Michael Onwuka, Enugu
Enugu State government, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) are trading blames over the ongoing strike by workers in the local government councils of the state.
Recall that local government workers, including public primary school teachers and Primary Health Care (PHC) workers in the state on July 27, 2022, started a strike over non-implementation of the N30, 000 minimum wage in those sectors.
The strike was announced after a joint press conference by the leadership of the NUT and NULGE in the state.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of NUT in the state, Chief Theophilus Nweke, told newsmen that the industrial action which had crippled the affected sectors was due to government’s insincerity in the negotiation process.
Nweke said that the ongoing strike was the second time in two months public primary school teachers were embarking on industrial action over the same matter.
The chairman said that the patience of the workers in those sectors was overstretched as government had not made any concrete commitments to pay the minimum wage and its consequential adjournments.
He said it was sad that pupils in the public primary schools could not participate in terminal examinations that could determine their promotions to the next class as the academic calendar was disrupted by the strike.
He also said that the situation was more worrisome as the health centres in both urban and rural areas had remained closed.
“The government is aware of this strike but has not come up with any solution. We are not happy being on strike. So, government should look into it for industrial harmony,” he said.
He said that government had made an attempt to cajole them into suspending the strike by approving the payment of the minimum wage for workers in Grade Levels 1 to 6 in the affected sectors.
He, however, said that the labour unions would not fall for such bait as those that fell within such range were insignificant.
Nweke said that out of the 24, 000 workers in the local government system, including primary school teachers, those in Grade Levels 1 to 6 were less than 2000.
Also, the President of NULGE in the state, Mr Kenneth Ugwueze, said that it was unfair that the affected workers had been denied the minimum wage for 30 months.
Ugwueze said that some workers in the affected sectors still earned as low as N18, 000 monthly.
“This is the first time from the Old Anambra State that we are having salary disparity and some categories of workers paid differently for over two years.
“You can imagine the impact it has on the rural populace. Immunization activities have been put on hold,” he said.
Ugwueze said that the issue was no longer a question of meager financial allocations as the figures accruable to the various councils had improved tremendously.
“We had a meeting with the fourth committee constituted by government to resolve the matter but they requested that we suspend the strike before they open negotiations with us.
“However, it is on record that we have negotiated with previous committees for 30 months but nothing came out of it.
“We are no longer able to feed our families considering the hyper inflation in the country,” Ugwueze said.
When contacted, the Chairman, Local Government Service Commission, Enugu State, Prof. Osy Okanya, said that government was serious about resolving the lingering strike, adding that 50 per cent of the problem had been settled.
Okanya said that government had planned the commencement of the payment of the minimum wage in those sectors by August 2022 but for the actions of the unions leaders.
“Government had made it clear that implementation of the minimum wage in those sectors will start immediately for those in Grade Levels 1 to 6 while we work out the consequential adjustments for Grade Levels 7 to 16,” he said.
Okanya said that government had convened a meeting with the labour leaders to work out the consequential adjustments without knowing that the unions had the intention of going on strike.
“There is willingness on the part of government to pay and we need some patience.
“While we are calling the unions back to the negotiating table, we are also making informal moves to find a middle ground in order to get it done quickly,” Okanya said.