Says FG monitoring implementation by states

In this interaction with the media, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige spoke on the recent agreement signed by the Federal Government, Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria, PASAN, and other stakeholders, for the implementation of autonomy for the judiciary/legislature in the 36 states of the federation, the suspension of the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, among other issues.

MoU on autonomy

There is nothing too strange. It is a battle for economic survival and economic independence. The judiciary wanted autonomy as in the constitution. The legislature in the 36 states of the federation also wanted same. You see, when you go to the judiciary, the people you see and talk with are the staff there, starting from the Chief Registrar, then going down to the lower ranks. It is a tug of war between members of the judiciary and the legislature for self survival. The President, if you remember, signed the amendment or alteration of the constitution in the 4th alteration that granted autonomy to these two arms of government in the states, not at the federal level because the federal system already created independence for them in the constitution. There is no lacuna about that. It is clear that the funds meant for them go straight to the National Judicial Council, NJC, according to Section 81 of the Constitution. They are on what some people call first line charge. If you go to Section 6(5) of the Constitution, it listed the courts and gave powers to the National Assembly in sub-sections K and L for the State Assembly to create other courts. 

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What are listed in 6(5) of the Constitution, A-F are superior courts of records. The other ones created by the state like the Sharia Courts, Customary Courts, Magistrate Courts, are the creations of the state law. But that allocation coming from NJC into the courts, created by Section 6(5) A-F, does not cover them. It covers only those courts listed there. If you go to Section 84 again, it also listed those to be paid from the funds that are gotten by the NJC from the Federal Allocation and Statutory transfer. So, it was that lacuna that 121(3) sought to bridge and the President gave assent to that particular alteration. But, it has been difficult for the states to come to terms with it and grant that full autonomy. Some of them are already funding anyway. So, they are now saying, “Why is there now need to compel us to do this?” But, again the people who own the money, the full Judiciary and the full State Assembly are saying, ‘you are shortchanging us’. We want our independence. So, that is the situation. There is nothing that is very absurd. Of course, there must be resistance.

The judges cannot come out to fight. The legislators also cannot come out to fight their governors directly. And the judiciary and parliamentary workers led the onslaught because they also suffer some losses in allowances, income and other welfare packages that are associated with their job.  And when the ding dong lasted, the President signed Executive Order 10 by which erring states were to lose their rights to collect the total allocation of their states. If you are still erring, the Accountant-General of the Federation must deduct at source from Abuja and transmit it into the accounts of the states. They made representation through the Governors’ Forum. They went to court and questioned so many other things in that Executive Order and even portions of the Constitution where they wanted full interpretation of what those portions meant. So, the President said there is no need being legalistic and asked the Chief of Staff to look into this matter. As he was looking into it, it snowballed into full blown strike. I allowed them to continue the negotiation because by the mandate of my ministry, industrial dispute resolution is one of our cardinal mandates.

Minister’s intervention

When the strike lasted more than three weeks, I had to invite all of them to come. I met with the Chief Judges, the Chairman of Judges Conference of Nigeria, the head of Chief Judges in states, heads of courts, because the Chief Judges have an association. We met with them, the Chairman, Deputy and Secretary and we also met with the Implementation Committee for Executive Order 10, that is the Attorney-General represented by Solicitor-General and their Secretary, Senator Ita Enang. We met also with the Governors’ Forum through separate meetings and we then did a combined meeting. It did not break the impasse and we continued because that is part of our trade. We were able to finally fashion out an agreement, which we translated into MoU. From MoU, we moved it into Memorandum of Action, MOA, and now started putting timelines. We put 45 days for the governors to put all the structures in place to implement that autonomy and for the legislative Houses of Assembly to open so that those laws can come in. About three laws are cardinal in the agreement we had. That agreement says that they are to create State Account Allocation Committee, SAAC, which is equivalent to FAAC. But whatever we are doing, we want to give it a template of what is succeeding. For us, what is succeeding is the NJC template which is between our Executive and the National Assembly. So, they had to put up a SAAC, to be headed by a Commissioner and the allocation that come into the state from FAAC allocation to the state and the IGR of the state, is well known to the committee.

The committee is to be headed by the Commissioner for Finance of the State. A second body is the State Budget Committee to be headed by the relevant Commissioner. For them, again, at the beginning of the year, get budget from the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive. In this budget committee, envelopes will be given out of what you can spend for the year, the projected receivable for the year and apportioned out like that into the envelope to the Judiciary, envelope to the Legislature and envelope to the Executive. It depends on the mode you want to adopt. At the Federal level, we allow them to submit to the National Assembly. In the states, some states like to have everything as a vote and the Governor will present.

