For the past few days, it has been a tug of war between the 38,000 workers in Oyo State and the state government on the minimum wage of N18,000. As a result, the state chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Mr. Bashir Olanrewaju, directed his members to begin an indefinite strike to compel government to accede to their demands. Here, the commissioner for finance in the state, Mr. Zaccheaus Adelabu, explains  issues pertaining to the impasse.

Why is there so much noise over minimum wage in the state?
As far as the law is concerned, we complied with the minimum wage requirement. Before we came on board in April 2011, the minimum wage was N9,400 and, as at today, according to the minimum wage table we presented to the labour which they rejected, the take-home pay of the least worker-grade level 01 step 1 in the state – is N19,130.

That is, if you join the civil service today, that is the amount you will collect. Then, if you now calculate the financial implication of this table, it represents 92 percent of the total income which also represents 400 percent of the total internally generated revenue(IGR). If put in another way, it means that the IGR can only cover 35 percent of the wage bill that we have in the state today.

That was why we came openly to them and said, ‘look, because we are all an integral part of the state, this is the situation we have’. That is why Governor Abiola Ajimobi presented it to them to remove any ambiguity. After the payment of the workers’ salary,we will have only eight percent remaining for other things; then the overhead cost, if I put it on paper, is 11 percent.

If you add 92 to 11, you will have 103percent which means after running the government and you pay the salary, you will have deficit of roughly N135million left that you have to borrow every month and that means not doing anything as far as development is concerned and, remember, we are not here to represent a section of the populace.

We are here because we were voted for by the entire people of the state. The argument of these workers, at least, the senior officers, is that this wage table has reduced their total emolument that you give with the right hand and collect with the left.

Mr. Zaccheaus Adelabu, Oyo State Comm for Finance

That can never be true because we presented it for all of them to see. Remember I said when we came in, the minimum wage was N9,400 whereas the total wage bill was N2.9billion. As at today, the total wage bill isN4.1billion, and if you calculate the workers salary increase individually, it means workers salary was increased from 38 percent to 108 percent.

For better understanding, a level 16 grade 01worker had his salary increased by 108 percent. That is less than one year we came on board. If you juxtapose that with the income which just has been increased by .2 percent, less than N8 million, and if they now say the table we have is less than the amount they were earning before, they are not being truthful, and it is so sad that they are taking that position.

What is the point of departure then. What is still their grouse? What exactly do they want the government to do?

That is exactly what we want the public to ask them. This is why we are coming out to let the people know the facts and then we have been open to them. I have said it times without number that all these figures are in hard copy. They are public information that anybody can verify.

And that is why I’m surprised that instead of these people to see reason, they remain adamant. Their demand is not sustainable. It is not desirable and I don’t know how we are going to fulfill our promises to other people in the state. If less than 38 percent of the population is taking 92 percent of the total income, we have only eight percent left for other things and zero percent for capital development and how do we now carry out our transformation agenda?

This the question. We appreciate them and we know how important they are when we talk of development. That is why we have to start from them. It is not because we are fools that we are committing much to them. It is disappointing knowing they are still churning out wrong figures without any proof to back it up. They just say this is how much they think we are generating and this is how much they would take. And they start comparing the neighbouring states.

Then, I say, if you want to compare, what is the total population and the population of workers in the states you are comparing us with, what is the total wage bill of Oyo State?Remember, we were not voted for by a section but by all the people and we have to take care of others. That is why we are appealing and telling them that they need to be reasonable with us and come back to work so that we can continue the developmental work that Governor Ajimobi promised the state.

Looking at the no-going back posture of workers, could it be said that some political enemies are at work instigating them against the government?

Honestly, I don’t want to think like that. There is nothing political in what is as clear as this. I don’t want to believe that there is a party that wants to destabilize the state. I don’t want to dwell too much on that. This is democracy and, in the next three years, another election will come. Why would anybody want people to be suffering from now till then. I don’t want to believe that there is any political undertone. What I see is that these labour leaders or workers refuse to open their minds as the government has done.

The argument of some workers is that Governor Ajimobi promised them at least N22,000 minimum wage during his campaign knowing that they were earning the lowest salary in the South West. He said then that the government of the day was unable to increase the IGR and as a management expert, when he gets there, he was going to deploy his ingenuity to ensure that the increased the IGR. That is why workers are saying they don’t believe he doesn’t know how to work it around.

That is not the promise. Actually, the N22,000might have been promised at one forum or the other. I don’t have any problem with that. Remember, he was given a four-year mandate. Less than one year, he has increased the salary from N9,400 to N19,000 and we have four years at least as our plan to spend. Then, because of the IGR we promised we would increase that is why we have to start like this.

There is an adage that says an angry dog cannot take care of its owner. Why we have gone that far in using 92 percent to pay their salary is because we know if we want to increase the IGR, we have to take care of the workers first. Remember, this is the first administration that paid the 13th month salary, it had

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