete fallacy for anyone to claim that cooperative deductions account for 75 or 80 per cent of a workers’ salary as had been suggested in some quarters. Again, contrary to the claims in some quarters, Ogun State is actually one of the few states in the federation where gratuities are quickly processed and paid. In fact, Ogun State belongs to that super exclusive club of states where within a few days after retirement, a civil servants’ document for the payment of gratuities is immediately processed.
Without necessarily mentioning names, Ogun civil servants or any interested member of public is encouraged to check with other states of the federation and see how many years it takes after retirement before gratuity papers are processed.
So, in that respect, just as in many other areas bordering on workers’ welfare, the administration of Governor Amosun in Ogun State stands several notches higher than many before it. For instance, it is on record that in spite of the fact that Ogun is one of the states that receives the least allocation from the Federation account, it currently pays the highest wages to workers in Nigeria.
This is because Ogun under the administration of Governor Amosun is the only state in the country that implemented the national minimum wage across board for both the public and civil servants and local government employees from grade levels 1 to 17. Other states simply limited the implementation to workers at certain levels. That decision to put smiles on the faces of all categories of workers was never compelled by any strike action. Neither was the decision to pay December 2015 salaries before Christmas Day along with a 10 per cent bonus forced on Governor Amosun.
It simply just shows that even in the face of current economic challenges, the Governor Amosun-led administration has continued to place workers welfare on the front burner. For instance, the Federal allocation for the state in February 2016 stood at N1.2bn while that of Local Government was N1.7bn. But the wage bill of primary school teachers alone for the month stood at N2bn and the entire wage bill for the state stands at about N9bn.
Under such trying circumstances, the Governor Amosun-led administration found a formula to pay all workers salary and also paid pensioners without delays. In March, the situation became even more stringent as the federal allocation to the state dipped below N1bn. In spite of that, Governor Amosun has again paid workers salaries without delays.
This, the governor did, without ever losing sight of the fact that Ogun State, with a population that currently stands at over 7 million, certainly can’t afford to expend all its resources on the servicing and comfort of civil servants whose population stands at less than 50,000.
Therefore, the Governor Amosun-led administration has also found a way to continue with its giant strides in areas of infrastructural development including the provision of world class roads, bridges, model schools, ultra modern markets, beautiful housing estates and other social amenities that have attracted the brightest and the best to the state thereby making it the base of the largest number of industries in the country as of today. Given this scenario, it is no news that it takes a fine mix of prudent management of scarce resources as well as financial wizardry for Governor Amosun to be able to keep the state solvent.
These, apparently are some of the facts presented to the leadership of the JNC during their meeting with Governor Amosun on Thursday, March 24, after which, Comrade Biodun Olakanmi, President, Joint Negotiating Committee, said they had now been made abreast of the financial situation of the state.
nSoyinka is Senior Special Assistant (Media) and spokesman for Governor Amosun.