Earlier, when we started our democracy in the late 1990’s and early 2000, it was gathered together and the President presented. But now, we allow them. It is their envelopes and their budgets. They defend it in the National Assembly. So, this is what we have now replicated in the states.  We think it is going to work. In fact, it is working because the reports we are getting is that even some states still on the discussion table, have gone ahead to put up these three bodies and enact laws backing them up. Bayelsa had done so. Delta had done so. Plateau started implementing immediately the agreement was signed. Lagos, Rivers and some other states have been up and doing, giving full financial backing to these two bodies.

What I also said, is let them now in consonance with the agreement we have reached (MOA), put that package into a budget of the year and put again the releases as due to them in the same manner as released to them from the Accountant- General’s Office of the statutory transfer of first-line charge into the consolidated revenue Funds of the state. That is what we have done and a lot of negotiation went into it, up and down but at the end of the day, we are happy that we are all now on the same page.

Strike only suspended

Since I came to the Ministry of Labour and the Labour Unions go on strike, there is never a paper that I signed where they stated that they have called off strike. They will tell you that they suspend. I don’t know where they learnt that one from. They said what it means is that when they suspend, they can go back if they are not satisfied with the implementation of whatever agreement reached. But, I think we won’t have need for this. I am in touch with the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum and the three-man committee that they set up on the negotiation and that same three-man committee will also look at compliance by the states.

The governors of Kebbi, Plateau and their Chairman are heading this Committee. You see the agreement is even delineated to what capital expenditure should be and tried to go down to the nitty-gritty, so that the element of fear on both sides will be erased. The element of fear on behalf of the judiciary and legislative workers is that when they call off, the Governors will not keep their own side of the bargain.

Again, they will say, we need compartmentalisation in the Assemblies because when the money also comes, we are not sure what the legislators will do with it. So, the agreement has gone into the legislature and in the legislature account, we will have three compartments. One, there will be account for the legislators. Two, there will be account for the staff development and welfare. And three, an account for the State House of Assembly Commission. So, there are now three accounts there.  Nobody will cross the line and go and use the money already budgeted and appropriated for any of these sub-bodies in his own compartment. So, they are now less afraid.

The governors themselves are afraid: Does it mean that the Chief Judges will be building the courts and offices for themselves without anybody saying something? Can Chief Judges award contracts, sign it and if there is breach of agreement, is it not the courts that the thing will come back to? We are now saying that capital expenditure in terms of construction of new court buildings and quarters for both legislators and judges are expenditures that will be supervised by the people who have the mandate. That is the State Ministry of Works and Housing because those buildings are public buildings. So, it is in the agreement. So, nobody wakes up and starts awarding contracts for buildings and the rest of them, even though it is in your budget. There must be synergy because public buildings are responsibities of Ministry of Works and Housing actually. And so, there must be that arrangement by which the supervision of the structures and everything are monitored from the State Ministry of Works.

Vehicles, air conditioners and others are capital expenditures that the judiciary or legislators can handle themselves. And in the case of the Judiciary, the Chief Registrar is the Accounting Officer, going by the Fund Management Law that will be enacted by the Judiciary. And the Clerk of the House of Assembly is the Chief Accounting Officer and the Chairman of the management of funds in the State Houses of Assembly. So, this is how we have designed it. It is like a skeleton given to them for them to put some flesh as they go on. As you know, this is work in progress. Every day, we learn new lessons. I am very comfortable with it. I was a governor and I have told the governors that they don’t need to panic over the agreement. I was a legislator. So, I told the legislators that there is nothing to panic about. We have given you what is obtainable in the National Assembly. So, that is where we are on the matter for now. But I am very optimistic that we will not have any brouhaha again, provided everybody keeps to his own lane.

Strike necessary

 No, it is not worth it.  I began by telling you that it is a sort of battle for economic survival and economic independence and in a battle, there must be a fight and some people will be wounded, if not killed. So, that is what has happened. On the part of my Ministry, when the judiciary workers wrote, what we did was to invite them to come and discuss. But at the same time, we discovered that it is being managed at the level of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and at the level of the Chief of Staff to the President whom Mr. President gave an instruction to reconcile these people immediately. I don’t want to be legalistic about this. So, what I had to do was to monitor that negotiation. That negotiation is allowed in labour parlance because we are also allowed to appoint outside arbitrators to handle such a negotiation. We call it bi-partite plus. Or even if we are doing tripartite plus, we can invite a foreign body to join them. So, that is what is happening there. It is not like we said, no. They have been having a very fruitful discussion in the office of the Chief of Staff.

