A new wave of industrial dispute between the Akwa Ibom State Government, AKSG, and the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, is brewing following claims by the government that it can no longer pay the new minimum wage, announcing plans to cut the new minimum wage from workers salary owing to what it termed her inability to “pay the Minimum Wage Salaries as the oil price has plunged far below the benchmark.”
The government’s position which was conveyed to the leadership of organised labour in the state last Friday by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem in a meeting of the Minimum Wage Committee (comprising Labour leaders and representatives of the Government), saw all the Labour leaders present (NLC, TUC and JPSNC) unanimously rejected such plans as mooted by the State Government.
The Labour, in a brief for State Administrative Council and State Executive Council (SAC/SEC) members of NLC which TheMail Newspaper has obtained exclusively, stated that rather than contemplate reneging after signing the new minimum wage, Government should be concerned with measures to preserve incomes by providing palliatives like tax exemptions and waivers. “It is illogical to contemplate a deduction in workers’ salaries as prices of commodities have generally soared thereby eroding the purchasing power of the currency. The recently approved Minimum Wage is therefore no longer realistic as its real value has been eroded by the prevalent inflation”, NLC declared.
The brief said it is not only surprising, but unfortunate, that the Akwa Ibom State Government, against all economic, social and political reasoning, would thereafter moot the idea of review of the new Minimum Wage which came into effect via an Act of the National Assembly, and wondered why Akwa Ibom should be the first state in Nigeria to declare bankruptcy before other less-endowed States due to Covid19, despite occupying an enviable position as a top revenue earner amongst all the States.
The SAC/SEC brief of Organised labour also queried if there is any credibility to the claims by the Government that it is unable to pay the salaries of its workers and wondered what savings has been made from the management of the payroll by salary consultants.
“Do we really need the exorbitant services of consultants when there are enough professionals capable of rendering the same services in the service? If the wage bill has witnessed considerable increase as claimed, how come that the check-off dues of Unions has not increased correspondingly? Does the State Government possess the legal right to review, adjust or cut the Minimum Wage, being that the same is derived from an Act of the National Assembly? Why has Government refused to come clean on the actual wage bill/size of the public service workforce in Akwa Ibom State on an MDA by MDA basis?Does Government truly mean well for the workers and their families?” labour asked.
The NLC brief stated that the decision of the government to cut workers salary is indicative of the progressing anti-worker posture of the Government when viewed against the background of civil servants in Akwa Ibom State having to groan under the yoke of promotion without financial benefits, retirement without pensions, arbitrary taxation, unknown deductions, illegal removal from payroll etc.
“In the past six years (2014 – 2019), the State has grossed over N1trillion revenue from FAAC, exclusive of internally generated revenue (IGR). In 2018, the State received a net amount of N202.365bn as its share of Federally collected revenue (FAAC). As at August, 2019, according to His Excellency, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, in his Budget Speech of 8th October, 2019, to the House of Assembly, Akwa Ibom State had received N165.785bn as its share of federally collected revenue. Within the same period (Jan. – Aug., 2019), by comparison, Abia received N30.393bn, Benue state got N33.246bn, Ekiti received N22.733bn, Cross River received N23.257bn while Kaduna got N45.415bn. This means that the five (5) States combined received a total of N155.018bn as against N165.785bn received by Akwa Ibom alone”.
“On average the five States received N19.377bn per month in the same period that Akwa Ibom was receiving N20.973bn per month. It should be noted that some of these States have populations in excess of that of Akwa Ibom State. For instance, the population of Kaduna State for 2019 was projected at 9.12m people while that of Akwa Ibom was 6.02m in the same period”.
According to the NLC, Statistics also show that some of the financially less-endowed States of the Federation have significantly bigger social services responsibilities than Akwa Ibom State. For instance, both Kogi and Cross River States, among others, have a higher number of teachers in their payroll than Akwa Ibom State, while Kaduna State has about 70,000 public servants. This translates to higher personnel costs for those States.
“In 2017 the cost of servicing the State’s public debts stood at a whopping N57.4bn, an amount more than double the approved capital vote of the Social Sector (Education, Health, Youth, Sports, Women and Social Development) for the same period. The high profile expenditure profile is also showcased in the high overhead costs associated with the governance of the State. In 2019, for instance, the Government budgeted for an overhead bill of N42.299billion, including bills for the maintenance of the State’s private aircraft, payment of consultants, etc. This translated to N3.5billion per month. This is higher, in per capita terms than the overhead cost of Lagos State with more than 18million inhabitants”, the brief stated.