In this interview, Comrade Sunny James, the chairperson of Nigeria Labour Congress, Akwa Ibom State council, states that the 2019 negotiations of Akwa Ibom minimum wage will be completed when Grade Level 07-14 Consequential Adjustments and Health Workers’ Salary are concluded and agreed upon by all. He, however, accuses Joint Council of being the people who negotiated promotion of public servants without arrears in the State.
Are you satisfied with the New National Minimum Agreement signed between organized labour and Akwa Ibom State government?
In one word: I am not satisfied. But, I want to appreciate the government of Akwa Ibom state for finding time to close the negotiations. As you are aware, the negotiations had several stoppages, especially the one of 16th January where it was necessary for the NLC to step out of the negotiations to brief the state executive council.
The reason was very simple: where the state government’s offer on the Federal Fovernment percentages was not acceptable to the NLC. It might surprise the listening public that members of the TUC and Joint Council were satisfied with the offer of government, saying that government has done so much.
What I said then and now is not that the state government has not paid the new minimum wage. They have, but Grade Level 07-14, after implementation of the national percentages, are still lower than what is obtainable in other oil-producing states and the Federal Government.
Therefore, we should close the negotiations by negotiating that of Grade Level 07-14. For the Trade Union Congress, TUC, to say that they are satisfied is not a surprise because Grade Level 15-17 who are predominantly members of the TUC are covered in the negotiations. They don’t have any problem. Grade Level 01-06 do not also have problem. TUC has only two affiliates in the civil service while the NLC has 22.
So you can understand that the NLC has every reason to say no to whatever is not done right. Somebody may wonder why I signed the agreement. I signed it for peace to reign and for us to be seen to be making progress in the state. Again, it is very clear that in article five of the agreement that was signed, it states that labour demands that discussion for Grade Level 07-14 shall continue within the next 30 days.
It is also on record that one of the items we were not satisfied with is health workers’ salary in Nigeria, especially in the South-South. Akwa Ibom State is paying the least and we have constantly told the government to increase that brand of the heath workers’ salaries in line with other states in the South-South. Even the state like Cross River is paying its health workers more than ours.
What the government did, was to set up an additional committee within the negotiation team to look into that matter and the outcome of it is yet to be submitted.
Has the state government implemented the harmonisation of pensions and other labour-related issues in the agreement?
The issue of harmonisation of pensions is still very important. We will have to find time to discuss and to also agree on them effectively. We will look at item number five in the agreement and all other labour-related matters in the state.
We have so many of such matters, including the sacked workers of the local government service commission numbering 723. The sacked members from the Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing Company, Awa Iman in Onna local government area. Four labour leaders were sacked for demanding for the staff welfare.
The gratuity of retired primary school teachers and that of local government councils, especially the primary school teachers who have not been paid since 2011; the leave grant that has not been paid in that sector. The 7.5 per cent refunds to primary school teachers has not been paid. And a whole lot of other issues which, we hope, to find time to sit down and discuss all these matters. We hope to chronicle all these problems and present them to government for discussion within the next few days.
It is very laughable for someone to say that it is the duty of only Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC) to negotiate while the NLC appears only as a witness. We are in a country that everybody understands what is happening in other states. Nevertheless, the agreement was signed between the federal government and the JPSNC which comprises the private sector too. Yet, NLC piloted the whole thing. But when it came to Akwa Ibom, somebody said NLC is just there to observe.
How will you explain to the public that NLC that has 22 affiliate unions that will benefit from it is exempted and TUC that has two are equal on the table? How will you explain that Joint council that has eight members, which seven are members of the NLC, can be equal on the table? It is unfortunate that it all happened this way. Let me say emphatically that the same Joint Council that assume themselves to be negotiators are the same people who negotiated promotion of public servants without arrears that we are now suffering in Akwa Ibom State. And now, all the blame and complaint are coming to the NLC. We have lost confidence in some of them. Let the right thing be done.
If after 30 days, the state government does not grant the demands of the organised labour, what action will NLC take?
It is clear that we will, at the expiration of the 30 days, reconvene at the table. The chairperson of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council, while speaking on a radio programme, said that the negotiation cannot be seen to be concluded until those items, especially the Grade Level 07-17 Consequential Adjustments and Health Workers’ Salary are seen to be concluded and agreed upon before we will term 2019 negotiations of Akwa Ibom minimum wage to be completed.
We are hopeful that we, the labour leaders, will sit on a round table, list all these problems and present them to government at the expiration of the time frame that was in the agreement.