Nigerian workers and a surge of discontent
By Rahaman Onike.
As the country marks this year workers day,there are issues that call for urgent attention of labour unions as representatives of the Nigerian workers. Expectedly ,most Nigerian workers would be at home today either vending anger on the government for their poor condition of service or lamenting over the non-payment of backlog of salary arrears.
Given the current situation in the country,an average public or civil servant has turned beggars stylishly. The untoward pauperization of workers by states and local governments make workers to be groaning despite the abundant resources at the nation’s disposal.
The endurance levels which Nigerian workers had displayed in the recent past, is without exaggeration, an act of patriotism and it is indeed a great sacrifice. As at May 1, 2016, some states have not paid November 2015 salary of workers on the excuse of current economic meltdown. Whatever might be the excuse for the delay in payment of salary of workers, it is a sign of insensitivity of some of the state governors.
The impunity of some of the state governors is encouraged by absence of radical labour unions in various states of federation. If the affected states had heeded the call for prioritization of salary payment when the problem first started, there would have been a panacea by now.
The current reality therefore shows that workers are victims of misplaced priorities by the state governments. In a way, over-bloated wage bill of some states coupled with the menace of ghost workers are parts of the causative agents of the current labour challenges in the country.
One would have expected that the bail- out released to the state sometimes ago will perform the magic of redressing the irregularies in salary payment rather the problem persists.
Arguably, the persistence of delay in salary payment could be viewed against the backdrop of allegation that the bail-out funds were diverted or re-invested by some governors. What is not contestable after all is the fact that workers are owed between five to seven months salary arrears.
When salaries are not paid as and when due, it would predispose workers to commit acts of extortion, bribery and other forms of gratifications. With the apathetic workers morale, it is also predictable that productivity and efficiency of nation’s workforce will be seriously affected.
In the case of local government service, operation of joint account system by the states is obviously a major challenge, for it has a lot of pernicious implications. With the joint account system, local government councils are run as an appendage of state with due consequence on workers’ welfare.
Also,workers in the primary and secondary educational systems are not left out; they have peculiar challenge which is mainly under-funding due to insufficient budgetary allocation to education sector of the nation’s economy.
This moment also provides opportunities for polytechnic workers to revisit pending issues such as proposal on the review of 1993 polytechnic Act,disparity in placement of first degree and Higher National Diploma certificate holders and yet to be honoured 2012 agreements between the federal government and staff of polytechnics in Nigeria.
Besides, the central focus of the academics across the nation’s ivory tower as the country marks this year workers’ day remains full implementation of university autonomy, academic freedom and underfunding of education which are issues that have been in contention for long.
Above all, fifty six thousand naira (N56,000)minimum wage as currently advocated is a matter of right and law. The quest for upward review of minimum wage;though, it might not be a solution to the current poor workers’ conditions but it is justified due to 2010 subsisting agreement between the labour and federal government.
According to reports, as approved in the year 2011, the minimum wage of N18,000 is suopposed to be reviewed in line with the economic realities after five years of implementation. Of equal importance is the clarion calls for civil service reform.
Since 1995 that the late General Sanni Abacha introduced some fundamental reforms to the nation’s civil service,the successive governments have not done anything substantially for enhance professionalism and efficiency of the civil and public servants in Nigeria.
Essentially, government at various levels needs to accept the reality that the era of sole dependence on federal allocation has gone. Every state must look inward for internal revenue sources through effective tax system and economic diversification policies and programmes.
Again,the Nigerian workers need to imbibe good virtues and ethical conduct and be ready to acquire relevant skills and training for improved performance. As the world craves for e-administration, the officers in the public service need to key-in with adequate capacity building otherwise cases of down sizing and right sizing would be common occurrences in the public service administration in a few years to come.
With the recent experience in the National Assembly when top civil servants aided the shameful padding of budget, it is part of things that exposes unethical practices among the nation’s civil servants. Without the connivance of the civil servants,the thieving tendencies of the senators could not have come to full play.
While I rejoice with the entire nation’s workforce on the occasion of this year workers’ day, I pray that the state government re-priotise and ensure prompt payment of workers’ salaries in the overall interest of the nation.
Onike is an author, public administrator and policy analyst. He writes from Oyo, Oyo State.