By Sunday Ilori
Conflicts are inevitable in state-labour relations. And one potent tool labour leaders have at their disposal to make governments at whatever level consider workers’ demands is to direct their members to down tools probably after all entreaties have failed.
Therefore, in industrial and labour relations, workers’ resort to an industrial action is a popular and even legitimate means of getting the authorities to pay attention to workers’ pressing demands, particularly matters of staff welfare.
Although some could argue that workers’ resort to strike actions is most undesirable when negotiations are still ongoing or seem to have broken down, what is essential is how a responsive government manages the resultant industrial dispute by further pushing the button of the principle of collective bargaining and resolving the conflict in the interest of all parties.
For the records, the tactful and result-oriented way of handling the recent one-week warning industrial dispute between organised labour and the Ogun State government is another milestone recorded by the responsive administration of Governor Dapo Abiodun.
His perceptive approach demonstrates the responsiveness of his administration to creating a peaceful and rancour-free atmosphere in the state which would enhance harmonious government-labour relations in handling welfare matters that directly affect the workers. In doing so, the government has shown that workers have rights, have a voice to air their grievances and that government within the limits of its capabilities and capacities would do everything possible to improve workers’ job satisfaction and productivity, too.
The genesis of the recent industrial dispute in the state stemmed from the passage of the Pension Reform Bill by the State House of Assembly, sometime in September, a development that sparked off protest, resulting from what the labour claimed to be ‘’non-consultation’’ before the passage of the bill into law.
As a consequence, the Organised Labour, made up of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) embarked on a warning strike which commenced on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.
Despite the huge financial implications the demands of the labour unions would bear on the expenditure of the government, the government has graciously acceded to the workers’ demands. The expenditure range from the implementation of the new minimum wage that would increase the monthly wage bill by N1.04 billion, to the immediate payment of three years’ leave bonus arrears and gratuity, all approximating to N9.2 billion and N24 billion respectively, and to an additional payment of about N1.2 billion, resulting from the under-pment by the immediate past administration to some categories of retired personnel.
True to type, the state government, with the October 2020 salaries, commenced the payment of the negotiated minimum wage of N30,500, the highest of such in the southwest. This is a clear demonstration of the present administration’s commitment to paying the entitlements of dutiful Ogun workers (either serving or retired) so as to better their welfare, wellness and well-being.
Effusive in his commendation of this worker-friendly gesture by Governor Abiodun, the Vice-Chairman, Ogun State chapter, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Akeem Lasisi, expressed profound appreciation on behalf of his fellow labour leaders and the grateful teeming Ogun workforce. While speaking at a “Thank You” solidarity rally held at the Arcade Ground of the State Secretariat, Okemosan, Abeokuta, the state capital, on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, Lasisi said: “It’s no longer news that the Ogun State government has paid the negotiated minimum wage to the entire workforce in the state. We are very happy. There is a need to appreciate His Excellency Prince Dapo Abiodun and the government of Ogun state. We, as workers, are not members of any political party, but what we are after is the welfare of our members. And if you look at the current administration, it has demonstrated its commitment by paying regularly the salaries of workers, even, before the month ends.’’
Akeem Lasisi continued, ‘’Even during the negotiations, the team that represented the state government demonstrated an uncommon commitment. The spirit of collective bargaining was allowed to thrive. The commitment showed by the state government during the negotiation was equally unprecedented, if we are to compare with past administrations in the state. I can authoritatively tell you that the minimum wage which is N30,500 by the state government is the highest in the entire southwest of Nigeria. So, we want the government to uphold the early payment of workers’ salaries, as it has been doing, so that they (workers) would not suffer. But I would appeal to the state government to fulfil all the pledges it signed with the organised labour. Because if it is able to do all these, it means the government is planting a seed that would germinate to feed upon in 2023.”
Expectedly, the worker-friendly Governor, in his response, reiterated the commitment and resolve of the administration to improve the welfare of the workers, part of which is to offset all outstanding dues and other entitlements as the financial status of the state improves.
According to him, “No nation or state can achieve any meaningful development without workers who are well motivated to perform optimally.
“We will continue to constantly and regularly pay our workers’ salary and other benefits to enable them discharge their duties efficiently. I know that there had been a breakdown of trust in the past between the government and the workers. On our part, we will continue to build trust with you. There should be no mistrust or misunderstanding between us. You are the essence of this administration. I can assure you that, we will continue to engage you, and I am happy that the twist is being restored”.
By and large, unexpectedly, the governor must have disappointed pessimists, cynics and traducers who had thought the next line of action was to downsize the workforce to meet up with the payment of the negotiated N30,500 minimum wage and other demands of the labour, as it is the grund norm in some states of the federation. Instead, Governor Abiodun rose to the challenge, believing that state resources must be judiciously used to develop a truly motivating working atmosphere which would in turn boost workers’ productivity and drive the state to further pedestals of development in all sectors in the end.
The elephant is beyond an animal that one can claim to have sighted rather vaguely; if we see an elephant, it must be so acknowledged that we have truly seen an elephant in its grandeur. Governor Dapo Abiodun has launched a template for a responsive governance style in Nigeria’s democratic space and his impressive score card must be rightly acknowledged by all lovers of democracy and admirers of the new phase of governance in Ogun politics and administration.
It is on record that five temporary members of staff who had been working with the State Ministry of Special Duties in the last 10 years have been absorbed into the mainstream civil service. Three of them who are Higher National Diploma (HND) holders were employed by the administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel. Despite several appeals to the successive administration of Senator Ibikunle Amosun to absorb them, there were no positive results. But Governor Abiodun, in his understanding of the workings of industrial and labour relations and particularly his feeling the pulse of deserving dutiful Ogun workers has compassionately directed the immediate absorption of the five workers with immediate effect from September 1, 2020.
Despite some dirty tricks employed by the past administration to make the successive government fail by hurriedly recruiting well over 2,000 workers through the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), Badagry, Lagos, in the twilight of its exiting office on May 29, 2019, without taking cognizance of the financial viability and capability of the state, Governor Abiodun to the chagrin of some elements and to the admiration of lovers of industrial harmony retained the services of these workers in the state civil service.
Besides, Abiodun directed that the nine-month old salaries owed the new workers to a tune of N1 billion be defrayed immediately. Also, in the same spirit, 18 directors that were elevated to the Permanent Secretary (PS) cadre, without recourse to due process, were equally granted amnesty and retained despite every entreaty and persuasion to rescind the decision of the past administration and review the promotion of the affected officers.
These landmark achievements recorded by the state government under the astute leadership of Governor Dapo Abiodun despite inheriting a near empty state treasury are inspiring and commendable. In these trying times too are the equally worrisome dwindling fortunes of the state occasioned by the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its debilitating socio-economic effects that have impacted negatively on the internally generated revenue of the state as well as the monthly allocation from the Federation Account.
In a swift response to these seemingly daunting state matters, Governor Dapo Abiodun has stood tall as a shrewd manager of the state’s resources, delivering on all fronts to the admiration and acclamation of the proud Ogun people who voted for him to change the cacophonous music of yesteryears to melodious tunes alluring to the ears of all. All we can do is to wish Governor Abiodun more grace and wisdom to further implement his worker-friendly and people-oriented agenda for the betterment of the living and working conditions of the people, and ultimately the uplift of the Gateway State to greater heights.
Ilori, a public commentator, wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun State capital