By Andy Esiet, Calabar
Cross River state government owes retired civil servants’ over N50 billion as gratuities even as the strike action declared by the organized labour in the state enters day 17.
On Thursday the meeting between the government and labour had ended in a deadlock and the government in a press statement that is seen as diversionary by labour described the ongoing industrial action by the organised Labour in the state as politically motivated insisting that the government has met 14 of their demands with just one remaining.
A statement signed by the Special Adviser to Governor Ben Ayade on Labour Matters, Comrade Effiong Ita Umo and made available to some newsmen, reiterated the government’s readiness to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with organised Labour provided an amicable resolution based on the principle of give and take is reached.
He said “Labour’s conduct and utterances further give a flip to the insinuation that the industrial action it embarked upon has political undertone. How does one explain Labour’s continued obstinacy and rigidity even when the government has met 14 of their demands with just one remaining? What explanation does Labour has for deliberately mis-informing the public as regards its meeting with the government if not to score some cheap political goals?.
“For the avoidance of doubt, contrary to Labour’s claim, the meeting between it and government ended in a deadlock because labour representatives walked out of the meeting without reaching an understanding with the government They failed to accept the fact that during negotiation, every action must be suspended to give room for normal ground. They also insisted on meeting with the Governor for negotiation instead of those the Governor had mandated to discuss with them”
But the Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Cross River state , Comrade Monday Ogbodum on Friday said, it was not true that the government has meet their demands except one whereas in the contrary the government has not met any demand and the only one government has met partially is the issue of promotion implementation as “the governor approved N5 million for implementation monthly but we have told them that it isn’t enough and that we want everything to be ended this year.
“There are civil servants who have not been promoted since 2016 and their promotion is still pending and we don’t want the issue of promotion implementation to extend into 2022…and so everything about it must be concluded by December this year. What they merely said is noted which does not convey anything concrete”.
He said the intention of the government at the meeting “was for us to suspend the strike and give them some weeks to meet our demands but we said we cannot do that when an MOU has not been reached, drafted and signed for us to present to our workers. They said we should suspend the strike so that His Excellency can look into our demands and we said we will not and they refused to adjourn the meeting but we asked that they should give us some time.
“So we staged a walk out since we have not agreed on anything and it is not true that they have met our 14 demands and since the meeting was not properly adjourned, there was no date for another meeting. They paid gratuity from June 2013 to February 2014 and since then, nothing has been paid. The outstanding is about N50 billion ”.
On some other issues discussed at the Thursday meeting like gratuity, Ogbodum stated, “when the government team met with the governor, he said he has our interests at heart and was going to look into the issue of payment of gratuity but we said no, at least government should make a concrete statement concerning retirees because this is about six and a half years of his tenure and he has not looked into it so is it now he has less than one and a half years left that he will look into it?”
Then on minimum wage, “we said if he effects the promotion implementation at state and local government, and gratuity, we can overlook that and also MOU that was signed in 2019 left a big vacuum that said they would start implementation of minimum wage by 2021 when the finances of the state improves and that was the clause in which when I came, I found it ambiguous or lose because there is no government that would ever agree that its finances has improved at any given time.
“On issue of stoppage of 27.5 allowances, they said the agreement was reached with the former government whereby they had paid 16percent and the other 11.5 percent would be looked into and the matter would be presented to His Excellency because it was as a result of lack of funds in the state”
On the 1800 people who were employed but are not in the payroll, “the government officials were arguing that they are not our members yet and so we have no right to speak for them but we said they are already in the employ of government and they have their letters of confirmation and therefore we should fight for them because when the labour union comes out to speak, we speak in the interest of all workers whether they belong to any union or not”.
The organised labour in Cross River state comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Joint Public Negotiating Council (JNC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) called out its members on strike on October 12, 2021 and among others, they are protesting against the non-implementation of the full 27.5% teacher’s enhancement allowance, non-implementation of promotions, non-remittance of deductions from banks, non implementation of minimum wage among others.
Meanwhile the Chairman of the State Traditional Rulers Council, HRM Dr. Etim Okon Edet has intervened in the matter saying , “we appeal to His Excellency to personally meet with Labour leaders and place the state’s financial predicaments before them. Thereafter, seek their understanding. After all, same Leaders previously named him ‘Most Labour Friendly Governor’ in Cross River State”.
He said the governor should “pledge to set aside N20 million (or more if economy improves) monthly to settle gratuities from January, 2022. This should be captured in the budget We thank the Labour leaders and the entire workforce for their patience and understanding with government. We hope to see the strike called off after this meeting in the interest of all”.