Except a common ground over the lingering salary crisis is reached between the Oyo State chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress and Governor Abiola Ajimobi, the public sector in the state might be paralyzed after the expiration of a seven-day ultimatum given by labour on Thursday.
In separate interviews, Mr. Ajimobi, through his spokesperson, Yomi Layinka and NLC State Chairman, Waheed Olojede, spoke exclusively to PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, expressing divergent views on the workers’ strike threat over non-payment of salaries.
Except primary school teachers who have received January salaries, workers, including staff of tertiary institutions, in Oyo State were last paid in November last year.
The situation has brought severe hardship on the workers and crippled the economy of the state, some civil servants and residents told PREMIUM TIMES.
Ten months ago, the government and labour agreed to a deal which meant the utilisation of 90 per cent of the state’s monthly statutory allocations from the Federation Accounts to pay civil servants. Messrs. Olojede and Layinka confirmed this.
But workers are still owed salaries for four months, or three in the case of primary school teachers, as federal allocations continue to dwindle due to international oil market crisis.
“So, what we want now is a review of the agreement to include Internally Generated Revenue in the agreement because 90 per cent of federal allocation is not enough again to pay workers,” Mr Olojede said, stressing that 90 per cent of all the resources, including IGR and federal allocations, accruable to the state should be used to pay workers and settle backlog of salaries.
“At the last meeting we held with the government representatives yesterday (Monday), we demanded to see the governor himself to tell him our demands directly,” the NLC chief added.
But Mr. Ajimobi would not review the agreement with labour as, according to him, doing so will mean spending almost all resources of the state on civil servants.
“Even if we add everything it cannot still pay workers’ salaries. We cannot use all the resources to pay workers who make up just over 60,000 of about seven million citizens of the State. It is completely irresponsible,” Mr. Layinka said, speaking for the governor.
Before the 90 per cent of monthly allocation agreement, Mr. Layinka said the government proposed slashing workers’ salaries’ by half or reducing the workforce as a “realistic way” of addressing the pay crisis but that labour rejected both proposals.
Mr. Olojede did not controvert this claim. “I said no!”
He disclosed that, at Monday’s meeting, labour demanded that available funds be used to defray November salary balance of senior staff on Levels 13-17, while the governor should issue directive that local government and primary school teachers be paid their February salaries.
Insisting on the demand for review of the 90 per cent of monthly agreement and immediate payment of November and February salaries of senior staff and primary school teachers as well as local government workers respectively, Mr. Olojede hinted at possible industrial action after expiration of the ultimatum on Thursday.
“Without fruition of our demands? Let’s wait till after close of work on Thursday,” he said.
He stressed that the planned industrial action could not be halted unless workers’ demand are met and that labour leadership was ready to negotiate with the governor directly.
Mr. Olojede, who dismissed allegations of compromise, denied government’s claim that the ultimatum issued did not follow due process, explaining that labour had sent three letters to which there was only one reply “which was non committal, hence the ultimatum issued.”
But Mr. Layinka warned the workers against industrial action, saying labour must stick to realities.
“If they go on strike, we will take the matter to the court of public opinion to determine if we should close down the state to because 60 thousand workers at the expense of millions of citizens’ access to road and other infrastructures.
“Yes, there is hardship; but in the face of facts and realities, there is nothing we can do. It is not matter of emotional outbursts. If they go on strike, government will be grounded for months but they will later come back to the table. So what is the point?”
Should the labour proceed on strike, “the governor has vowed to enforce no work no pay rule if we find out it does not follow due process,” the spokesperson said.
“Workers not creative”
When the labour and government representatives met on Monday, Mr. Layinka said the latter kept asking the latter to suggest ways out of the economic crisis.
He said the government charged the workers to be creative and focus more on how to generate income for the state.
“Assuming we have run out of ideas, they should come up with idea but they were just saying edogbon si (just find a way) without any creative idea.
“They asked us to borrow. Even if we are able to borrow – because no commercial bank will borrow any state money to pay salaries – it is a recurrent cycle that does not make sense. If we borrow money to pay workers, how do we repay the loans? We want to avoid the mistake Osun made,” Mr. Layinka said.
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