In this interview, Comrade Tina Essien, Akwa Ibom Chairperson, Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC) expresses satisfaction with the agreement signed between the state government and the organised labour on the implementation of New National Minimum Wage in the state. But, she laments that furniture allowance was left out in the last negotiation for payment of N18,000 Minimum Wage to workers.
How was the signing of the agreement for payment of the New National Minimum Wage in the state?
It was quite fine and very interesting. And I think we had what we were supposed to get for the workers. The National Headquarters of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council directed on the percentages to be applied. The term was consequential adjustments and not salary review, meaning that the percentages were to be applied to the existing salary table and that is exactly what we have been able to get for the workers of Akwa Ibom State. From Grade Level 01-06, 66.6 percent was applied. For Grade Level 07-14, we got exactly what the national body of the union directed us to do.
Of course, N30,000 minimum wage is non-negotiable. We did comply with the consequential adjustment from Grade Level 07 to 09 based on the agreement at the federal level.
As an oil-producing state, is there a difference in the minimum wage in Akwa Ibom compared to other states?
Yes, there is a difference because, at the last minimum wage, oil-producing states were to adopt the federal template but those who negotiated the minimum wage did not adopt that. Moreover, an item, which is a furniture allowance, was left out in the last minimum wage by those who negotiated it. It was supposed to be part of the allowances earned in Akwa Ibom state, but it was left out. During this negotiation, we have been able to spot out what makes the difference. While other states were enjoying furniture allowances, we did not enjoy the same. If furniture allowance is brought in here in Akwa Ibom, you know it will correct the salary table.
How about other demands of the labour?
The sub-committee was supposed to submit a report to the committee of the whole house before we had some issues and the government went to press. But the issue of furniture allowance, we are on it. As soon as the sub-committee is through, they will bring the report and that will be done. We have made it known to government and government has also accepted; they’ve seen that there’s something wrong. The same percentage that is applicable to federal workers is what we have gotten for Akwa Ibom workers. In Akwa Ibom State, health workers were not receiving the correct salary.
There is an allegation that the JPSNC under your leadership has failed to negotiate properly for the workers on Grade Level 07-14 to get consequential adjustments. How do you react to this allegation?
That is false accusation. We have gotten the correct percentages as directed by the national secretariat of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council. The same percentages that are applied to federal workers are the same we have gotten for the workers of Akwa Ibom state.
Are you satisfied with the agreement signed between organised labour and the government?
Yes. I am quite satisfied because exactly what we were directed to do, was what we have done. For instance, if you apply 66.66% to Grade Level 01-06 which was receiving N18,000 as minimum wage, you will arrive at N30,000. But here in Akwa Ibom, ours is N33,000.
Federal Government paid minimum wage from April 2019. Why did Akwa Ibom delay till January 2020 before beginning negotiations?
The letter for negotiations came on November 6, 2019, asking the state governors to open negotiations with organised labour led by the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council. Consequently, a committee was set up earlier but at some point, we were waiting for a template from the federal government. Negotiations started immediately we got the template.
We tried our efforts to ensure that we get arrears, but you know in negotiations you don’t go with a fixed position. We had severally communicated to the government that the effective date should be April 18, 2019. We had tried. The government is negotiating and we too are negotiating. At a point, we had to come back to three months but the government did not still agree to pay the three months’ arrears.
We were waiting for the government to call a meeting again on the issue, but we woke up one day to a press release that the government has approved the payment of the new minimum wage and one month’s arrears. I know that the Governors’ Forum met and agreed to pay one month and that is exactly what we have gotten here. These arrears are going to be paid within the first quarter of 2020.
Sampling the opinions of workers, are they happy with the payment of the arrears to them?
Well, I have people who have spoken to me and they have expressed satisfaction, especially considering what is obtainable in other South-South states. We know what is happening in other states. Sometimes, you don’t have to have a fixed position when going for negotiations otherwise you will continue to drag on. If we had continued to drag on, it is the workers who would suffer at the end.