Minimum Wage: Is Kwara govt dancing round the periphery?


The new minimum wage row between the Kwara State government and labour unions has expectedly dominated discussion in the last few weeks with argument back and forth among interested parties. In this piece, HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the issue and how it has affected the polity.

We’ve agreed to pay the new minimum wage. State government can’t negotiate on behalf of the Local Government workers. No, nothing is agreed on yet, negotiation was still ongoing. The table the government brought is not acceptable and the government has been issued two weeks ultimatum, bla, bla, bla. These were the reactions and comments that trailed the N30,000 new minimum wage issue in Kwara State in the last few days between the government and the labour unions in the state.
With neither head nor tail agreed on the issue, there is palpable concern that if concrete agreement is not reach at the expiration of the ultimatum, the State of Harmony as Kwara State prides itself might witness major disharmony and its first major workers’ crisis since the new administration mounted the rostrum.
After the coming of the new government, concerns have been raised in many quarters about the capability and capacity of the new government to meet the new salary demand for workers in the state as propounded and legislated by the federal government under the All Progressives Congress (APC) government of President Muhammadu Buhari. For observers in the state, the issue has thrown up prepositions and postulations among employees of the present and past governments.
Now before the 2019 general election, the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former House of Representatives member, Hon Razak Atunwa had promised to make the payment of the new minimum wage a task that must be accomplished irrespective of the situation of the finances of the state if elected. Not only did Atunwa assured the labour unions in the state that he would found a way around the issue to guarantee payment, both parties went ahead to sign a document endorsed by the leadership of all the labour unions in the state. While the APC went ahead to defeat the then ruling party, the wave of support that brought in the new government and the assurances from some of its leaders like Iyiola Oyedepo among others that the APC government will dwarf whatever is obtainable in the state in terms of salaries and wages took the hope and expectations of many of the workers to the next level but based on anticipation and hope alone.
However, it was an official of the last administration and former Special Adviser on Student Affairs, Comrade Bisi Fakayode that first threw a spanner on such huge expectations after the government was elected.
Fakayode in an interview with Pilot Politics, when asked whether Kwara can be able to afford the payment of the new minimum wage of N30,000 initially went cautious and diplomatic. He said, “My advice to workers because I discover that the private sector income is better than the public sector and you will discover that informal sector workers like carpenters and Okada riders will have a better income than even a permanent secretary when you look at their daily contribution at the end of the month. So I don’t see the urge for people rushing to be in service and those in service too should have a thing or two doing after the office work”.
But speaking further and zeroing in on the issue of local government workers, the former unionist-cum government representative released the “bombshell”.
If the method adopted by former Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed at the latter period after we had fell into arrears at the local government had been adopted earlier, he noted, then maybe we wouldn’t have found ourselves wanting on any issue of backlogs.
“The method was the spirit of being our brother’s keeper. While there are some local governments that can stand on their own, there are many local governments that cannot and the spirit behind the brother’s keeper policy is that whatever comes from Abuja will first go into a pool and redistributed with the first yardstick being that all councils must be paid. While it was an advantage to the weaker local governments, it was a disadvantage to the strong one who would have to use part of their money to sustain others as a policy.
“It will be better if the (new) government continues with the policy but if they want to adopt this Buhari autonomy of accounts, than that is the beginning of crisis. Government is not a joke and by the time those who are abusing former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and former Governor Ahmed get there, we will see what they will do. (But) I give them 6 months. If tomorrow, the autonomy of local government is fully implemented and some local governments who were getting paid during tenure of former Governor Ahmed can no longer get their pay, the slogan will be that Governor Abdulrazaq Abdulrahman has stolen their money. But is it the Governor that caused it? Whether we belong to APC or PDP, the state belongs to all of us and we cannot continue to be looking”, he added.
