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*Nigeria: Anambra Labour Strike - Our Informed Opinion
By Intersociety, CLO & Human Rights Club
(Onitsha-Nigeria, September 29, 2011)-The leaderships of International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law-Intersociety, Civil Liberties Organization-CLO and Human Rights Club of the Legal Research, Resource & Development Center in Anambra State, view with uttermost concern the circumstances that led to the ongoing indefinite strike action embarked upon by the State leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress. We dare say that the strike action is ill managed and poorly handled by both State Government and the leadership of the Labour in the State.
While remaining collective sticklers of decent minimum wage for every Nigerian worker, our worry is that the passage of the Amended National Minimum Act of March 2011 was hasty and shoddy. Apart from inherent peculiarities in the capacities of the States and LGAs to pay the new minimum wage, it also appears that the amended Act is ambiguous in its letters, which has given room for various forms of interpretation by stakeholders including the leaderships of the Labour and various levels of government in the country. The Act, apart from few exceptions or defences with regard to business establishments with few employees, etc, also covers the employees in the private sector. The economy of the country was also not made to accommodate the new wage Act in terms of macro and micro growth. Instead, the recurrent expenditures of the Federal Government and most States of the Federation have jumped to over 75% of the national and States earnings, at the utter mercy of the all-important capital expenditures, which have fallen to less than 25%.
In Anambra State, a “win-lose” strategy, in place of a “win-win” strategy has been employed by both State Government and the State Labour leadership to have an edge over each other. The State Government sees the State Labour leadership as having malicious intents and being political in its approach. For instance, the Labour was accused of embarking on seven days warning strike, instead of traditional three days. It was also accused of being remote-controlled by Senator Chris Ngige and using foul and discredited languages against the person of Mr. Peter Obi, the Anambra Governor, as well as calling on citizens to stop paying their taxes and foreign donors to turn their back on the Government and People of Anambra State.
Why Dialogue Would Have Been And Still The Best Option:
Our findings across the Federation show that Anambra industrial dispute is as a result of “percentage calculations”, and not the usual blanket refusal by some State Governments to implement the “National Minimum Wage”, which has been the case in other States engulfed by strike actions. In the case of Anambra State, workers at the Grade Level 01 to 06 (core NLC members) have had their minimum wages increased to N18,000.00 (increase of additional N10,000), in compliance with Section 2 (1) of the new National Minimum Wage Act 2011, which provides “As from the commencement of this Act, it shall be the duty of every employer( except as provided for under the principal Act as amended) to pay a wage not less than the national minimum wage of N18,000.00 per month to every worker under his establishment”. The increase has since reflected in their August 2011 salaries. For workers in Grade Level 07 to 17, about N15,000 each was added to their monthly earnings across board and this also reflected in their August 2011 salaries paid to them. The 2000 teachers recruited recently also benefited from the increase by receiving additional N10,000.00 each.
Point Of Departure:
According to the Government of Anambra State, there are 15,000 employees under its employment, sharing the personnel and over-head monthly wage bill of over N2Billion, out of the State’s monthly average receipts of N3Billion. The recent wage adjustment has added additional N400million to the State’s existing monthly wage bills. In July 2011, the Government said it received highest allocation since its creation, of N7.4Billion because of accumulated non-released earnings arising from excess crude oil earnings, etc. The remaining 35 States also benefited according to their earning percentages in the national revenue sharing formulae. Some core oil States received over N40Billion each. The main point of departure or disagreement between the Government of Anambra State and the State Labour leadership is the latter’s insistence on “percentage increment”, that is to say: if the N18,000.00 minimum increment translates to 150% differential from the previous wage of N7,500.00, then Grade Level 07 to 17 workers should have theirs increased by 150% as well. For instance, if a director was earning N2Million per month before the 2011 amended Wage Act, he or she should have his or her pay increased by 150% or N5million, an increase of N3Million, this, the State Government sees as untenable.
The consequences of the foregoing are far-reaching. The very foundation of Social Contract is seriously under threat. Government exists not to sustain government machinery alone, government workers inclusive, but to ensure greatest comfort and happiness for the greatest number of the citizenry. Fulfilling social responsibility obligations are more important than spending billions of naira in sustaining the security votes, commissioners, SAs, First Ladies, legislators and their PAs, governors and their deputies, judges and magistrates and other government employees.
It is very unfortunate that mere “15,000 government employees” and few hundreds of top public officials in the Anambra State Executive, Judiciary and Legislative arms have continued to spend over 70% of the State’s monthly earnings or over N2Billion on recurrent expenditures, while less than N1Billion is left for the maintenance of the remaining 5million People of Anambra State through the provision of key infrastructures. There are at least three new live gully erosion sites in the State, courtesy of the outgoing raining season. Many strategic roads, especially urban/city layout roads in Iyiowa-Odekpe and Okpoko/Nkutaku(Ogbaru), Awada and Ugwuagba (Obosi), Nkpor and Odume, Woliwo, Omagba Phase 11 and Fegge(Onitsha), Nnewi, etc are begging for urgent attention. A number of hitherto good roads, defaced by the outgoing raining season are also begging for re-attention. This is not to mention the numerous ongoing projects with regard to inter-community/LGA roads, bridges, erosion controls and other key infrastructural projects requiring billions of naira from our lean commonwealth.
