The Nasarawa State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Iya Yusuf has said that workers in Nasarawa State are more concerned about their promotion, annual increment and arrears than they are about the new minimum wage.
In an exclusive interview with Eggonnews, the Nasarawa State NLC Chairman likened the implementation of the new minimum wage without promotion to building without a foundation.
In the interview, the labour Leader in the State touched on several other labour issues.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
You came into the mantle of leadership as the State NLC Chairman, what was the situation you met on ground with regards to workers’ welfare and their relations with government?
Thank you for asking this short and very important question. The situation I met when I came on board was quite sympathizing. Sympathizing in the sense that workers in Nasarawa State had been relegated to the background. Relegated to the background in the sense that their welfare and well-being have not been attended to as expected of labour movement.
My reasons for saying this is because one, ever since the implementation of the minimum wage – to be precise in July 2011 – till today, no worker has had any annual increment. This annual increment, by the law governing the civil service, is a right that every worker after spending one year should move, except if he is under punishment or interdiction. And to our surprise, no worker has been moved from one step to another.
Two, the issue of promotion, which is the landmark for workers to put in their best for optimal productivity, has also been relegated ever since the last administration came on board. That is, since the administration of Governor Tanko Almakura came on board, it was only once that workers were promoted to another grade level. And that has made the workers of Nasarawa State to be redundant, to be displeased. It has made them to be angry.
Another thing is the fact that promotion is the backbone of every development in the civil service. The previous administration didn’t take promotion as a priority. When you look at the… itself that came into this State, courtesy demands that the workers of Nasarawa State should be jubilating and be happy over the implementation of their promotion. But none was utilized for that. Instead the State Government accessed bailout, they accessed the Paris Club refund, they accessed budget support. In fact, they went into agreement with the capital market and collected bonds for development.
If that was the case, why couldn’t they use the allocation to pay salaries while they used the others to do the development? In fact, because the previous administration did not prioritise workers’ welfare, that is why promotions have not been granted to workers.
Three, training. It is also another area for optimal productivity. Workers must be trained on the job. Ever since the previous administration – I was going through the budget to compare the amount spent on training within the period of the last administration. I was led to discover that only about 25% of the amount allocated for training in the budget was released. So, you can see that that also has not been considered.
Four, the issue of providing enabling environment for workers to operate. For instance, provision of working tools, provision of conducive atmosphere for workers to work like table and some other facilities that will motivate one to work, are not there.
So, it became worrisome and as we came on board, these are some of the pressing challenges that my administration is faced with. In fact, we have since packaged what we call a blue print. These ones and so many others, such as the issue of pensions and gratuity payment. Because all of us are potential pensioners. After this active service, we are going into the passive. The passive is the pension. Very soon, most of us will retire and the payment of pension and gratuity is not encouraging. Some people have retired for over ten years now and their gratuity has not been paid to them. Some of them have pension arrears. Some cannot even access the monthly pensions. Can you imagine somebody who has about five, six million as gratuity arrears and is paid two hundred thousand? What will he do with it?
Even though we’ve been talking with the government that the amount the government releases monthly for the payment of gratuities should be jerked up from the Twenty Million Naira they give now, to one hundred or two hundred million Naira. So that even up to ten people can be settled their gratuities within a particular month. By the time you do that for a year, you will find out that 2.4 billion has been paid for the year. That is what we have advised the government. And we believe His Excellency, A A Sule is a man of his words. If he means to do it I know he will do it.
These are some of the challenges we have. I said some because these are not all.
From your statistics or data bank, how much do you think is the accumulated amount being owed because of the arrears the government is owing?
When you say arrears, let me be specific on salary arrears. We know in August 2016, we had arrears of one whole month complete for the whole civil servants. And as at then, the financial experts or the sub-treasury and the office of the Accountant General said our salary for the core civil servants was 990 million Naira. That is excluding tertiary institutions, excluding Specialist Hospital, excluding the House of Assembly, excluding the Judiciary, excluding the Hospital Management Board. For the other core civil service, you have 990 million. That is about 1 billion.