As a matter of fact, what we did in the Ministry was to build on one or two areas they had agreed because the Governors were not even giving any contemplation to it before. But when they were brought together down there, they started talking. The Association of Chief Judges joined. They will not be seen as such to be sitting on the table in my Ministry. So, they were doing that with the Chief of Staff. When the strike was boiling over and it looked like there was breakdown in their discussion, we had to take it back to our Ministry and step by step, it was resolved.

We did not need to let the strike to linger on. We warned the judiciary and parliamentary workers because immediately I apprehend, everybody should go back to status quo ante belum. But this is our country. You also know that those workers, like I said earlier, are doing it for themselves and for some people at the back (the judges and the speakers). We had to tread very cautiously and handle it. We even had a meeting with the Chief Justice of Nigeria. He explained and we took his contribution during the negotiation. We don’t need to do that strike because the thing boiled over to give us very serious security issues. The courts were not working. Criminals, bandits and kidnappers were on the prowl. The police cells were congested. They couldn’t take people to court to remand them in the Correctional facilities. So, we don’t want it to happen again and it will not happen again. I don’t think it will happen again.

Agreements with Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, implementation

Well, you know that we have desks at the social ministries of Education and Health where you have got a lot of these labour issues. We created what we call labour desks in Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health.

We also have labour desks in Finance, Aviation, Petroleum and Agriculture. These ministries are prone to industrial disputes because of the kind of professional workers they have. On the polytechnic issue, I have it clear to the two Ministers of Education and the Permanent

Secretary that we already have a template from our negotiation with ASUU and the issues being raised here by ASUP are about the same. So, we told the heads of the unions that this matter can be handled in-house in the Ministry of Education. And we asked our labour desk to guide them. That was exactly what we did. We didn’t bring them into our Ministry. But, we monitored them and they did what we told them to do. Now that they done that, we have a copy of the agreement that they reached there and it is time for us also to monitor the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance to make sure that agreement is implemented and religiously adhered to, because like I said before, the issues raised there are not alien or outside the purview of what we had done with ASUU, NASU and SSANU. The issues include shortfall in salaries, earned allowances, non-benefit from the consequential adjustments of the National Minimum Wage and things like what IPPIS has done right or wrong when they go on their sabbatical, amongst others. So, it is the same thing. I am happy that the Ministry listened to us and hence, took them on and the matter was resolved. We are now taken the agreement. Our job now is to be monitoring and asking for feedback from the Ministry on what they have done to mitigate the issues.

Arrears owe state doctors

There is not too much I can do into making the money to get into their pockets. But, I can assist by talking to the heads of those state governments to see that a work man is due for his wages. A certain state in the South East that has 21 months arrears, in terms of call duty allowances and some other medical allowances. We have spoken to them. From 21 months, they have reduced it now by nine months. They paid them nine months. They are not arguing that they do not owe. But, you see, the issue of management of workers is a very intricate issue.  I don’t think the sub-nationals (states) are paying great attention to it. A workman is due for his wages like I said before and it pains me when I hear that people did not get money for work done. It is not right at all. It is against the Convention of ILO.  It translates your employment into hazardous employment. You pay only when you like against the terms and conditions of service you have given to the workers. It is what the ILO called “yellow duck” practice and we don’t encourage it. We will write those state governments and do not forget issues of labour and minimum wage in particular and welfare is in the exclusive list at least for now. It is in item 34 of the second schedule. But, we as a Ministry try to be cautious as we handle it because the federating units also have some rights. But, most of them are not establishing Ministry of labour, to assist them or even Department of Labour to assist them in handling labour issues. I think that it is not proper. That is why we have inaugurated National Labour Advisory Council, NLAC, which is one of the councils that ILO has recommended for the 187 countries in the ILO net. Nigeria has done hers. All the state governments are now members of NLAC and it is from this NLAC that we will educate the states. We will let the states and their workers to know how to collaborate and do what is called social dialoguing. In fact, the main job of the NLAC is to make sure there is social dialogue between employers and employees and then the Federal Government will come in whenever there is a breakdown in talks.

