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The worker-friendly government in Ondo

The worker-friendly government in Ondo

By Kayode Adegbehingbe
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At the beginning of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu’s administration in Ondo State over two years ago, civil servants in the State were groaning under a seven months unpaid salary burden.

Today, all but one month have been settled by the administration.

This has earned the government praises from workers’ representatives at the recently observed Workers’ Day celebration held on May 1, added to the fact that at the event the governor also  promised to, very soon, dispense with the remaining one month unpaid salary arrears of January 2017.

The labourer deserves his wage, and the government has matched words with action by fulfilling the promise of not owing workers salaries against all odds.

Not only this, regularly, promotion examinations have been conducted and promotion letters given to the workers, which has encouraged them to do more.

The priority that the state government has given to workers’ welfare does not end at the payment of salaries, but also the provision of car loans.

During last year’s worker’s day, the governor mentioned some of its administration’s efforts which are pro pensioners and workers.

He said that there has been a monthly release of N200m to the Pensions and Transitional Department to offset backlog of gratuities of retired public servants.

According to Akeredolu, pensions are also being paid with salaries of workers, saying, these efforts are in fulfillment of his avowed commitment to prioritise the welfare of workers and senior citizens.

“We made a solemn pledge to workers and God, that the issue of promotion would be determined on merit. We present our score card today to you and posterity on our performance.

“This administration has approved the sum of N500m as car loan for civil servants in the state.

“There is also the housing loan which is being disbursed on a continual basis. We shall keep to our promise to train and retrain public servants for enhanced performance”.

A few days ago at the May Day celebration held at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Arcade, he promised that the car loans which some civil servants have benefited from, would be extended to primary school teachers across the state.

While expressing commitment to the payment of the new N30,000 minimum wage, the governor said that his government will follow the law that was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Singing the exact tune that the workers want to hear, Governor Akeredolu said: “I can say categorically that what you have today as take-home can hardly take anybody home. Your salary and minimum wage is non-negotiable.

“We have ensured that those who merit promotions get elevated. The exercise will continue. We will also ensure that adequate training programmes are organized for the benefit of workers.

“We promised during our campaigns that we would not allow any worker suffer under our watch. We have kept this promise. We will remain focused in the interest of our people. We shall not allow any extraneous interests to undermine the development of the State. We will resist any person or groups of persons who may wish to shortchange the people of the State under any guise.

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“We shall hold on, firmly, to the belief that the welfare of the citizenry should be the primary purpose of governance. We shall proceed with courage, imbued with the confidence that our actions are just.

“State will not move forward without you workers. In view of this, we must cater for all of you because the welfare of workers in Ondo state is very paramount to us”.

The governor informed that he has not lost sight of the one month salary arrears he inherited, yet to be paid to workers.

He did not toe the line of some who, by rejecting the maxim that government is a continuum, may prefer to disregard the payment of salary owed by the previous administration in their states.

The governor, revealing his fair-mindedness said at the workers’ rally on May 1 that: “we acknowledge outstanding one month salary from the seven months arrears inherited from previous Government. We are obliged to offset this entitlement and other legitimate earnings as soon as the financial situation improves. We crave your patience and understanding in this regard”.

Reacting to the governor’s declaration of commitment to pay the minimum wage, Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly, Mr Oleyelogun said that the governor is a man of action that will tell you what he will do and will do it. The welfare of workers is paramount to him.”

The Trade Union Congress Chairman, Mrs Helen Odofin,  at the event commended the Akeredolu-led administration for approving the payment of the 22 months salary arrears to the staff of Ondo state Development Company. That reflects a high level of sensitivity to the needs of the people.

And the recently elected state chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr Sunday Adeleye, said that the governor has kept his promise of not owing salaries. He has been paying and even cleared the arrears of salaries owed by the past administration. We believe that the governor will approve the outstanding requests (2018 leave bonus and January 2017 salary arrears) of the workers.”

Speaking at a meeting of workers earlier in the year, the Head of Service, Mr. Toyin Akinkuotu praised the Akeredolu government on workers’ welfare.

According to him, “about two years ago when Governor Akeredolu came on board, it was a period of despondency. When workers were not paid for seven months, you are simply telling them to go and die. We thank God today; Governor Akeredolu has changed the narratives by putting smiles on our faces. “When you came on board, workers’ welfare was like 40%, but right now, I say it is like 98% percent. We are praying and trusting God and Mr. Governor that in this year, the remaining 2% will be added to make it 100%.

