The first day of May is celebrated annually as Workers’ day. Apart from the commemoration of the martyrs of labour who died in the prosecution of the Chicago trade dispute in 1886, the day is equally used to review the condition of workers; and to make demands for improvements in working conditions where necessary.
Over the years, the approach of labour leaders to negotiations of working conditions and even the prosecution of trade disputes has been to consider only what, in the view of workers, is necessary without bothering about the possibility of achieving what the labour leaders consider as necessary or the capacity of the employer to provide those things.. Realities have always taught mankind that in life, only things that are within the realm of possibility are necessary while things that are impossible are unnecessary. Like Mariama BA? said in her book, So Long A Letter, There is no need taunting with impossibilities as obtaining what is possible is already a victory! I am happy to announce that this is the lesson that both the present labour leadership in Ebonyi state under Comrade Leonard Nkah and Ebonyi State Government under His Excellency, Apostle David Nweze Umahi have imbibed. The combination of that lesson with the patriotic dispositions of the administration of Governor Umahi on one hand and Ebonyi labour constituency on the other hand is the reason for the industrial harmony we have in Ebonyi state. This, in turn, has provided content for the celebration which will hold on 1st May, 2018 between Ebonyi workforce and Ebonyi State Government at Abakaliki Township Stadium!
At this point, it is pertinent to ask: Beyond the sphere of commemoration, do Ebonyi workers really have reasons to celebrate the 2018 Workers’ day? If the answer to the question is in the affirmative, what are those reasons?
In responding to above posers, factual references will be made to other states in Nigeria vis-a-vis their respective labour policies, how their respective workers presently fare in comparison with Ebonyi workers. This comparative analysis, I believe, is the best way to drive home the objective of this discourse because apart from establishing what is happening in Ebonyi state, it enables the reader strike a balance between the labour relation in Ebonyi state and those of other states as Ebonyi state and her workers do not exist in isolation. Above all, it is trite that an unimplemented agreement or policy is worse than a bad policy!
Like I wrote in an earlier piece, Umahi was sworn in as Governor of Ebonyi state at a time the economy of the state, nay the country, was set for a free fall. This made the hope of payment of workers’ salaries a mirage and reduced the promise of even a single capital project to mere wishful thinking. Given that economic circumstance, the need to strike a balance between Umahi’s campaign promises of enhanced remunerations to Ebonyi workers and the competing need to develop Ebonyi state and the rest of her population which are outside the organized labour force became not only imperative, but also urgent.
Notwithstanding the delicate situation, courageous and plain-dealing Umahi called Ebonyi organised labour to a roundtable whereon the cards were laid. Thereon, the labour wages were brought within the realm of feasibility to the chagrin of the opposition which had hoped to make political capital out of the issue. The full meaning of Governor Umahi’s action dawned on Ebonyi workers when states like Edo, Ondo, Abia and Imo began to owe workers salaries for periods running from months to one year. The visionary action of “the wise man from the East” became clear to Ebonyi workers when Benue State Governor Ortom praised himself and demanded accolades for “ensuring that Benue workers received one month salary in every quarter of the year”. Umahi’s goodwill for Ebonyi workers became clear as daylight when Kaduna State Government under talkative el-Rufai sacked 22,000 workers he could not pay on the pretext of incompetence even when he has not exposed them to retrainings as recommended by the rules. Governor Umahi who introduced the pace-setting realistic wage policy and Comrade Leonard Nkah-led Ebonyi NLC who cooperated with Umahi’s pace-setting gesture were finally vindicated when Kogi workers began to hang themselves out of frustrations arising from unprecedented arrears of wages and salaries; and when the Pharoah of Lugard House Lokoja sacked 1,774 of Kogi workers who refused to hang themselves!
However, Umahi has not only paid Ebonyi workers the agreed remunerations promptly, he equally increased their salaries by 5% on 1st October, 2016, introduced the payment of annual salary bonuses otherwise known as 13th month salaries in Ebonyi labour parlance and provided them routes to alternative income through the agricultural revolution and the Bank of Industries single-digit business loans. When the economy started showing signs of recovery, the embargo on promotions were lifted while the backlog of arrears of leave and other allowances were cleared. Statutory allowances of Ebonyi workers were equally worked into their monthly salaries to make their salary structure truly consolidated and prevent the perennial abandonment of those allowances like witnessed in Ebonyi state in the last dispensation. That Ebonyi state revenue profile is one of the lowest, put at 0.2 per cent by former presidential spokesperson, Reno Omokiri, is very instructive. All these culminated in the consolation of industrial harmony in Ebonyi state which yielded the event of 18th December, 2017 in which the organized labour constituency honoured Apostle David Umahi, a husband of one wife and Christian father who believes in the dignity of labour, as Enyi Ndi Oru Ebonyi (which translates to “Friend of Ebonyi Workers”). According to Ebonyi State Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Leonard Iheanacho Nkah, “Ebonyi workers are celebrating a salary structure which is higher than those of many states in the federation because unlike their ilk in other states, Ebonyi workers regularly get their salaries; and a bird in hand is worth more than ten in the bush. We are celebrating the clearance of arrears of leave allowances which piled up for over a decade by Governor David Umahi. Ebonyi civil servants are celebrating steady payment of salaries since May, 2015 as against our colleagues in majority of the states in Nigeria who are owed arreas of salary running from months into years. Ebonyi workers are celebrating the openness of Umahi’s administration which culminated in the involvement of Ebonyi workers in the formation of industrial policies. Ebonyi workers are celebrating the current open labour union administration in Ebonyi state led by my humble self which realistically negotiates with Government to secure what is possible for Ebonyi workers”. Comrade Nkah concluded with a warning: “Politicians should stop meddling in or politicizing labour issues. They should face their political agenda and allow the labour unions which are registered pressure groups to handle their issues with Government.”
Beyond these strictly labour circle achievements of Governor Umahi in Ebonyi state, Ebonyi workers like we know constitute an integral part of Ebonyi citizenry for which Apostle David Umahi is building a brand new and modern Ebonyi state. They enjoy the network of smooth concrete roads in Abakaliki Capital Territory which is being extended to the hinterlands in the 13 Local Government Areas; they enjoy the street lights and the security of lives and property as we have in Ebonyi state. Ebonyi workers enjoy the clean and decent environment and the efficient health delivery system which we presently have in Ebonyi state; Ebonyi workers celebrate the unprecedented empowerment of Ebonyi people including civil servants with business startup capitals as well as tricycles.
From the forgoing, Ebonyi civil servants have reasons to celebrate on 1st May 2018 which is the 132nd Workers’ Day celebration in the world and the 21st in Ebonyi state. Ebonyi workers are celebrating the triumph of patriotism and goodwill over the respective or sectoral intentions of both government and the organised labour in Ebonyi state. Ebonyi workers are celebrating a win-win relationship with the Divine Mandate administration led by Apostle David Umahi in Ebonyi state. They celebrate the hope for the best conditions of service in the event of the improvement of the economic situation because the Friend of Ebonyi Workers is on the saddle!
May God bless Ebonyi workers!
SOURCE :The Nigerian Voice (opinions)