Story by Victor Ahiuma-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:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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
- 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.”
“We have put all relevant agencies on notice, we are ready for dialogue and if dialogue fails, confrontation is next. Workers are already on ground and we are not afraid of failing. There is no state in Nigeria which has such issues. We must respect the dignity of labour. Dialogue is still an option to the government and I can confirm to you that government has communicated to us in writing. We will try to explore it and see if there is window of dialogue. We have received a formal letter, we will also approach that meeting with an open mind.”
He however described as irresponsible, the comment credited to Governor Amosun, urging labour leaders to steer clear of Ogun State or be disgraced, noting that nobody had a monopoly of threat, and added that “Labour can also make life unbearable and uncomfortable for any politician who wants to make life unbearable for workers.”
But the protest was not to be as two days of marathon dialogue and intense negotiations calmed Labour’s restiveness making leaders to sheath their sword.
According to sources at the meetings, the Monday, March 4, meeting which started by 4pmlasted till 10 pm before it was adjourned for 9 am the next day; the of the planned protest.
The second day of the meeting also lasted till late in the afternoon before agreements were reached on all the four issues.
Vanguard was informed that Governor Amosun personally attended the two meetings with his top officials and ensured that amicable resolution was reached.
Wabba, Amosun speak on outcome
Speaking after the meeting, an elated Wabba, said among others, “We have to thank him (Amosun) for his large heart and for the time and importance he has given to all the issues which has led to a meaniful resolution. All the issues have been resolved, particularly the four issues we have highlighted. From the pension issues to the issue of withheld deductions, to the issue of payment of gratuity, to the issue of our Chairman who was actually disengaged. Government has agreed that he has been reinstated and all issues have been resolved.
“You will realise we started yesterday (Monday) and we reconvened today (today) and all through the discussions, His Excellency was physically available with his officials and all the issues have been resolved. Once your child cries and you are able to respond to the cry and address the issue, that is how it supposed to be. A father remained a father and a child remained a child and that is the symbiotic relationship I am talking about. Certainly that is what is expected, where there are issues, they are resolved in the negotiation table.”
Corroborating, Governor Amosun said “they have just christened me Comrade Governor and I am happy about that. I think it was just a communication gap and we have blocked the gaps, all matters have been amicably resolved. I have to thank them as always because this is not the first time they will be here. The last time they came, everything was resolved. I thank God they have come and we have resolved all matters and I think the workers and all of us in Ogun State will be better for it.”
Reinstated NLC shows appreciation
Similarly, Ambali described his experience as wonderful, saying “I have been out and back to my duty post. I want to thank God Almighty and I want to appreciate the magnanimity of the Governor of Ogun State. You know in every human relationship, there is bound to be friction and the mature way the governor handled it speaks volumes . We are so happy, we are delighted with the out come of this meeting. It has been a productive meeting and it gives hope that labour and government industrial relation in the state will continue to improve. Now, there is no more war, there is no more fight.”
MOU between, govt, Labour
Meanwhile, the government has agreed to clear all arrears of statutory deductions from workers staff wages by April, according to the memorandum of understanding, MOU, between the government and organized labour.
The MOU reads; A meeting of the Ogun State government with organised labour was held on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5the March, 2019 at the instance of Governor of Ogun State. His Excellency, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, where the following understanding were reached:
(1) His Excellency assured the organized labour that his administration would not owe Cooperatives Society deductions, leave bonus and other global deductions by the end of his second term in office in may, 2019 as all would be paid by April, 2019.
(2). That the representatives of the state government and Labour should look into the recommendations of the committee earlier set up on the issue of contributory pension scheme, CPS, with a view to recommending strategy for implementation.
(3). That the following interventions of the Leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Trade Union Congress (TUC) the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council of Nigeria (JPSNC) and the withdrawal of the Law suit from Court by Comrade Akeem Ambali, His Excellency has on compassionate ground approved the restatement into the service with immediate effect of the following: (A) Comrade Akeen Ambali, Assistant Director, Community and Social Development. Grade Level, GL, 15, (B). Mr. Adegbenro Emmanuel Jolaolu, Principal Grade 1, GL 14, (C). Mr. Emmanuel Adeniyi Asegbe, Senior, Education Officer, GL 10 and (D). Miss Taylor Oluwatobiloba Oluwatomiwa, Education Officer, GL 08.
(2). In view of the foregoing, the Organised Labour expressed their appreciation to His Excellency for the fatherly way he resolved the lingering issues amicably and promised that this gesture will further gear up the entire workforce of Ogun State towards improved productivity.
Those who signed the agreement are; from government side: Engr.L.O.Bisiriyu, Head of Service, Mrs.M.T.O. Dosunmu, Permanent Secretary Bureau of Establishments & Training. From labour side; Comrade Ayuba Waba, President Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Musa Lawal-Ozigi, Secretary General, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, Comrade Abiodun Olakanmi, Chairman Joint Negotiating Council, JNC, Ogun State.