Trouble appears to be looming in several states of the federation between civil servants and the state governments due to the inability of the states to pay workers’ salaries.
Civil servants in many states have either just suspended their strike or in some states where they are still working, the labour movement in the states have declared their intention to go on strike.
Recently, while addressing the National Executive Council members of the All Progressives Congress, President Muhammadu Buhari, while lamenting the precarious state of the nation’s economy, said no fewer than 27 states of the federation were finding it difficult to pay workers’ salaries.
Over 20 states last year accessed a bailout package by the Federal Government, most of which were believed to have been used to pay salaries.
Shortly after this relief package, however, there were speculations that the states were planning to apply for another round of bailout, which has been vehemently denied.
In Ekiti State, tension is said to be heightening between the workers and the Governor Ayodele Fayose-led state government due to the four months unpaid workers’ salaries.
Mainstream workers in the state got their last pay in February for November salary.
Our correspondent gathered that a meeting called at the instance of the state government last Thursday failed to resolve the crisis.
It was learnt that the government at the meeting proposed to pay the workers the net pay for the December salary, excluding the deductions.
The meeting was called to further persuade the unions to receive the net pay and wait for the deductions till when the state’s income improved.
The deductions are the union dues, remittance of cooperative deductions and repayment of loans. But the organised labour vehemently opposed the proposal.
A source at the meeting said the unions rejected the idea with a demand that workers must be paid their salaries latest by last Friday.
Findings by our correspondent indicated that only local government workers were paid on Friday while core civil servants in the ministries had yet to be paid.
The source, who is one of the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress in the state, said, “We rejected the idea of the government paying the net because we want to avoid the last experience that we were only paid our accumulated deductions from the Federal Government bailout.
“Besides, it ran contrary to our agreement with the government that two months allocation should be used to pay workers salaries.”
Efforts to speak with the NLC Chairman, Mr. Ade Adesanmi, proved abortive as he did not answer calls put across to his mobile.
The Ekiti State Commissioner for Information, Lanre Ogunsuyi, told our correspondent on Thursday that the state government was working to pay workers their outstanding salaries.
Ogunsuyi said, “It is true we are behind in salary payment. It is because the allocation from the Federal Government and the internally generated revenue cannot support the salary structure.”
In Osun State, most civil servants are owed five months’ salaries.
Workers on level 01 to 07 are paid full salaries, with two-month salaries for February and March outstanding while those on level 08 and above have been receiving half salaries since July, 2015.
The state government last week paid full salaries for January to those from level 01-07 and half salaries to workers on level 08 and above.
Efforts to speak to the media aide to the governor, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, to know what strategies the state is employing to pay the salary arrears were unsuccessful.
Calls put across to his mobile were not answered and text messages and email sent to him were yet to be returned as of the time of filing this report on Thursday.
The Chairman of the NLC in the state, Mr. Jacob Adekomi, also could not be reached for his comment on the issue as calls put across to his mobile indicated that it was switched off.
However, Adekomi and the Chairman, Joint Public Service Negotiating Council, Mr. Bayo Adejumo, had, in February at a press conference, debunked the claims that they signed an agreement with the government to be paid half salaries.
Adekomi said workers could no longer cope with half salaries especially because of the inflation in the country.
In Benue State, the NLC chairman in the state, Mr. Godwin Anya, told The PUNCH in an interview that state workers were last paid in December, 2015 while local government workers and teachers were owed five months’ salaries, beginning from November, 2015.
“We are meeting with His Excellency (governor) on Monday to discuss salary issue; we are not talking of strike yet until we meet with him,” Anya said.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Terver Akase, on his part, said workers were owed salaries for three months including January, February and March.
He added that efforts were being made to pay the wages as soon as possible, stressing that “the (Samuel) Ortom administration believes that a worker deserves his wages”.
The labour and government in Oyo State are set for a showdown as the state government has dismissed the threat of the workers to go on strike over the four months salaries the state has failed to pay.
On Thursday, the state chairman of the NLC, Mr. Waheed Olojede, told one of our correspondents that a meeting between Governor Abiola Ajimobi and labour leaders would hold later in the day to discuss how the arrears would be paid.
The meeting was coming after the governor threatened that if the workers embarked on strike, they would not be paid.
Olojede said the state government still owed four months in salary arrears.
“We are about to meet the governor for a meeting on the issue. November salary had been paid but December, January, February and March salaries are not yet paid. Workers in the local governments are owed only three months’ salaries. Hopefully, this meeting will resolve the whole issue,” he said.
The labour unions said last week that the seven-day ultimatum issued the government commenced on Wednesday last week, March 30.
According to Olojede, who spoke on behalf of the unions, the decision was important considering the plight of the state workers and that of the pensioners, who were owed five months salaries.
Reacting through a statement by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Communication and Strategy, Mr. Yomi Layinka, the state government described the ultimatum as unnecessary and surprising.
The agreement being referred to is that 90 per cent of the allocation accruing to the state from the federal allocation would be used to pay salaries of workers.
The Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, has said the state government has paid up to date the core civil servants in the state’s employ.
Ahmed, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communication, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, and the Kwara State Chairman, Trade Union Congress, Mr. Olumoh Kolawole, in separate telephone interviews with our correspondent in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, on Thursday, however, said local government workers and basic education teachers in the state were owed varying months of salary arrears.
They stated that the salary arrears ranged from two months to six months, depending on the local government concerned.
