From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Workers in Ondo State are divided following government’s decision to pay 80 percent of their September, 2016 salary. Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Special Duties and Strategy, Dr. Doyin Odebowale, announced government decision to pay the workers 80 percent. He said the modalities for sharing the Paris Club refund could not allow government to use the money only for payment of salary.
The development caused crisis as low cadre workers expressed readiness to receive the modulated salary. But the higher cadre, many of who are leaders of the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) were against the system of payment.
Already, some workers expressed their intention to pull out of the labour unions. While the labour leaders protested against the payment, some workers announced support for the policy.
Government and the unions had earlier traded words on the exact amount received from the Paris Club. While government claimed to have received N6.38billion, the NLC insisted it received N7.03billion. The workers claimed the N7.03billion was enough but government was willing to pay 80 per cent of the arrears.
Odebowale who led government team at the two meetings held with workers said there had been no major administrative decision taken on workers’ welfare without due consultations with the leadership of the labour union, expressing worry with the decision of the workers:
“It is on record that some states of the federation allocated 50 percent of the total refund to offset salaries and the remaining 50 percent for capital projects. Ondo State has agreed to allocate 75 percent of the total sum to pay pensioners in full, offset part of the gratuities owed retirees, release subventions to institutions and parastatals and pay 80 percent of the September salary. The remaining 25 percent is for capital projects.
“It is rather disturbing to note that those who claim to serve the public will insist that government should reserve nothing for the generality of the people who constitute over 95 percent of the populace. The allegiance of this government is to them and not a select few. No worker should be afraid of persecution in this dispensation. No one will, however, enjoy unmerited privileges.
“No amount of blackmail can stampede the current administration to take decisions which will be inimical to the interests of the generality of the people who are not in the employ of the government.”
But the state chairman of the NLC, Mrs. Bosede Daramola, alleged that government was sponsoring some workers against the labour union. She stressed that the generality of workers are against payment of modulated salary, while a few minority allegedly sponsored by government are in support of the arrangement.
She said there was no agreement between the labour unions and government before the new policy was introduced, threatening that the workers may be forced to embark on an industrial action should government remains adamant: “We will do everything to reject the introduction of modulated salary payment in Ondo State. No matter the government propaganda to blackmail us, we shall not hesitate to fight for our rights.”
But a civil servant who identified herself as Mrs. Adesun said: “There was nothing wrong in the decision of government to pay us 80 percent of our salary. After all, a state like Osun pays 50 percent. Paying 80 percent is better than getting nothing.”
According to her, the labour leaders are fighting for their own interest as many of them are already on Grade Level 14, while some are directors in ministries, departments and agencies of government. We the low cadres are the ones suffering.
That is why we made our position known to the labour unions that we are ready to collect whatever the government is giving us. We cannot continue to suffer. They should allow us to receive our salary and those who are not ready to receive theirs may do as they wish.”
A secondary school teacher, Mr. Oluwaseun Ayotunde, noted that the explanation given by government justified the arrangement on the payment of salary.
He said a new labour union may emerge if the leaderships of the NLC the TUC insist on the decision not to receive the modulated salary:
“Some of us are ready to receive the modulated salary regardless of the position of the NLC and the TUC. We are already planning for the birth of new labour union should the NLC remains adamant on its position.
“Things are hard for the people economically, and we need money to settle debts and prepare for the resumption of schools, yet some people are saying we should not collect our rightful salary.”