Coming to May/June/July 2017, some people were paid while some were not paid. They said no-work-no-pay and there was a kind of selective judgment. Even though we have been fighting that.
So, these are the salaries. I cannot tell you precisely how much the May/June/July salaries is. Because along the line, when we were updating the records, there was this kind of haphazard payment. Some people will just go and lobby because they have their own either in the salaries or whatsoever and they paid them. Most people were paid. For the few of us that are left, I cannot precisely tell you how much the financial implication is. But we are working towards that because we have a committee on promotions and salary arrears. When we go there, we will be able to know exactly what is meant for the May/June/July and we will present to the government.
Governor Sule came on board with a commitment that within his first 100 days in office, he will pay arrears of civil servants irrespective or promotions. What happened along the line that these were not met? What do you think is responsible for this?
Well, I think this question you would have asked the governor. I think he will be the best person to answer that question. Because just as you have said, we have been anticipating that he would have matched his words with action over that. Perhaps he has some other reasons best known to him that has hindered him from paying.
What I know he has achieved is when it comes to the issue of pension. It is the fact that he stopped the percentage payment of pension of both the Local Government and the State. That one I know he has achieved.
And for the arrears of pension, I know that the government and the pensioners are still in court pursuing that.
That of the civil servants, we pursued it vigorously. And you know the period within which we were pursuing, I wasn’t settled. For all of you journalists that are aware, we have been having leadership tussles with my predecessor and it was just last month that I was given the mandate fully for me to operate. So, we have started talking and the talking will cover all the sectors. That is to say, both State and Local Government service, both State and Local Government pensions. We will continue to struggle to make sure that what is what doing is done well.
…the Governor set up a committee which contains 13 of your members. The situation is that issues like this often come in favour of the government and workers suffer at the end. How are you going to ensure that this time around this committee is going to perform differently from the past and ensure that workers get their due?
It is just a simple thing. You mentioned the composition of the committee, that labour has 13 members. It is in our own wisdom. You know in the past when they say discussion on minimum wage, most time the labour here discusses just on one salary table. And that salary table they call it the Consolidated Public-Sector Salary Structure.
When I came on board and this issue of minimum wage came, I was able to access about 8 different salary tables from the national headquarters of the NLC. I liaised with the chairman of the joint council. And in our discussion and agreement, we all agreed that the 8 salary tables should be discussed simultaneously. In the past, after discussing the public sector salary structure, you would find out that the doctors will come up and say ‘we are discussing our own’. The next thing, university lecturers will say ‘we are discussing our own’. The next time you will see lecturers from polytechnic discussing their own. Looking at this scenario and considering the intrigues and the peculiarities of every table, we say let’s bring everybody, so we will sit on a round table with government. That is why you see the composition the way it is.
Otherwise in the past, only four people will sit down and discuss the minimum wage. But we don’t want a repeat of those complaints that after this one, this one will now come. Like for the doctors I know, when CONMESS was discussed, later the doctors came with another cry that there is what is called adjusted CONMESS. It was a burden again on the labour because they were doing strike here and there. So, everybody is now incorporated. The nurses are there, the doctors are there, the lecturers are there, the House of Assembly, the Judiciary, the public service workers, everybody is carried along.
What we are expecting is a very robust discussion that will lead to a very important decision and nobody will cry at the end of it.
Even though as we have always said, our concern here is the issue of promotion. Because we have said it times without number, that this minimum wage for now, is an element that should be built on what is called promotion.
When you don’t promote somebody, which is the foundation, I don’t know where you are going to place the new minimum wage. That was why we had a closed-door meeting with His Excellency and he assured us that the promotion committee was going to be inaugurated on Monday. So that the two committees can be working in pari passu. The outcome of the promotion committee will be the basis for the discussion of the new minimum wage. That is our priority.
On your scale of preference, which one does the organized labour prefer?
Promotion. That has been our yearning and aspiration. That has been our agitation.
Now let’s assume, somebody who was in Grade Level 10 and he was given the paper. Maybe he was in Grade Level 7 and he has risen through 8, 9 and then 10, and all these papers are at hand. Now the minimum wage is coming but presently the person we are talking about is collecting salary on Grade Level 7. After the discussion, already he has 8, 9 and 10, where are you placing him? Are you placing him on 7 or ten?
