The Pact with Akwa Ibom Workers

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Udom Emmanuel

Rebecca Ejifoma writes on the unwritten pact between the Akwa Ibom State Government, it’s workers and retirees, especially in the area of timely payment of salaries and gratuities

A worker is worthy of his wages and this is one pact that is sacrosanct between Akwa Ibom State workers and the state government. Without a doubt, one of the basic needs of man is food, clothing and shelter. According to the International Labour Organisation, these three combined are considered as one of the main measures of ‘absolute poverty.

According to Wikipedia, basic needs approach to measurement of absolute poverty is ‘the absolute minimum resources necessary for long-term physical well-being, usually in terms of consumption goods.’ Thus, as an employer, consistent payment of salaries helps the worker meet the three key basic needs, thereby removing them from the poverty spectrum.

Wages for Workers

In Akwa Ibom, one of the key drivers of this administration is the pact of consistent payment of salaries for workers and gratuities for retirees. Besides roads rehabilitation/ construction, rehabilitation of hospitals, one other area that has distinguished the Governor Emmanuel Udom administration is his ability to pay regular salaries and monthly pensions despite paucity of funds caused by recession.

This no doubt explained the government -workers cordial relationship existing in the state, unlike so many states that workers continue to threaten strike action due to non payment and of backlog of salary arrears, and even pensions. Indeed, many are of the belief that the governor’s clearing of ten years previously unpaid gratuity within one year of this inauguration was a landmark. So, it was no surprise why the Head of Civil Service (HOS), Mrs. Ekereobong Akpan, had during a recent media chat expressed confidence that workers and indeed Akwa Ibom people would vote massively for the incumbent come 2019.

She said, “I have so many instances I can cite that will address this issue. If a leader assumes office and then notices that some people were left out for over 10 years without being paid their gratuities and without prompting clears the entire outstanding, I think that leader has the interest of the workers at heart. If that same leader within the period of recession, instead of downsizing, continues to employ, I think he has the interest of the people and the workers.

“If a leader comes in and with or without federal allocation, pays salaries between the 25th and 27th of every month to workers and one week after pays retirees; he has the interest of the workers at heart. In Akwa Ibom State, even when you are not promoted, you are not denied your increment yearly.

“I want to say here that in Akwa Ibom State, every January if you have not hit the bar of your grade level you are given your increment. We have rules, if you are promoted, your next grade level should not be less than your annual increment and this is one state that if in January you are given your increment and then you are promoted in that same year, your placement will be determined by the increment you enjoyed one or two months earlier.”

Challenges

She was however quick to admit that the state government is only owing gratuities from where it had stopped, adding that it is not peculiar to the state. She pointed out that many states of the federation are also facing challenges of payment of workers or gratuities to retirees.

“For a state like ours that has not joined the contributory pension scheme, it’s still a problem. For those that have joined, they have backlogs of the ones that retired before now”, she said. She, however, assured that the gratuities would be paid, though she did not specify when.

“Government does not owe any person in perpetuity. If the government owes you a kobo, remember that you will be paid. And so, for salaries, we pay salaries in Akwa Ibom on every 25th to 27th of every month with or without federal allocation. That is the truth and it is on record, including SUBEB and local government staff. If a worker comes out to say he/she is owed salary, I would ask the worker just as I asked the young man I referred to earlier. There must be something wrong somewhere that he’s not cleared. And until we clear you, we can’t pay you,” she stated.

Workers Welfare

The HOS went further to enumerate other things that the current administration was doing to improve workers welfare in the state besides regular payment of salaries, and pension.

According to her, one aspect of workers welfare that the administration has made a mark in, is the payment of salaries of primary school teachers and local government workers, which has calmed agitations in those areas in the past.

“I remember when I came on board I said arrears of people to be promoted included 2012, 2013 and 2014 and such persons were duly promoted. When this administration came on board, they were over 10,000 of them, they were promoted, and I have records to show that we have been paying these people that we promoted.

“We were all there when they came out en-masse and told the governor that he had paid them and they have been fairing well. We all watched the NULGE week event, it was aired and every person watched it, It was real and I also know, in this my state and in this service I serve as the head of service were pensioners came out December last year, all of them said they have been paid all their pensions. In this same state they all came out and surrendered 28,000 retirees to the governor. We have records to show, I don’t know what welfare is, if it is not what I am talking about now, which we have observed. It is part and parcel of us.”

Housing Needs

She revealed that the state was at an advanced stage of offering workers houses, adding that a circular would be out soon which she had allocated different ministries the numbers they should invite applications from.

According to the HOS, the current administration was determined to ensure civil servants own house which they would be expected to be paying monthly for the next 15 or 20 years as the case may be.

Retirees

Akpan stressed, “This is a state where workers and retirees are taken care of. We are working with salary consultants. If you retire today, by 12 midnight, your name will be inactive in the integrated payroll and become active in the pension payroll. I have observed what used to happen before that a retiree who is used to monthly salaries is now wondering when he would be paid. In August this year, I gave names of those that would retire between July and December so that they will also prepare that come October, November and December, they will be out and that they will be earning pensions. I think that is part of the goodies for the workers that weren’t there before.

The HOS disagreed that workers in the state do not receive entitlements even as she stressed that workers are given their entitlements. Akpan who said she had been in the know of workers challenges since the creation of the state in 1987 was quick to say that workers would prefer Udom in 2019 given his track record.

Promotion

On promotion she said: “Things have been done to improve this system over time and we are moving on in all areas – education, agriculture, health, administration and all others. This administration has tried within its power to do a lot of things. We have had over 20,000 persons promoted within this period. This is beside junior staff in all our Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). This is beside promotions in the judiciary and the extra-ministerial departments and tertiary institutions. You know what that will mean if we were to add all of these together. They all have been promoted. I can give you the details of the arrears that have been paid including people that were employed into the service in 2014 and 2015 and were not paid. All of them have been paid. The last batch is coming up in October payment. This is a state that is still paying leave grants.

“The arrears we are talking about for the newly employed people we had, 2249 of them have now been paid close to N1 billion. Most of them have not informed their people that they have received their salaries. If they are owed one year, they are paid all one day including the current month. I am speaking from records that we have.”