Now while there is still argument back and forth about the full implementation or otherwise of the local government autonomy in the state, there have been accusations from especially some opposition quarters that the finances of the state under the new sheriff in town is too secretive and has not given opportunity for the kind of scrutiny and demand by the citizens that existed under the last administration. Furthermore, some of the labours leaders have also accused the governor of deliberately avoiding meetings with them to address their complaints and grievances. Interestingly, one of the issues that was said to have temporarily stalled negotiations on the matter now is the issue of the local governments and what will be their position in the new scheme of things. For some apologists of the government who have raced to town with the narrative that the government is not responsible for local government salaries (a slogan that many still considered one of the albatrosses of the last government), their critics have fired back that the suspended council chairmen should then be returned. Their position is that if the government cannot negotiate on the councils behalf, them it cannot and has no right suspend its chairmen in the first place especially with the argument of the Supreme Court judgment backed by the letter of Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami on the issue to states where the chairmen are suspended to return to the status quo.
Now a flip to the present, the issue has raged and still raging with all the parties concerned. After over three days of marathon and intense negotiations whose outcome appears to be more confusing than before it was started, the government through the Commissioner for Finance, Oyeyemi Florence told anxious members of the public while speaking on a radio programme that the State Government has agreed to pay the new 30,000 Minimum Wage, while talks are rightly ongoing on the negotiations of consequential adjustments.
But the labour unions swiftly punctured her statement with a position that is threatening to rupture the industrial harmony in the state.
According to the organised labour in a statement jointly signed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) after a joint meeting of the Labour Movement which was well attended by the affiliate Unions on Monday, the Kwara State Government was issued a 14-day ultimatum to comply on payment of the new national minimum wage.
They disclosed that meetings with the state government representative all previously ended in a deadlock contradicting the earlier position of the commissioner and further went spiritual over the issue by calling for three days fasting and prayer.
“On the issue of Minimum Wage Committees meeting, the labour representatives at the Committee rejected the table presented by the Government in totality and wish to inform the Workers that its meeting ended in deadlock. The meeting resolved that the State Government should be given 14-days Ultimatum starting from 31?January, 2020 to intervene and resolve it. The Labour Movement in Kwara State wishes to debunk the submission of the Commissioner of Finance that the Committee concluded on the table for the New Minimum Wage in Kwara State. Workers in the State are implored to go on 3-days fasting and prayers for their demands on the issue to be achieved starting on Wednesday 5th to 7th of February, 2020″, labour added.
But in all of these, what is the stand of the national leadership of the labour unions? Although efforts of Pilot Politics to bring the National President of NLC, comrade Ayuba Wabba into the state narrative did not materialised as several calls and text message to him were neither answered nor replied, at the last count, only about ten states have had any head way on the issue in the country with some that have even started payment.
According to a recent report, about ten states have concluded negotiations with workers on consequential adjustments and ready to implement the N30, 000 national minimum wage according to the NLC. Already, workers in Lagos and Kaduna, along with those at the Federal level, have started enjoying the package. States which have concluded discussions on consequential adjustments, according to NLC are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Lagos and Ebonyi. Wabba during a Channels Television’s ‘Sunrise Daily’ programme said the ten states met the December 31, 2019 deadline set by organised labour. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) on its part issued January 31st, 2020. Although both dates had already elapsed, labour had vowed to picket states that reneged to implement the new directive. Most of the disagreements had centred on the consequential adjustment with the national leadership of the NLC accusing state governors of shunning welfare of workers and implementation of the new minimum wage while wasting public funds on weddings, funerals and private jets.
As things stands now, will Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq engaged the unions in the state directly on the issue with a view to extracting solid commitment from them toward solving the imbroglio or continue what some have described as macabre dance” on the periphery. Perhaps, such engagement could lead to real concrete deliberation rather than this third party arrangement that has not yielded any meaningful outcome. It is however expected that the Governor should and must “think out of the box” to come out with a solid financial model that will tick all the available boxes to resolving the lockjam and make it a win-win situation for all parties. The new minimum wage issue is no doubt a ticking time bomb and whether it will be allowed to explode with potential devastating consequences to the government hugely depend on how the government invite other parties to the table and the kind of cards that are laid.

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