Opinion: SOLIDARITY WITH OGUN WORKERS
By Prince John Adegbola
Our country is presently plagued with leadership crisis where the rulers lack concern for the citizenry, human rights abuses abound, lack of direction and clear communication, lack of capacity and strategy to deliver good and accountable governance to the people of which Ogun state is not an exception.
The recent attempts to arm-twist Ogun state workers is a case in point to these inefficiencies. The refusal to pay the minimum wage, due deduction not remitted to their cooperative accounts, the vexatious pension scheme recently passed by the State’s House of Assembly - Ogun State Pension Reform law 2020. The sinister motive behind this remains unknown.
On Monday August 31, Ogun State workers, under the aegis of organized labour gave the state government seven days ultimatum, to suspend the newly repealed Pension Reform law 2020 passed the previous week by the State House of Assembly or go on strike. The Chairman, Ogun State Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) Comr. Folorunsho Olanrewaju, who disclosed this at a press briefing held at the Secretariat of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ogun State Council, Oke Ilewo, Abeokuta, stated that the Pension Reform Law made in 2006 and amended in 2013 was a product of collective bargaining.
He alleged that the recently passed version of the law was hurriedly and unilaterally done by the State House of Assembly without inputs from relevant stakeholders. Disclosing that this did not only contravene the International Labour Convention, but also immoral, unconstitutional, and smack of mischief on the part of the State House of Assembly for doing things that could be considered to be unfortunate for our growing democracy.
He explained that the new Pension Reform Law stated that all employees of the state and local governments irrespective of grades are now regarded as subscribers of the contributory pension scheme effective from 30th of June, 2014 whereas the amended Pension Reform Law of 2013 of the state had picked 2025 as the effective date for the implementation of the contributory pension scheme.
Olanrewaju revealed that “what this means is that the state and local government have no further liability with their employees once disengaged from the service. Those already in retirement from the said date are to be lumped into the new arrangement and should jettison the hitherto held hope of benefitting gratuities”. He stated that unfortunately, in the last nine years, the state government had not demonstrated a clear conscience to this contributory pension scheme and had consistently defaulted in remitting over N49bn deducted contributory pension from the state workers to the appropriate Pension Fund Administrators
A look at the statement clearly indicates that there is a sinister motive behind such a pension law, and a need to heed the calls of the workers and quash that Law. Yet authorities decided to look away. Even when Ogun workers had threatened strike over new Pension scheme and other labour-related issues, the Government simply laughed them off.
The State government felt it could treat workers like pieces of straws until eventually they went on strike to drive home their legitimate demands, paralyzing the state in the process. Now it felt strangely relieving, the moment the government and labour leaders signed on the peace agreement on the afternoon of September 18, 2020 at the secretariat Abeokuta.
It took days for the Ogun State Government to allow reason to prevail and finally decided to yield to workers’ legitimate demands. It is definitely a triumph for the workers and people of Ogun state, as this will enable them to have better services delivered to them by public servants and teachers. There is no better time to uphold responsibility than today, and this is what Mr Tokunbo Talabi Secretary to the Government-brokered government-workers accord is all about.
I remember reading, some days before that agreement, a statement by the SSG, which he gave when the workers’ negotiating team walked out of the negotiation due to the way the government team was trying to arm-twist them. “We therefore call on labour to return to the negotiation table to finalise the narrow area of difference in the interest of majority of Ogun State workers who are eager to return to work after the stay-at-home occasioned by COVID-19 and the interest of our state as a whole.
The Building Our Future Together Agenda of our Administration must continue unhindered. This requires all the stakeholders to have a broader view of issues rather than narrow consideration and immediate benefits. This is the path dedicated by reason and current circumstance and we trust preponderant majority of Ogun State workers share this vision.”
His statement highlighted the vital need for all people to avoid pursuing particularistic and narrow interests, which the incumbent government is known for. The strike should not have happened in the first place but for the laissez faire attitude of the government to the plight of the state workforce.
Alongside the will and courage of the leaders of the workers unions to achieve what they have already achieved; we definitely need people to continue to speak out against the excesses and inefficiency of government in Ogun State and Nigeria at large.
I have always believed in the dignity of labour and the biblical injunction that a labourer is worthy of his wages and that his sweat must not dry before the same is paid. It is high time Ogun State government ends this wicked tradition of non-remittance of deductions from workers’ salaries. These deductions forms part of their sweat and does not belong to the government.