COVID-19: Governors and workers’ sacrifice

Slashing of workers’ salaries is part of the options in the stringent measures by some governors to cushion the effects of COVID-19. Deputy Editor, DAPO FALADE examines the arguments for and against so far.

 

THIS could be one of the most trying moments for state governors. The biting effects of the coronavirus pandemic have so altered the pattern of governance to warrant a number of panic measures by governors across the country.

According to the state chief executives, the measures are designed to cushion the hardship occasioned by the virus that has sent thousands to their untimely grave globally. While calling for understanding from the citizens, the governors said it is imperative for the people to make sacrifice as the battle to save lives continued.

Part of their own sacrifice announced so far include foregoing their salaries and reduction of the salaries and allowances of all political appointees by 50 per cent. Investigations indicated that, at least, one state from the South-West had indeed slashed the salaries of all such categories of government functionaries even before the COVID-19 pandemic made incursion into the country. Though it has been a bitter pill for those affected functionaries, the matter had not generated a furore since it was not in the public space.

There is, however, disquiet over the plan by some governors to extend the stringent measure to civil servants.  The workers have kicked against the suggestion by the governors that civil servants forego 25 per cent of their salaries because of the negative effects created by COVID-19. One of the negative impact is the crash in the global price of oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. The dip in the oil price translates to a drastic shrink in revenue accruing from oil export and ultimately, revenue available for sharing among the federal, state and local government from the Federation Account.

The problem of the state in sourcing revenue is compounded by the partial or total lockdown of the economies of states due to the ravaging virus. Virtually all the main sources of internally generated revenue for states and local governments have either functioned at the lowest or completely crippled for weeks.

Notwithstanding, the governors have continuously assured the workers that have been forced to stay at home in order to be saved from the ravaging pandemic. The assurances came against the backdrop of predictions by various international organisations that millions of jobs are on the line due to the socio-economic crisis created by the virus. In the midst of the assurance of job security has emerged the proposition by some governors of 25 per cent reduction of salaries of workers to cushion the effect of COVID-19.

The deputy governor of Kaduna State, Dr Hadiza Balarabe, had in a state broadcast on April 9, announced that modalities are under ways for all employees of the state to contribute to the Covid-19 Emergency Fund established by the state.  The government had met with the union leaders on the matter so that the workers could be on the same page with the government. To be precise,  the Head of Civil Service of the state, Bariyatu Mohammed, had met with labour leaders on April 14 on the planned salary deductions. Representatives of the workers came from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), the Joint Union of Tertiary Institutions in Kaduna State (JUTIKS), Nigerian Union of Teachers, (NUT), RATTAWU and other affiliate unions. But the workers said they are not for the plan. According to the chairman, Kaduna State Council of NLC, Ayuba Sulaiman, the planned deduction of 25 per cent of workers salary did not go down well with the union leaders. “The proposed 25 per cent deduction was the decision of the government, we are not involved,” the NLC chairman said. He confirmed that the Head of Service actually solicited for workers’ support and contributions to the Covid-19 Emergency Fund. “We excused her and deliberated over the matter among ourselves and some of us suggested 3.0 per cent salary deduction, while others suggested 5.0 per cent. At the end, we put it to vote and 13 of us voted for five per cent deduction while 10 others voted for three per cent.We informed her of the five per cent agreed deduction, which to us was reasonable, considering the emergency situation we all found ourselves. But the Head of Service rejected our offer and informed us that the State Executive Council had already concluded to deduct 25 per cent of workers salary.”

On his part, Chairman, JUTIKS, Noah Danlami, said they were not part of the decision. “We all thought we were invited for the meeting to agree on the percentage to be deducted, as part of workers contribution in support of government efforts. But to our surprise, our resolution as union leaders was turned down by the Head of Service, insisting that the 25 per cent deduction would be spread across the months April and May. The good thing is that, we have informed the Head of Service that we are only consenting to 5.0 per cent deductions and we still stand by it. If the government went ahead and deducted 25 per cent, then we are not party to it because we were not part of the decision in the first place. It was pure government decision,” he said.

The governor of the state, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai on April 26, unveiled that state public servants earning, at least, N67,000 would donate 25 per cent of their salaries to the state, while state senior appointees; including commissioners, permanent secretaries, special advisers and heads of agencies will each donate N500,000 in April. According to him, senior appointees will each donate 50 per cent of their salaries. He hinged the plan on the need to ensure that the millions of people living in the state were adequately supported during the COVID-19 period. But the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) opposed the plan and called on the government “to as a matter of urgency avert crisis in the health sector of Kaduna State by immediately paying all health care workers the balance of 25 per cent of their April 2020 salaries.”

Initial report from Bauchi State suggested the intention of the state government to pay workers half of their salary for April, May and June as part of their contribution to the battle against COVID-19 in the state. The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Media to Governor Bala Mohammad, Muktar Gidado, said it was the agreement reached at a meeting held with the State Head of Service, permanent secretaries, directors and the organised labour on April 3. Based on resolutions, permanent secretaries and their equivalents will contribute 10 per cent of their salaries for the months of April, May and June 2020. The contribution does not exempt any category of workers.  “Directors on Grade Levels 16 to 17 both in the state and local governments will contribute five per cent of their salaries for the period of aforementioned months. Workers on Grade Levels 1 to 15 in the state and local governments will contribute one per cent from their salaries for the same months of April, May and June,” Gidado stated.

The issue is generating hiccups in Kogi State where because of feelers that the workers might be paid only 50 per cent of their salary for the month of April. Development on the issue remain sketchy, even though some groups and individuals are already expressing reservation if the government at all has such plan.

Comrade Adams Oshiomhole seems to have aligned with his constituency on the need for such sacrifice from workers. The former president of the NLC, who is the current national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), reportedly wrote in an article published to mark Labour Day that the slashing of workers’ salary or downsizing was inappropriate. Instead, he advocated that governors reduce the cost of governance. His words: “Cutting wages is most unhelpful in the circumstance. It’s like asking an anaemic patient to donate blood to save the lives of other patients in need of blood transfusion.” The incumbent NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, said the priority now should be wage protection as opposed to reduction because of the enormous sacrifice workers have continued to make for the country. Wabba used the opportunity of the 2020 International Workers Memorial Workers’ Day to issue the warning. “In reciprocation of the enormous sacrifice made by workers, we urge employers of labour to show solidarity with the sacrifice of our workers and people by ensuring wage protection, income support and social inclusion at these trying times,” Wabba said.

Given the controversy generated by the plan to slash the salaries of workers by some governors, it is most likely that many of their colleagues may have gone back to the drawn board if they had the same measure before to cushion the impact of the coronavirus.  For now, the citizens, especially workers, will await such alternatives.

 

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