Update on Kaduna\Labour dispute

We have a committee in place but it has not come alive and I am already taking the matter up. We are getting in touch with the Governor. That committee should be resuscitated and supported, so that they can do social dialogue very quickly. It is on that table that the issue of those that they have “punished” or “victimized” against the subsisting agreement will come up. We don’t think it is proper. Workers by ILO status have a right to strike and not be punished or removed from job. But, you know the strike in Kaduna was a different kind of strike. There was some colouration of high-wire strike that even overstretched some limits, which I pointed out to the labour leaders. But if the Government in Kaduna State wants to take their pound of flesh, they can invoke the principle of “no work, no pay”. If the government feels that the workers have committed economic sabotage, they can go to court. Nobody stops them from going to court.

COVID-19: Social protection tops debates as 109th session of ILC ends

COVID-19 and social protection among key debates as June session of virtual International Labour Conference ends

The impact of COVID-19 on the world of work featured prominently in the June segment of the first virtual International Labour Conference. Conclusions on social protection and the application of international labour standards were adopted on the final day, along with an emergency resolution on Myanmar.

The 109th session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) has come to a close, the first virtual ILC in its history and one that featured intensive discussions on the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work and how to ensure a human-centred, inclusive recovery.

Conclusions on social protection and the application of international labour standards were adopted on the final day, along with an emergency resolution on Myanmar.

During plenary discussions, delegates addressed the Director-General’s report to the Conference on: “Work in the tile of COVID,  which applied the human-centred approach of the ILO’s 2019 Centenary Declaration to achieving a sustainable and inclusive global pandemic response. Delegates unanimously adopted a Global Call to Action outlining measures to create a human-centred recovery from the pandemic to avoid long-term scarring of economies and societies.

A World of Work Summit was held on 17 – 18 June, which featured addresses from world leaders and representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations, and the United Nations. They included Pope Francis, President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in, Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, US President, Joe Biden and President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Félix Tshisekedi. The Summit focused on the need for a global response to the COVID-19 crisis and the action required to build a better future of work. 

The Conference adopted the report of its Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS), which adopted conclusions on the application of specific ILO Conventions in 19 countries. It included Belarus, El Salvador and Zimbabwe in special paragraphs identifying particularly serious problems in the application of standards. It agreed on the importance of promoting employment and decent work in a rapidly changing world of work, stressing the need for governments, in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations and stakeholders to develop, implement, monitor and review policies and programmes rooted in International Labour Standards. 

A discussion on Social Protection   focused on the impact of COVID-19 and on the rapid changes occurring in the world of work. Delegates adopted conclusions that outlined a framework for urgent action towards universal, adequate, comprehensive and sustainable social protection systems that are adapted to developments in the world of work. 

The actions included measures to strengthen national social protection policies, close financing gaps, strengthen governance and adapt social protection systems in the aftermath of the crisis and in the context of the future of work.

Delegates adopted an emergency resolution on Myanmar, which called for the restoration of democracy, the reestablishment of civilian rule, the end to arbitrary detentions and violations of human rights, and the restoration of fundamental principles and rights at work. It called on the ILO Governing Body to monitor the situation in Myanmar and follow up on the implementation of the resolution.

Delegates also voted to adopt the ILO Programme and Budget for the 2022-3 biennium. In addition, they agreed to abrogate or withdraw 29 outdated international labour instruments.

Closing the ILC, the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, expressed satisfaction at the results obtained during what he described as a ‘remarkable’ Conference, guaranteeing the institutional and business continuity of the Organization.

“What has been done over the last few weeks places our Organization where it needs to be. It equips our Organization to rise to the challenges of this most difficult moment in the world of work. It’s an expression of how many governments, workers and employers look to us for leadership and action.” He said.

Nearly 4,500 delegates took part in the virtual ILC, including 171 ministers, one of which is Nigeria Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige and vice-ministers and high-level representatives from workers and employers, from 181 ILO Member States.

Global agreement reached at ILO Conference on action for COVID-19 recovery

The International Labour Conference (ILC) has adopted a Global Call to Action outlining measures to create a human-centred recovery from the COVI-19 pandemic and avoid the long-term scarring of economies and societies.

Delegates from 181 countries representing the Governments, workers and employers at the 109th session of the ILC adopted unanimously the Global Call to Action for a human-centred COVID-19 recovery.

The Action will prioritize the creation of decent jobs for all and addresses the inequalities caused by the crisis.

The Global Call to Action for a Human-Centred Recovery outlines a comprehensive agenda. It commits countries to ensuring that their economic and social recovery from the crisis is “fully inclusive, sustainable and resilient.”

The agreement includes two sets of agreed actions. The first covers measures to be taken by national governments and their employer and trade union ‘social partners’, to achieve a job-rich recovery that substantially strengthens worker and social protections and supports sustainable enterprises.

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