By Biodun Olamosu

THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) managed to organise a united strike across the public sector in Cross River State and this was sustained for over four whole weeks. This included both state and local government workers.

This was a great achievement against a state that is hostile to workers and their trade unions. The state has not paid gratuities to its pensioners for years, has a backlog of promotions, has not remitted deductions from salaries and has yet to fully implement the minimum wage. In addition, interns at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) have not been paid their allowances for the last 12 months and street cleaners who ensured that Calabar remains one of the most sparkling cities in Nigeria have not been paid their wages for the last six months.

This may be why the leadership collapsed and suspended the strike when called upon to do so by the traditional leaders locally. On 10th November, an agreement was signed with the State that did not achieved any of the main demands of the strike and gave the state an excuse not to implement the key demands in future.

In addition, last October 2020, hired thugs caused significant damage to the NLC offices in the state. That came month after the state Chairperson of the NLC, Comrade Ben Ukpepi, was kidnapped and held for three months until being released on 21st June 2021.

The leadership of the strike did produce regular and short one-page bulletin for the membership. Seventeen were produced in total. But the strike was organised as a stay at home rather than an active strike. No protests were held except for one organised independently by the pensioners who blockaded the Governors’ Office for several hours on Friday, 5th November.

This may be why the leadership collapsed and suspended the strike when called upon to do so by the traditional leaders locally. On 10th November, an agreement was signed with the State that did not achieved any of the main demands of the strike and gave the state an excuse not to implement the key demands in future.

After four weeks on strike, the workers of Cross River State appeared to have completely failed to meet their four key demands. Why did the trade union leaders agree to end to the strike? Below we analyse these demands, show what was contained in the agreement and provide some comments:

Demand 1: “Payment of gratuity to our retirees for both state and local government. This has been pending since 2014 and 2012 for state and local government retirees respectively.”

Agreement: “That the State Government agreed to set aside a minimum of N50 million respectively monthly with effect from January, 2022 for the payment of gratuities to both State and Local Government retirees with an additional allocation up to the maximum of that month’s and or year’s gratuity in any month and or year where the revenue inflows increase. Also, a committee comprising both Government and Labour leaders to be set up for verification and payment.”

Comment: In 2016, the amount of gratuity owed was over N700 million a month only for local government workers. In the following year, the amount owed was almost N300 million a month, just for state workers. Last year, the total amount unpaid was over N120 million a month. So the state is not even promising to pay future gratuities as they fall due. The state is only promising to pay the gratuities each month or year “where the revenue flows increase” and is refusing to pay any gratuities this year.

In Bulletin 14, it was stated that total arrears of gratuities were N18 billion for state and N31 billion for local government pensioners or a total of N48 billion. The state has agreed to pay N50 million a month so, even if this was just to pay for past gratuities; this will take over 80 years to pay!

The NLC and TUC of Cross River State should be congratulated for organising a joint strike of both state and local government workers, but the suspension of the strike is a major set-back for the workers of many states where there are arrears of pension payments and the minimum wage of N30,000 is yet to be implemented in full. The labour movement needs to organise more active and effective strikes to win these demands. Until then poverty, inequality, corruption and the resulting insecurity will continue.

Demand 2: “Implementation of promotions to both state and local government workers.”

Agreement: “That the implementation of promotions which is ongoing in the State with effect from September, 2021, will end on or before August, 2022 in both State and Local Government.”

Comment: So at best, promotions will take another year to complete. But this could be read to mean that “ongoing” promotions will end in August 2022. So it is not a promise that all currently due promotions will be implemented by next year or that future promotions will be completed on time.

Demand 3: “Remittances of deductions from workers salaries up to date to appropriate quarters immediately.”

Agreement: “All remittances are ongoing in both State and Local Government. Subsequent deductions to be made alongside monthly salaries.”

Comment: No admission that deductions were not paid promptly. What happens to any outstanding deductions?

Demand 4: “Full implementation of minimum wage to both state and local government workers.”

Agreement: “That full implementation of minimum wage for workers would commence when the economy improves.”

Comment: So implementation of minimum wage is only premised at some unclear date in the future. What does “when the economy improves” mean? Oil price is now already at over $80 a barrel, twice the level expected in the budget for this year. State revenue for 2021 is expected to be the highest ever.

The four key demands are taken from the Trade Union Bulletin 2, 12th October, 2021. The agreed actions are taken from the agreement between that State and trade unions signed on 10th November, 2021.

The NLC and TUC of Cross River State should be congratulated for organising a joint strike of both state and local government workers, but the suspension of the strike is a major set-back for the workers of many states where there are arrears of pension payments and the minimum wage of N30,000 is yet to be implemented in full. The labour movement needs to organise more active and effective strikes to win these demands. Until then poverty, inequality, corruption and the resulting insecurity will continue.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here