*Okowa, Political Appointees To Forfeit 25% Of Their Salaries
By Ovie Okpare & Onome Oghenetega
Following the excruciating financial burden occasioned by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Delta State Government has temporally suspended the N30,000 minimum wage for civil servants of grade level 7 to 17 in the state civil service.
NIGER DELTA TODAY Online exclusive learnt that the agreement for the take-off of the decision had already been signed by the State Government with the state leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) after series of meetings.
It was also reliably gathered that on the part of government, elected and political appointees including Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, his deputy, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro and the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori will forfeit between 20 and 25 per cent of their salaries.
Multiple sources, who confirmed the development to NIGER DELTA TODAY Online on Thursday and Friday, said the suspension of the payment will take effect from July salary for a period of six months.
It was however learnt that the state government would return to the status quo if the state revenue record improvement even before the agreed six months reached with the labour leaders.
The deal, according to our sources, was signed last week Thursday after series of meeting on the modalities. NLC, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) witnessed the signing of the agreement.
It was gathered that a delegation of the state government acting on the directive of the state governor, Senator Okowa, told representatives of the NLC and other unions that government can no longer sustain the payment with the current economic reality globally.
The government had at the meeting lamented that it was spending heavily on the management of COVID-19 pandemic so as to contain the spread of the virus as the state is currently sixth on the chart of states with most infected cases in Nigeria.
Recall that Delta was among the first state in the country to implement payment of the new minimum wage.
How Labour Avoided Retrenchment Of Workers With Deal
Our correspondent gathered that the state government delegation had presented three options before the labour leaders during their meetings
The options, according to our sources who were part of the negotiating team, firstly, “that Cooperative and other deductions will not be remitted for the next six (6) months in order to meet the payment of the net salary.
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“Secondly, that grade levels 1 to 6 are to receive new minimum wage, while grade level 7 to 17 are to revert to the old wage and the difference to be paid when the economy improves. In other words, they are to sacrifice their percentage increase for the period.”
The third option proposed by the government was retrenchment in the state civil service especially department that were currently redundant and not effective.
It was gathered that after series of negotiation meetings, the union leaders led by the state NLC chairman, Comrade Goodluck Ofobruku, settled for the third option which recommended the suspension of the payment of the new minimum wage for civil servants of grade level 7 to 17.
The labour leaders resolved for the third option after considering past experiences, happenings in other states of the federation including non implementation of the new wage by most states including Rivers, Cross River and partial implementation by Akwa Ibom State.
Okowa, Otuaro, Others To Sacrifice 25% Of Salaries – Ofobruku
However, to strike a balance, the union leaders at the meetings recommended 20 and 25 per cent pay cut for elected and political appointees including the governor and members of the State Executive Council (SEC), which Governor Okowa was said to have approved.
When contacted on the development, State NLC Chairman, Comrade Ofobruku, confirmed the development to NIGER DELTA TODAY Online, saying the decision was to ensure that no staff is retrenched or not paid by the state government especially in the COVID-19 era.
Ofobruku explained that the decision was ratified by the 36 affiliate unions of the body before putting pen to paper to the government proposal.
According to him, “We didn’t meet with the governor; we met with a delegation of the state government. Revenue accruing to the state has dropped. It’s for grade level seven to 17.
“I discussed with the State Executive Council made up of all the chairmen and secretaries of industrial unions and they gave approval. They ratified the decision. I have also asked them to discuss with their members.
“As chairman of NLC, my duty is to discuss with chairmen and secretaries of 36 affiliate unions. It is their responsibility to go and discuss with their members. We have discussed and they supported the decision. They moved a motion and it was adopted. When the State Government presented the financial records we had no option but to agree.
“Delta State government was among the first states to implement the N30,000 minimum wage. The entire states in the South-East have not implemented it till now. Apart from Lagos, states in the South-West have not implemented it. In the South-South, Rivers and Cross River have not. Akwa Ibom is paying percentage.
“Edo State has only 11,000 workers and Delta has almost 50,000 civil servants. Out of that number, the entire teaching staff of primary and secondary schools is about 32,000. They are all at home at the moment. The state government is paying them and still wants to continue to pay them. All the staff (academic and non academic) of tertiary institutions are at home and government is still paying them.
“The government approached us that we should make sacrifice because of the dwindling revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and we too equally understood that it is not the wish of the government to shortchanged workers.”
Ofobruku also confirmed documents available to NIGER DELTA TODAY Online that the suspension of the payment will last for the period of six months in the first instance, adding that if the state revenue improves before the expiration of the period, government will immediately revert to the N30,000 minimum wage.
Suspension Will Last For Six Months Says Delta NLC
He described the decision as a sacrifice on the side of civil servants within the affected category to ensure that no worker in the state is owned salary or retrenched by the government because of the present economic reality in the state.
The Delta NLC chair commended the state governor for the initiative, stressing that if Okowa was some governors in the country he would arbitrarily taken decision without recourse for NLC and other trade organization in the state.
“They (government) just want this little sacrifice for six months in the first instance. It is a temporal measure. It is not permanent”, he said.
“ As a journalist, you know that the world was shut down in the month of April and we couldn’t sell oil. What they sold was 19 dollars per barrel and the cost of production was 26 dollars per barrel. The government could not also sell the two million barrels per day because the whole world as at that time was shutdown.
“ The revenue accruing to Delta for April by this month will be short by eight billion naira. Having seen the fact, and mind you, many of us were trained in Nigeria and abroad, and we know the facts. So the state government said they continue to pay the new minimum wage for workers between levels one to six while those above should sacrifice for six months.
“This means that those above level 7 to 17 will be paid pre-N30,000 minimum wage. What we are sacrificing is about N10,000, N7000 and N5000 depending on the level which we feel we can sacrifice to support the state government so that it can continue to pay everybody especially those that at home.
“I can tell you that more than 60 per cent of the workers are at home presently but the government is paying them. We still want government to pay them inclusive of LGA workers. It’s better than government saying we want to stop paying them entirely. The little that is there, let it go round everybody”, Ofobruku further explained.
On what political appointees were sacrificing, the labour leader pointed “Political appointees and those in elective offices will also sacrifice between 20 and 25 per cent of their salaries. It was agreed by both parties. We signed agreement. It’s not only civil servants that should sacrifice.
“The governor and other top officer holders including commissioners will sacrifice 25 per cent but SA and members of board of parastatals will get 20 per cent pay cut. It will take effect with July salary and it is temporary for six months in the first instance. We agreed that if things get better before the expiration of the six months, the government will revert to the new minimum wage.”
When also contacted, the State Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, confirmed the report, adding that the move was to help the “state navigate through this period of very low income.”