The Government of Anambra State is also not helping matters in the area of Internally Generated Revenues. Anambra State’s IGR capacity averages N5Billion per month, but arm-chair syndrome and corruptive tendencies of some Government aides and workers have steadily reduced the actual earnings to less than 10% or N450million to N500million per month. The inability of the State Government to embark on data mining that would have ensured sound or credible database for its collectible or generate-able revenues is also part of the problems. Another aspect of the problems is duplicity of revenues and criminal conducts of middlemen. Data mining helped the Government of Lagos State to identify and effectively manage over 1,300 revenue windows, fetching it about N17, 5Billion per month. To ensure sanity and elimination of duplicity of revenues, etc, there should be a joint revenue collection body for the State Government and the 21 LGAs.
The regulation of the Anambra State workforce is very porous. The “15,000-Man workforce” is also very unproductive and corrupt. An average Anambra worker demands tips before treating a file. The e-civil service has continued to erode the Anambra State Civil Service. Its methods are analogous and outdated. Falsification of age appears to be very rampant in the State Civil Service. Many “panel-beating” faces and bodies abound in the State workforce. There is need for thorough age or profile verifications of the State workers especially from 2002 downwards. The possibility of many ghost workers existing among the State workforce is also not ruled out.
However, we wish to kick against threats by the Government of Anambra State to disengage the workers, who are not from Anambra State. Instead, they should be made productive, loyal, and patriotic and committed to the cause of developing the State. We agree with the State Government that “many” of the workers from outside the State are working at the cross-purposes with the State’s ideals, but disengaging them would amount to “jungle-justice” and violation of the national cohesiveness and integration. That Enugu and Abia State Governments have done it should not be a credible guarantee, because Anambra State is a melting pot, where people from all walks of life are melted and reformed as first eleven in commerce and intellectual artistry.
While viewing the ongoing strike action in the State as unwarranted, we call on the leadership of the State Labour Congress to embrace dialogue and shun hard stance attitudes. The accusation of partisanship leveled against it, if true, should be discontinued. The period of dialoguing with the State Labour leadership should also be used to resolve the impasse between the Government of Anambra State and its health workers. It is our insistence that the principle of “not serving two masters at the same time” should be invoked to make medical personnel working in government hospitals to either face their private practice or work in government hospitals round the clock, otherwise expatriate doctors should be hired to ensure uninterrupted and quality public healthcare delivery. In legal practice, once made a judge or magistrate, he or she is barred for life from practicing as a private counsel even after retirement.
Lastly, it appears that the minimum wage “tsunami” is sweeping away the traditional social benefits and threatening the all-important Chapter Four (Fundamental Human Rights) provisions in the 1999 Constitution as amended. In Ebonyi State, for instance, the all-important bursary and internal and external scholarship awards for brilliant indigenes of Ebonyi, an effective human resources development strategy commendably initiated by former governor Sam Egwu, which produce hundreds of postgraduates annually from the State through further studies overseas in key academic disciplines, are under serious threat, no thanks to controversy surrounding the new National Minimum Wage. In Abia State, not minding that the State workers have not gone on strike nor have their new minimum wage been paid, yet the State Government is going ahead with its plans to disengage the workers of the State, who are not indigenes of Abia State. Above all, the inflationary rates and worthlessness of our currency arising from naked wage adjustments without corresponding growth signs in the economy are socially disastrous. The Federal Republic of Nigeria and her components parts should not continue to run stomach economy or economy of intestine, as these clearly defeat the very idea of post Hobbessian styled government, which is to ensure security and welfare of the citizenry as well as greatest comfort and happiness for the greatest number of people.
While commending the present Government of Anambra State for its fiscal ingenuity, particularly its zero- loan culture, we call upon it not to relent at ensuring effective social services delivery especially in the area of provision and maintenance of key infrastructures including roads, bridges, erosion controls, health and education. The intervention of the State House of Assembly and the State Elders Council in the ongoing industrial dispute is very commendable. They are called upon not rest in their oars until the industrial dispute is equitably resolved. The leadership of the State Labour must be reasonable, focused, selfless, creative, non-partisan and considerate in its approach.
Chairman, BOT, Intersociety
Comrade Aloysius Attah
Chairman, CLO, Anambra State
Comrade Samuel Njoku
Coordinator & Para-legal In-charge
Human Rights Club, Anambra State
Photo Above: Comrade Aloysius Attah
Photo Above: Emeka Umeagbalasi, Chairman, Board of Trustees, Intersociety, 41, Miss Elems Street, Fegge, Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria.
*Tags: Nigerians, Anambra Labour Strike - Our Informed Opinion, Africa, Masterweb
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