New Minimum Wage: A’Ibom Workers Should Disregard The Announcement As Negotiations Are Inconclusive, NLC Boss

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By: Israel Umoh

The trade dispute between Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Akwa Ibom Council and the state government is far from being over as this may snowball into industrial action owing to the inability of both parties to resolve some thorny issues, an investigation by Straightnews has shown.

Governor Udom Emmanuel had directed the setting up of a committee on the implementation of the new minimum wage and the immediate past Head of Civil Service inaugurated a 16-member committee on May 16, 2019.

When the committee members met on January 16, 2020, the meeting ended in a deadlock as labour leaders and state government officials failed to agree on payment of consequential adjustments to workers on Grade Level 07-14 in the state.

But on Tuesday, January 21, Akwa Ibom State Government indicated its readiness to pay the new minimum wage to workers adding that it will be done as soon as negotiations with union leaders are concluded.

Mr. Effiong Essien, Akwa Ibom State Head of Civil Service made this known in an interview in his office in Uyo, the state capital, said the payment will begin from December 2019 and arrears would be paid in subsequent months.

“As we speak, Akwa Ibom State is ready to pay the minimum wage and consequential adjustments to workers as provided by the national wages and salary commission.

“Only that labours are trying to ask for more benefits for the workers and that what is delaying the matter, not that there is any matter.

“Akwa Ibom State is one of the states that has declared the intention to pay the new minimum wage. But negotiations are ongoing. The state government has declared to labour that it is ready to pay according to the national template,” he said.

Essien who acknowledged that will be an increase in wage bill explained that states were at liberty to negotiate with labour leaders what they would be able to pay, adding that there was room for states to “decide on what they can pay or not.”

However, in an interview with Straightnews publisher on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, Sunny James, the state Chairperson of NLC, reacted “I do not know anything about the announcement. If there is a press release, it has nothing to do with me. At the end of the negotiation, both parties have to sign an agreement and a press release will be issued.

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“I do not know what they are doing. It is 100 per cent government side. It is divide and rule, let them release their circular (as they have done). At the end of it, they will do what is supposed to be done.

“Workers should disregard the announcement as negotiations are inconclusive. The labour will respond adequately,” Comrade James added.

A document exclusively obtained by Straightnews shows that the state NLC and the state government are not still on the same page as the government has rebuffed to avail labour of the wage bill and the total number of public sector employees to guide negotiations.

In a letter the labour said to have been sent to Akwa Ibom governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, NLC said the government has declined to provide answers to the discrepancies in the wage bill of the local government areas as pointed out by labour during negotiations.

“Government has declined to make a commitment to the issue of harmionisation of pensions. The minimum wage implementation would not be complete without the harmonization of pensions. Pension rates in the state have not been reviewed for more than 10 years.

“The sub-committee which was set up to review the problematic Akwa Ibom State CONHESS is still yet to conclude its work and turn in its report,” the letter indicates.

The online newspaper discovered that Federal Government percentages are not the same as Federal Salary table or chart. The tables are contained in the circulars of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission nos. SWC.04/Vol.x/722, 728, 734, and 740 of 14th November, 2019, respectively.

Our investigation shows that Akwa Ibom State belongs to the COPS (core oil-producing States) made up of Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Akwa Ibom.
A close source in the labour circle said “Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States “adopted and implemented” the Federal Government tables as contained in the NSIWC circulars.
“Akwa Ibom State is attempting to adopt only the percentages to apply on the existing and faulty State salary table which makes health workers in Akwa Ibom to earn lower salaries than counterparts in neighbouring Cross River State.”
Another source told the online newspaper that “In 2011, while the other core oil-producing States (COPS) adopted and implemented the Federal table, Akwa Ibom State shortchanged her workers by implementing a table with comparatively lower salaries for GL7 – GL17.
“The Law provides for wages and other issues bordering on employees welfare to be settled via collective bargaining. The International Labour Organization, ILO, Conventions 87&89 which had long been adopted and ratified by Nigeria is clear on this. This is the reason why Governments at both Federal and State levels engage in negotiations and sign agreements before implementing wage reviews.”
“The position of Labour during the negotiations in Akwa Ibom State has always been that Akwa Ibom State salary table should not be inferior to those of our peers namely, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States. Equally, the shortfall in the salary structure of health workers in the State should be addressed as well as the issue of harmonization of pensions,” the source added.

See Contentious Consequential Adjustments Table

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SGL 7/1 8/1 9/1 10/1 12/1 13/1 14/1
RIVERS N53,177 N66,618

 

N77,415

 

N88,402

 

N101,810

 

N113,509

 

N125,262

 

DELTA N53,177 N66,618

 

N77,415

 

N88,402

 

N101,810

 

N113,509 N125,262

 

BAYELSA N53,177 N66,618

 

N77,415

 

N88,402

 

N101,810

 

N113,509 N125,262

 

AKS OFFER N49,272 N60,156

 

N68,606 N77,081 N93,791 N113,509 N112,740
SHORTFALL N3,104 N5,384 N7,402 N9,760 N6,913 N8,849 10,795

An undisclosed source hinted the online newspaper that SEC meeting on January 16, 2020, insists on the percentages demanded by labour in its final submission i.e 25%, 24%, 23%, 22%, 20% and 18% for Grade levels 07-14; demands that the sub-committee which was set up to review the problematic Akwa Ibom State CONHESS be allowed to conclude its work and turn in its report to aid further discussion on the new minimum wage.

The meeting also demands that the government should make a specific statement and/or commitment on the issue of harmonisation of pensions as the new Minimum Wage implementation would be incomplete without the harmonisation of pensions.

In his reaction, Comrade Iboro Ibara, the state NLC Secretary, speaking with Straightnews publisher  on Wednesday, said: “The action of the government in unilaterally issuing a press release when an agreement has not been reached is strange, shameful and unacceptable.”