Akorede said, “The LGs have varying levels of arrears. It is not the same. Some are in arrears by three, four months, some five months, some six and in some cases, people are owed half of several months salaries.
“The reason is that LG allocations have dropped from N2.7bn to N1.1bn. What they are doing is to pay whatever the money they get could pay; when a month comes, they pay whatever it covers. Teachers and the LGs are the ones that have this challenge.”
Workers in Imo State are groaning over the non-payment of their salaries for three months. The arrears, they said, ran from January to March, 2016.
Speaking to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, one of the workers with the state Ministry of Health, said her major concern was how to pay the school fees of her four children, who, she stated, attended private schools.
She said life had been unbearable for her and the family since January, 2016, when the state stopped paying salaries to workers.
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Rochas Okorocha, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, failed to return calls put through to his telephone while the mobile of the Imo State chairman of the NLC, Mr. Austin Chilakpu, indicated that it was switched off on Thursday.
The Ondo State Government is said to owe its workers four months’ salaries with no hope of when the salary would be cleared.
Governor Olusegun Mimiko held a closed-door meeting with the leaders of the organised labour in the state earlier this week, where he was said to have informed them of the present financial status of the state and why he could not pay them.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kayode Akinmade, said the workers’ salaries would be paid soon, noting that the government was working out modalities to clear the arrears.
He stated, “We are working out how the workers will get their pay. The teachers, the local government workers and the pensioners, will get their December salaries this month while others will get theirs very soon.”
Ogun State appears to be one of the few states not owing workers salaries, but the state government owes seven months unremitted cooperative deductions.
This formed the background to the decision of the organised labour in the state, which called on workers to proceed on an indefinite strike from March 7.
The industrial action was suspended for two weeks on the 10th day after top traditional rulers in the state, including the Alake and Paramount ruler of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, and the Awujale and Paramount ruler of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, intervened in the industrial dispute.
Like Ogun State, Akwa Ibom and Edo states and most states in the North do not owe workers’ salaries.
However, those managing to pay may not be able to sustain it in the face of dwindling revenue occasioned by the fall in the price of crude oil.
In Bayelsa State, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, Niger Delta University branch, have carpeted the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, for failing to pay them their three-month salaries.
Also, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions and the National Association of Technologists in the state-owned university, have joined the fray in condemning Dickson’s “insensitivity” to their plight.
The university-based unions in a communique signed by Chairman, ASUU, Dr. Stanley Ogoun; Chairman, SSANU, Wilcox Fakidouma; Chairman, NAAT, Ekipre Dienagha; and Chairman, NASU, Kenneth Akpofagha, said the non-payment of their salaries had made lives unbearable for them.
They said the development had made their members unable to meet their parental obligations resulting in their children and wards dropping out of school.
The groups said, “It is inhuman to expect our members to exercise further patience when three months into the new year, salaries have not been paid.
“The development has resulted in families of our members going hungry, our children being driven out of school in the last term, the sick uncared for and eviction by landlords due to expiration of house rents.
“Also, there is increased rate of hypertension and related diseases arising from members’ inability to provide food on the table and worsened by lack of credit facilities.”
They said as a mark of respect for and in honour of the founding father and first visitor to the NDU, the late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, they would converge for an appropriate response after his burial slated for April 8 and 9, 2016.
The situation in some of the states listed above represents the state of the civil servants’ salaries in most of the states in the country.
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress has said finding a permanent solution to the inability of states to pay workers’ wages should be top priority.
The National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said this in a telephone interview with The PUNCH, in Abuja, on Thursday.
He was responding to a question on whether the Federal Government should consider another bailout for states in the light of the inability of most states to pay workers’ salaries.
The APC chairman explained that although the issue was a government affair, the payment of workers’ salaries was an obligation that could not be wished away.
He said the issue of a fresh bailout was a decision that could only be taken by the government.
Odigie-Oyegun added, “It is a government affair. The issue has to be examined and then a permanent solution should be worked out.
“What I can say is that paying workers is an obligation and whatever needs to be done to get the job done has to be done. There is no room at all for not paying workers.
“Workers too have to recognise the effect of the collapse of the price of oil which is the backbone of everything.”
But the Peoples Democratic Party asked state governors to cut down on luxury items and also hold talks with workers on how to pay them their outstanding salaries.
It said obtaining loans each time states were broke would also not solve their problems.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the issue, said state governors should be weary of obtaining loans or bailouts because of payment schedule.
He said it was obvious that revenues accruing to all tiers of government had gone down drastically, adding that this was the reason why states should also learn to cut down on their demand for expensive items.
Metuh said, “States cannot continue to be asking for loans and bailouts because of the terms of payment. We cannot continue to be taking loans to pay salaries.”
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum was not available for comment on the issue.
Attempts to get the reaction of the Chairman of the NGF, who is also the Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, were unsuccessful.
Repeated calls to his mobile were not returned. A response to a text message sent to Yari’s mobile was still being expected as of the time of filing this report.
Calls to the mobile of NGF’s Director-General, Mr. Bayo Okauru, were not answered on Thursday.
When contacted, the Media Adviser to the Minister of Finance, Mr Festus Akanbi, promised to consult with the minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, on what the Federal Government was doing to assist the states.
Akanbi had yet to get back to our correspondent as of the time of filing this report on Thursday.
culled from www.punchng.com