By Victor Young
DESPITE receiving billions in bailout funds, Ogun State Government continues to owe its workers arrears of salaries. Mostly affected are workers of the Tai Solarin College of Education who have been owed arrears of salaries and pension for close to a decade.”
These were the words of the President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, while addressing guests and delegates at the opening ceremony of the recent 12th Quadrennial National Delegates Conference of NLC, on February 5, 2019.
According to Wabba: “The Ogun State Government had also purportedly proscribed the Senior Staff Union in Colleges of Education, Nigeria, SSUCEON, branch in the College of Education. Many workers of the Tai Solarin College of Education have fallen victims of avoidable ailments and even untimely death as a result of the victimisation by the Ogun State Government. The state government has also refused to remit all statutory deductions from the wages of workers in the state to the unions for the past three years.
“Furthermore, Chairman of the Ogun State Council of the NLC, Comrade Akeem Ambali, was disengaged from his employment with the state government since 2015. His crime was that he diligently represented the interest of workers in Ogun State. Congress had approached Ogun State Government a number of times to reverse this unjust decision but had always met a brick wall. In our letters, we reminded Governor Amosun that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution grants freedom of association to workers and that the provisions of our Trade Union Act and ILO Conventions protect the right to unionisation. Ogun State Governor has refused to honour agreement on the utilisation of the bailout fund. We shall immediately from this Conference schedule a day of protest in Ogun State.
“As expected, one of the resolutions of the conference was a March 5, day of protest in Abeokuta to solidarise with workers of Ogun State who had allegedly been dehumanized and denied their benefits.
There is no doubt, the face-off between the state government and Labour had been on for more than three years.
But with the mandate of NLC’ NDC, the highest decision-making body of congress, the stage was set for a major confrontation between Ogun State Government and Organised Labour.
As mobilisation for the protest heightened, there were reports that the government was talking tough and threatening to disgrace leaders of NLC should they dare enter the state.
Responding to the purported threat, Wabba declared that NLC had “taken note of the threat by Governor Ibikunle Amosun but we want to assure him that his threats will not deter us from defending the interest of workers in Ogun State whose rights he has been trampling upon especially on the following issues:
1. The non-remittance of statutory deductions from workers’ salaries for pensions, cooperative, ileya, Christmas etc. over a period of one hundred and five (105) months;
2. The non-utilisation of the last tranche of the Paris Club refund for the payment of gratuity for both state and local government workers since 2013 despite signing a collective bargaining agreement with organised labour in Ogun State.
3. The refusal to pay workers at the Tai Solarin College of Education salary arrears that has accumulated for the past 10 years and now grosses to a financial liability of about N9 billion; and
4. To make matters worse, Governor Amosun sacked the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress from his employment for standing firm in the defense of the rights of workers in Ogun State.”
He declared that the “issues we have highlighted are too grievous to be swept under the carpet, therefore, the decision of the 12th National Delegates Conference of the NLC to confront and engage Governor’ Amosun will be carried out to the letter on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.”
However, Vanguard gathered that on the eve of the planned protest, the state government on realising the futility of threats and implications of the planned protest days before a major election, wrote to NLC for a meeting at 4 pm on Monday for a dialogue and possible resolution of the lingering issues.
Speaking on the government overtures, the NLC president insisted that Congress was not against dialogue, saying that several letters had been written in respect of the agitations while he had personally visited the state on four different occasions.
Wabba recalled that the issues bordered on imposition of new payment schedule for gratuity against the original template; non-remittance of statutory deductions; pension, union dues, cooperative dues, which had accumulated to about 105 months; and accumulated salary of the workers of Tai Solarin Colleague of Education to the tune of about N4 billion.
Wabba stressed that the sacking of the Chairman of NLC in Ogun, was an aberration that had never happened in the current dispensation, saying “these issues are not new. This is the fifth time I have been to Ogun State on these issues. I have never been to any state five times on any issue. The issue has also reached the highest decision- making body; National Delegate Conference, NDC, where all delegates agreed that we should address the matter.”