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By Lekan Lisoye

Ogun State government has called on the representative of the Organised Labour in the State, to return to the negotiation table to finalise the grey areas of the demand for better welfare for the workers and in the interest of the generality of the people of the State.

 A statement by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Tokunbo Talabi, noted that government considers the abrupt withdrawal of the labour team and unilateral declaration of one week strike as unfair, indecorous and violation of the principles of collective bargaining, adding that it was a surprise that labour would take the step even when the negotiation process was still on.

Tracing the genesis of the crisis to the Pension Reform Bill, passed by the State House of Assembly which labour noted did not seek their opinion and inputs, Mr. Talabi said the government, after due apology for the lapses, set up a team to liaise with the House of Assembly and representatives of Labour to trash out arreas of concerns.

He said government was taken aback as "labour manifested brinkmanship, where instead of labour input into the Pension Reform Bill as agreed, they issued a notice of Trade Dispute with demands that transcended the Pension Reform Bill”.

The SSG said on receipt of Trade Dispute Notice, government mandated its team to engage the Labour with the first meeting held on September 14 progressing to September 15, 2020, were issues were narrowed and approaching amicable resolutions.

But surprisingly, he said, instead of notifying government of the outcome of the meeting the Labour leaders took excuse to attend to their members in order to conclude the negotiation, only to proceed to declare the meeting deadlock and announced the commencement of warning strike the next day (Wednesday, September 16, 2020).

"This is most unfortunate and a negation of civility and expected ethos that should underpin negotiations between government (particularly one that has demonstrated in many ways its commitment to staff welfare) and organised labour who are presumed partners in the task of developing the state and catering for the welfare and wellbeing of all citizens and residents. This behaviour lends credence to insinuations that labour may be acting out a script," he said. 

Mr. Talabi gave the breakdown of the inherited outstanding personnel liabilities from the last administration is as: Gratuity of exited (retired) Personnel: State Personnel, accumulated from 2014 – 2019, N18.5 bn: Local Government & SUBEB 2011 – 2019, N32.5 bn, Sub Total Gratuity, N51.0 bn: Leave Bonus from 2015 to 2019, N9.2bn: Contributory Pension Liabilities: State Government N20.1 bn: Local Government & (SUBEB) N26.4 bn: Sub Total Contributory Pension Liabilities N46.5 bn: Promotion Arrears - N217 Million, total    N106.9 bn.

The past Administration, he said, only remitted the deductions from staff salary for check off dues and cooperative deductions in the twilight of its exit, leaving out accumulated Contributory Pensions. 

On the financial implications of Labour demands, the State Scribe said the Pension Reforms Bill was jointly agreed that a committee be set up to fashion out an appropriate pension system for the state, implementation of New Minimum Wage which would increase the monthly wage bill by N1.04bn, payment of Leave Bonus, Labour wants an immediate payment of 3-year arrears, amounting to approximately N9.2B, while on payment of Gratuity, Labour demanded immediate payment of three years arrears which is approximately N24bn and wants additional payment of about N1.2b for the underpayment by the last Administration to some categories of retired personnel.

He said Labour demanded for Gross Salary Payment, regular remittance of deductions from staff salaries as appropriate, adding that government has already commenced regular remittance of these deductions and would continue to do so.

Other demands according to the Mr. Talabi was the outstanding three year Promotion (2018-2020),putting the summary of these demands by labour was immediate disbursement of about N32.5B (Thirty Two Billion and Five Hundred Million Naira) and subsequent additional N2B monthly on top of the current wage bill.  

The SSG noted that when government signed the agreement with labour for the implementation of the new minimum wage, "no one envisaged COVID-19 and its debilitating socio-economic impact that has constrained the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the State and the unplanned expenditures in its wake. This has forced Ogun State like most states in the country to review our 2020 budget down from approximately N450B (Four Hundred and Fifty Billion Naira) to N280B (Two Hundred and Eighty Billion Naira), about 38% downward review. 

"A cursory look at the financial implications of the demands of labour in comparison to the budget size will see a glaring demonstration of the government to be as accommodating of the demands as possible, even in the face of manifest COVID-19 induced constraints and uncertainty, he explained.

The SSG further stated that the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on the economy of the state had forced the state to review its 2020 budget down by as much as 38% downward.

On Labour demand for the payment of the new minimum wage, which labour see as its priority, the State Scribe said government has agreed to the implementation of the new minimum wage for all categories of workers, commencing from November, 2020, while government would also continue to ensure regular remittance of deductions from staff salary to avoid addition to the backlog and gradually clear any outstanding arrears, adding however, "the remaining demands will be subjects of further joint reviews, the first of which will be in March, 2021.

He said government considers the abrupt withdrawal of the labour team and unilateral declaration of one week strike as unfair, indecorous and violation of the principles of collective bargaining.

It is therefore a surprise that labour would take the provocative steps it has taken even when the negotiation process was still on.

"As an Administration, we remain committed to the welfare of Ogun State workers as we are to the fulfilment of our electoral promises to the generality of Ogun State citizens and residents," Talabi concluded.

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