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“I thank my colleagues, the civil servant, for identifying with this government that is committed to their welfare.”

The payment of the six months arrears in view of the numerous developmental projects that has been taking place in the state is not a achievement that can be regarded lightly. And it truly stands out in the minds of the workers.

Barr Akinkuotu, the number one civil servant in the state said: “It is on record that no worker is harassed or intimidated by Akeredolu’s administration. The person who alleviated our pains by constantly paying our salaries deserve our commendation.

“He has substantially paid our salary arrears. Promotion of civil servants and other benefits are not left out. We are bold to say that Akeredolu is fulfilling all his pre-election promises to Ondo State civil servants.”

The governor have said that it is only a wicked leader that will deny workers their entitlements.

“Thus, our intention is to serve the people and make their entitlements our priority.

“We have not owed our workers a dime since we assumed office and we are not ready to owe them, no matter what happens,” he said.

As at November last year, according to available records, about N1b has been approved as both car and Housing loans for workers, making an average of N500m a year.

Such funds make life easy for the workers who access the loans towards meeting their housing and accommodation needs.

By clearly stating that the government would pay the N30,000 minimum wage, and not looking for ways to skirt the issue, not dancing around it or giving excuses, the Governor has added icing to the cake of the welfare of the workers. And it is another feather to the cap of the APC government in the state.

That promise thouroughly delighted the workers. They almost could not believe their ears. And rather than be priming themselves for a long drawn battle with the state government, the workers can concentrate on continuing to deliver on their role in developing the state.

The minimum wage law which increased the minimum wage from N18, 000 to N30,000 was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, 18th April, 2019.

The executive had earlier sent a bill for N27,000 minimum wage to the National Assembly, which it reviewed to N30,000 and passed.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Mr Ita Enang, said that the Minimum Wage Repeal and Enactment Act, 2019 has replaced the existing one and mandates employers of labour in both public and private organisations to pay N30,000 as minimum wage. It covers all organisations with not less than 25 employees. It also excludes persons who work in a ship which sails out of jurisdiction and other persons who are in other kinds of regulated employment which are accepted by the Act.

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“You can see me smiling on behalf of Nigerian workers. President Muhammadu Buhari has assented to the Minimum Wage Repeal and Enactment Act, 2019.

“It gives workers the right if you are compelled by any circumstance to accept salary that is less than N30,000 to sue your employer to recover the balance.

“It also authorises the minister of labour and any person nominated by the minister or any person designated by the minister of labour in any ministry, department or agency to, on your behalf, take action in your name against such employer to recover the balance of your wages,” he said.

And a socio-political group, Sunshine Movement for Good Governance (SMoGG), in a statement has showered encomiums on the Ondo State government on its stance on the bill.

It states: “the governor’s declaration that his administration will pay the new minimum wage resonates hope and comfort to the entire Ondo State workers. In spite of the strangulating financial challenges confronting the nation and the paucity of funds that has almost made governance difficult, Governor Akeredolu always pay workers salaries as and when due.

“It is on record that salaries of workers till date have been regularly paid. Backlog of seven months salaries owed by the previous government have been fully paid, except for just one month left to be settled, which we believe will be resolved soon.”

“We, however, admonish our colleagues in service to reciprocate all the good gestures of the Government, and the sacrifices made by those who are not employed by the State, to rededicate themselves and embrace the best practices for progress.”

In his remark, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Segun Ajiboye, said: “Akeredolu has vowed to clear the arrears and prioritize the welfare of workers. Today, he has kept to the promise; he has paid six months arrears out the seven months inherited in less than two years in office.

“The Governor does not view the payment of salary as an achievement; rather he sees it as a duty and responsibility of government.”

He said that for record purposes, by the end of 2018, workers in Ondo State collected salary for fifteen months -twelve in the year and three arrears of past years.

It is instructive that the governor does not see salary payment as an achievement, but as part of the normal functioning of Government.

Other state governors need to take a cue from Ondo on how salaries are paid as at when due in the state, actually walking the talk of prioritising the welfare of workers, the hen that lays the golden egg.

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