Anguish in states
• As govts fail to pay workers for months
With the gale of retrenchment sweeping through the private sector, public workers are not smiling either, as they are variously owed months of salary, while others are apprehensive of the likelihood of wage cuts.
Many states are having a hard time meeting salary obligations since the slide in oil prices, a development that led to about 60 per cent cut in allocations from the Federation Account. To stay above board, some of the states received bailouts from the Federal Government to offset arrears, and when the situation deteriorated in April, their debts were restructured to ease the burden.
However, The Guardian gathered that the situation has not improved since the two tranches of relief money from the Federal Government, as many states are still at sea as to how to offset rising backlog of wages, even after striking deals to pay a fraction of the salary.
Also, the recent demand by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) for minimum wage increase from N18, 000 to N46, 000 has further worsened the situation, with governors wondering how plausible that is, when they are unable to pay the current wage.
Bauchi: Frozen accounts, hungry workers
In Bauchi, The Guardian gathered that workers in Ministries of Education, Health, Agriculture, and the Primary Health Care Development Agency, are owed salaries of four to six months.
Also, the Bauchi State Board of Internal Revenue, and the Ministries of Finance, Budget and Economy Planning are owed at least two months salary.
The state chapter of the NLC alleges that the state Governor, Mohammed Abubakar, diverted the state’s Federal Government bailout fund, which is why the backlog of salaries persists.
Mohammed Hassan Bawa, a senior civil servant in the state, said Governor Abubakar has no reason not to offset the outstanding salaries, as his colleagues in other states have deployed the funds to what it was released for.
A Government House source disclosed that the state government’s accounts in Skye Bank, UBA and Zenith Bank were frozen, which made it difficult to process payment of salaries.
Bawa said the state has not been sincere with the true state of affairs, adding, “The state government is also owing pensioners five months salary arrears for which the pensioners are calling for the impeachment of the governor. The only way forward is to settle the crisis. Let him go and source for money to pay civil servants and stop complaining about the empty treasury he inherited.”
Zaria Mohammed Audu, a junior staff with the State Ministry of Information, said the situation is making it impossible for families to feed, and that many children are out of school because civil servants are unable to pay school fees.
Kogi: Playing hide and seek with workers
In Kogi State, government has been battling with backlog of workers’ salary, especially since the transition from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led administration of Captain Idris Wada to the incumbent, Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
About five months salary is owed state government workers. It was gathered that the situation is worse for local government workers.
Though Bello announced that the bailout funds of N20b from the Federal Government had been released, a staff verification and screening committee set up to ascertain the true figure of workers, has caused another delay.
The State chairman of the NLC, Onuh Edoka, alleged that the governor has refused to pay local council workers’ salary, despite having received allocation from the Federal Government to defray the wages.
He said despite the over three-months allocation obtained to pay council workers’ salary, the state government has failed to offset the backlog. This amount was different from the bailout fund.
Said he: “Organised labour frowns at the development and we are calling on the state government to release the fund to local councils to enable them pay teachers and other workers, including pensioners.
“This allocation is completely different from the bailout funds. Bailout fund is different from statutory allocation, and the continuous delay in disbursement is killing workers.
He lamented that workers have no money to take care of their health needs, as well as that of their loved ones, as they don’t even have money to pay their children’s school fees.
On the proposed increase of the minimum wage, he said the state would have no choice than to fall in line should the proposal fly at the national level.
Plateau: Five months debt on Lalong’s neck
The Plateau State government currently owes workers five months salary arrears. On assumption of office, the state governor, Simon Bako Lalong, inherited seven months of salary arrears. He managed to settle two months of the outstanding wages across the board.
Curiously, Lalong regularly pays salaries for the subsequent months, and the prospects of the workers receiving the outstanding five months arrears is hanging in the balance, an action, many say is a ploy aimed at making them forget the arrears.
With the call for application for bailouts, Lalong applied to the Central Bank for N10b, but got only N5b. The Guardian learnt that he hinged his inability to clear the backlog on the delay in release of the remaining N5b by the CBN.
A government official, who pleaded anonymity, said the governor would pay the remaining arrears when the outstanding bailout fund is released.
The source said workers are languishing in penury, especially with the present economic crunch being experienced across the country.
Johnson Sule, a public affairs analyst, said, “The state government got about N20b loan, when it assumed office last year. This huge loan is exclusive of the bailout funds. No other feasible attempt was made to settle the workers, aside the monthly federal allocations.”
A labour union member, who is not authorised to speak to journalists, told The Guardian that strikes over non-payment of salaries have become commonplace in the state.
“Government no longer respects such useless ultimatum, as it has developed thick skin to it. The government knows that the workers are helpless and after barking without necessarily biting for months, they will still go back to government to negotiate, and thereafter, return to work without having achieved anything,” he said.
Samuel Emmanuel Nanle, Director of Press and Public Affairs (DOPA), told The Guardian earlier that to bail itself out of the current economic quagmire, the state has shifted attention to its natural mineral resources, as an alternative source of revenue generation.
Comrade Ade Akibon, Secretary of the Association of Senior Civil Servants, an affiliate of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Plateau State Branch, said labour would act at the right time to protest delayed salary.
On strategies to get government to pay the proposed minimum wage, he said, “We will compel them to pay, even the arrears. If they are not able to pay, Governor Simon Lalong should resign and leave governance for capable people. They have the capacity to pay. What is required is just the blockage of leakages, as well as all these jamboree expenses.”
Osun: Workers remain short-changed
In July 2015, Osun State slashed by 40 per cent the salary of senior civil servants from grade 08 upwards.