This is fundamental. We must discuss this issue of promotion so that the workers should be clear appropriately. If you are having papers for 8, 9 and 10, let it reflect on 8, 9 and 10 so that when the minimum wage comes, you know that you are collecting minimum wage based on 10. But if they give you on 7, what sense is it making? It doesn’t make sense. It is just like a building without a foundation. Therefore, we are prioritizing the issue of promotion and annual increment and the arrears.
We have come to realize that one of the challenges hindering this is finance. How is the government going to fund it? Given the financial strength of the State, how do you think this will be realizable?
Which financial strength? Can you just give an example? Because I know recently you had an interaction with His Excellency the Governor and he said he has no problem. I don’t know if you were not there. But I saw journalists interviewing him and he said the State is buoyant, he is paying his salaries. So which problem?
Anyway, even if there is one, we appreciate His Excellency because he has set up a committee on internal revenue. I know he can do it. I know he can generate what will cater for whatsoever salary. Because our salary is our right. The employer must pay wages to his employee against every cost. Once you employ, you must pay salaries. And you must pay it in consonance with the laws that establish that salary.
Ours is to look at it holistically. Let’s agree to agree. It is just like during the previous administration. They said they didn’t have money and they were comparing us with Kano, Kaduna and Sokoto that were paying higher. And the question we asked then was that, are you promoting? Are you giving annual increment? Are you sending people on training? These States are doing all these things and by the time you add up what they are getting in a year and divide it by twelve, it is twice the salary Nasarawa State is paying.
Moreover, we made an analysis. What you are seeing here are the budgets right from 2011 to date. And these budgets tell how much the State realises in a year, how much they spend for salaries in a year and what the balance is. We made an analysis during our last discussion with them and presented the table to them. We asked them, show us where you paid salary and you are left with amount less than 1 billion naira. They couldn’t explain it.
So, if we can still come back to that analysis, that is what we are going to take. Bring your figures and we will bring our own. We are practising what we call scientific labour movement. Bring facts and figures. And where we are convinced that you don’t have enough then we now know where to adjust. Because Nasarawa State belongs to us all. We are human and if we see a reasonable presentation with facts and figures, we will not hesitate to agree and succumb to certain conditions.
But if somebody will just tell us verbally that Nasarawa State has no money, what is the proof? Where are the facts? Present them on the table. And I think that is how we are going to approach the minimum wage committee so that our conscience should be very clear that what the government is presenting to us is true.
In your discussions, because we were made to understand that the government is placing priority on the national minimum wage. What assurance do you have for the civil servants that there won’t be any compromise?
The civil servants know our capabilities. They know the efforts we have made even when we were not here. They know the struggles. They know the doggedness we have applied. They know our perseverance. They know the type of human beings we are.
It is on that trend that we are going to operate. We will never fail them. We will never betray them. That is why by 2 o’clock today we are going to have a meeting. The meeting is geared towards seeing how we will approach the minimum wage vis-a-viz the promotion issues.
You see one thing that leads leaders to failure is lack of communication. But I want to assure you that our doors will be very open so that we discuss intensively with our members, whatsoever that has to do with their welfare. We will leave our doors open and at anytime anybody wants to ask question or come to make enquiries or provide advice or make genuine criticism. We will correct where we are erring and improve where we are achieving.
We are not going to fail them. What we need in reciprocation is their prayers. Workers should pray for us so that Satan will not come into our affairs.
In the event where government says it will prefer to pay the minimum wage, giving what you have said earlier where you said promotion, arrears are more important, what will be the stand of the organized labour if government is insisting?
I will not tell you what we will become until it happens that way. If the government insists even when we have said these are our demands and this is how we want it, then we will know where to logically put our issues. We will know what to do when such situation comes. It is not a thing that I will say we will go on strike. It will be a collective idea. All those involved, the stakeholders involved will be called upon and we will present the issues on the table so that they will look at them as humans to see what we are going to do.
Thank you very much sir.