By: PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Civil servants in Akwa Ibom State may down tools if the state government further delays in the implementation of the new national minimum wage for workers as approved by the Federal Government and signed into law by the President.
While Federal Government and some states in the Federation have started to implement it to workers in their employ, Akwa Ibom State is yet to begin in spite of efforts made by the state chapter of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to quicken the implementation of the new wage to workers.
It would be recalled that the state governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel had during last year Workers Day Celebration in Uyo, announced that Akwa Ibom would be among the first states to pay workers the new minimum wage once the guidelines were released by the respective office at the national.
Last Thursday in Uyo, the meeting convened at the instant of the state government with labour leaders in the state on the payment of new national minimum wage and consequential adjustments to workers in the state ended in a deadlock.
Labour sources indicate that the meeting between the NLC leaders and the state government officials was led by Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, Secretary to the State Government at Government House.
The source further said though the state government has agreed to pay the new minimum wage to workers but it did not accede to payment of consequential adjustments based on federal government percentages to workers on Grade Levels 07-14.
The meeting, according to the source, was botched owing to the inability by both parties to reach a truce on payment of consequential adjustments to some cadres of the state workers.
Comrade Sunny James, the State chairperson of NLC, said the State Government has offered labour the federal government per centages but labour insisted on the federal salary table.
“Alternatively, the government should increase some per centages on top of the Federal per centages on Grade Level 07-14. That is where we are having challenges and the government has made up her mind that it would not increase more than that.”
According to him, “Some of our labour leaders tended to agree but NLC under my leadership will not accept it. So, we left the meeting between the government and the labour on Thursday, January 16 to brief our State Executive Committee members who said they would not accept the government’s proposal.
“Our stand is that the government must do something about Grade Levels 07-14. That is where negotiation in Akwa Ibom stands”, Comrade James posited.
Shortly after the meeting, there was an allegation that the state government bribed the Labour leaders to accept government offer at the detriment of workers in the state but this was denied by Labour Chairperson as false.
His words, “On the issue of giving money, I do not know where some people pick it from. I do not know if the government has given anybody anything to back down. I am not aware of it. If that had happened, I would not have walked out of the negotiation meeting with the state government officials.
“I had to go and brief my people that I would not agree or sign anything that does not favour the workers. Anybody who collects money cannot talk, look at another or disagree with another person talkless of walking out of Secretary to the State Government.”
On the NLC’s next line of action, if the state government does not accede to workers’ demands, the NLC boss said, “It is left for the government to call and tell us that they have changed their mind. If they do not change their mind, NLC at the national level has given us up to January 31, 2020, as the second deadline.
“We are trying to work towards that deadline to join them and to go an industrial action. Workers should get ready for it. That is the truth. Workers should get ready to protest where the government does not want to give them their dues.”
Speaking on the matter, the Head of Civi Service, Elder Effiong Essien said “We are still on negotiation table with the organised labour.
He frowned at Labour leaders working out during the meeting, saying, “it is wrong for anybody to walk out on government and other labour leaders to go and issue threats and incite workers against the government while the negotiation is ongoing.”
Essien, recalled that after an agreement was reached at the national on the new minimum wage, labour was asked to engage their state government and agree with on what the state can pay.
Same, he added was what the state government was currently doing.