But even with this, the state government last paid junior staff, who receive full salaries, and their senior counterparts in March, leaving the state with a backlog of two months. Osun owed workers six months salaries before receiving its share of over N34b bailout fund.
Before then, workers’ expectation was high that the fund would be strictly committed to paying salary arrears. But the state government announced a compulsory staff audit in all government ministries, agencies, parastatals, as well as the 30 local council areas, including the Ife east Area Office in Modakeke-Ife.
This was shortly after the government paid two months salary speculated to have been sourced from the savings that accrued to the state, when government was not paying salary. The conduct of the staff audit raised dust between labour leaders and government representatives following alleged discovery of some ghost workers in the system.
With the exercise over, government engaged labour leaders and some leaders of thought in a dialogue, with a view to devising appropriate sharing formula for resources available to the government, particularly as it relates to payment of workers’ salary.
To the workers’ consternation, however, a Revenue Sharing
Committee (RSC), headed by Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, reached a compromise to modulate salary structure, which gave preference to payment of full salary to workers on grade levels 01 to 07 and 60 per cent to other categories considered to be senior workers in the state public service from grade levels 08 to 17.
The state government began the implementation of the modulated salary to all workers in July 2015, after the arrival of the N34b bailout funds.
Observers believe that Governor Aregbesola must have outsmarted or perhaps hoodwinked the labour leaders to buy into the modulated salary structure, even when there was enough fund to fully pay the outstanding salaries. Aregbesola’s calculation was that government might soon run out of fund, given the unpredictable and crippling reduction in federal allocation to the state monthly.
Initially, the workers expressed dissatisfaction with the arrangement and wanted to revolt against it, but government succeeded in dousing the tension, insisting that the decision was not imposed on them, but was an agreement reached between their leaders and government.
Perhaps, the greater dilemma faced by workers in the state is that even with the new regime of modulated salary, the state government is still finding it hard meeting its obligation regularly. The Guardian learnt that some workers only started receiving bank alert for March payment last week.
With the situation on ground and given the worsening national economic situation, it has become apparent that Osun is at a crossroads, especially on the issue of wages and excruciating debt burden.
Edo: Pensioners, council workers wallowing in hunger
Though Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, stunned Nigerians, when he announced the increment of the minimum wage in the state from the national benchmark of N18, 000 to N25, 000, some workers are still wallowing in the misery of unpaid salary.
Recently, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) protested the unpaid 13 months salary of some of their members.
Though investigations revealed that the state government does not owe workers, aside backlog of pensioners’ pay and gratuities, local councils are unable to pay staff and pensioners.
The workers are said to be from Egor Local Council Area. But Oshiomhole said the fact that the council did not benefit from the bailout fund was due to administrative error, whereby the council’s financial position was posted in biro rather than printed officially, as was done for the other 17 councils.
Enugu: Workers do not earn living wages
While salary payment in Enugu State has been consistent, workers say their take home is quite negligible, as they complain of halved allowances that are putting a strain on their ability to meet responsibilities.
It was gathered that the state’s wage bill presently stands at about
N1.6b, when added to wages for political appointees. While the work force is ageing, with many retiring daily, new workers are not being employed, thus putting much burden on the few available workers.
Comrade Igbokwe Chukwuma, state chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC), said workers’ monthly wages remain the lowest in the Southeast. He said a director on level16 earns less than N100, 000 monthly, explaining that there is urgent need for salary review in the state.
Said he: “Government has continued to underpay all allowances, especially those of domestic staff. For the past six years, domestic staff allowances have been reduced to half. The rent subsidy has remained 40 per cent.
“With the economic situation in the country, Enugu needs to review workers’ salary without waiting for Federal Government to introduce a new cap on wages.”
When the issue of upward review of minimum wage came up few years ago, the state government, under Sullivan Chime, merely added N10, 000 to the salary of workers from level one to six, bringing it to N18, 000.
Igbokwe told The Guardian that though the Ugwuanyi government has not reneged on salary payment since it came on board, what workers receive in the state “is not a living wage.”
He explained that he was convinced the state government’s could pay workers more, ‘if salaries of political appointees are not added to workers’ salary.”
Although statistics of the workforce could not be obtained, Igbokwe, who further spoke on the proposed salary review, said the state labour leadership would sit with the state government and look into it, when approved.
“We will look at it to ascertain what the state can pay,” he said. “But if you ask me, I would say it is something whose time has come. We buy from the same market. Prices of commodities are daily rising, but workers’ salary have not increased in the last five years.”
Comrade Virginus Nwobodo, the state chairman of the NLC, also lamented government’s inability to implement the consolidated health salary structure (CONHESS), a development, he said, degenerated into industrial action in the past.
He explained that its implementation would halt the mass exodus of health professionals from Enugu State to neighbouring states and federal institutions, where CONHESS is being implemented. He further lamented the non-payment of arrears of pension and gratuity, which he described as being alarmingly on the increase.
Taraba: Teachers at the receiving end
In Taraba State, the government is finding it difficult to pay the N18, 000 minimum wage to teachers. Other civil servants in the state are, however, paid as at when due.
Comrade Aliyu Jauro Mafindi, state chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), said it was unfortunate that the state governor, Darius Ishaku, has failed to meet teachers’ needs within the available resources.
“The state wing of NUT Executive Council gave the government an ultimatum to pay salaries by the second week of December, 2015, but nothing was done to address teachers’ demands. This forced the union to embark on an indefinite strike,” he said.
He added that rather than attend to the demands, which include unpaid salary arrears of state primary school teachers among others, government has turned a deaf ear.