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Industrial crisis brews in Akwa Ibom over downward review of minimum wage

An industrial crisis is brewing in Akwa Ibom following the decision by the state government to unilaterally review the minimum wage downwards from N33,000 to N30,000 despite having signed an agreement with union leaders.

Last week, the state government in a memo directed the Head of Civil Service and the Accountant General of the state to begin the review of the minimum wage attributing the reason to the coronavirus pandemic which it said had made it impossible for it to sustain the payment of N33,000 minimum wage.

Political appointees in the state have already agreed on a 20 percent salary cut as explained by Governor Udom Emmanuel saying that ‘all of us political appointees offered 20 percent of our salaries to be used in buying drugs to take care of COVID-19 patients.’

According to him, the government spends a lot of money to feed the people in isolation centres, pay health workers and buy drugs, “so we gave out 20 percent to keep the people alive,’’

But the chairman of the state branch of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Sunny James in an interview said they would resist any attempt by the state government to temper with the salary of workers saying the new minimum wage was agreed by both parties after negotiations maintaining that it was wrong for the state government on its own to review it downwards without consulting labour leaders.

“The minimum wage of Akwa Ibom state automatically amounted to N33, 000 after applying the percentages.  It was an agreement between labour and the state government. Everyone signed the agreement. But very, unfortunately, this committee of few people sat down and unilaterally reviewed the minimum wage table downward to N30, 000.  And labour is saying that it is totally unacceptable,” he said.

James who disclosed that labour leaders have already held a closed-door meeting with the state government in which they gave the state government two weeks to refund all the deductions made in the month of June or face an industrial dispute said the state government should instead be thinking of improving the welfare of workers rather than cutting their salaries.

“For the meeting of yesterday, it was very clear that we told them that nobody has the right to review downwards the minimum wage agreement that was duly entered between the state government and the workers. But the government said, having discovered the true position of the labour, that the Governor would be re-consulting and that they need some time and therefore labour team gave two weeks starting from yesterday, July 2, two weeks going forward to try and resolve the matter with a view to returning the salary of workers.”

According to him, with the revenue accruing to Akwa Ibom state from the FederationAaccount, what the state government should be doing at this period should be to increase the salary of workers to make them smile.

“Akwa Ibom state income has not gone so bad to the extent of wanting to get from workers. What the government should be thinking is to increase the welfare of workers, how they can survive in the circumstance they have found themselves, by imposing tax waivers or other incentives that would make the workers smile.

“At a point, labour is convinced that the income of the state has dwindled to a point that it cannot handle salaries payment, at that point, labour will take notice, Akwa is part of Nigeria, states that are less endowed financially, are still managing COVID-19.

“So it would be very wrong for Akwa Ibom State with all the amount of money it collects on a monthly basis to begin the process of cutting down salary.  That is why Labour, for now, is saying no.”

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