ENUGU: New Minimum Wage And Ugwuanyi’s Care For Workers

Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

I was not among those who were surprised when news hit the airwaves, online and print media that Enugu state government has approved the payment of the N30,000 new minimum wage to workers in the state with effect from February 2020. The approval according to the news came after the State Executive Council approved the report of the Joint Committee of the state government representatives and that of the leadership of the Organised Labour in the state that was set up by the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to work on the consequential adjustment of the new minimum wage.

Many may ask why I wasn’t surprised. I was not surprised for several reasons and verifiable facts. Since 2015 Ugwuanyi assumed office, I have kept close tab on his administration’s policies and programmes, especially as it concerns workers’ welfare. It is a matter of fact that Enugu is not an oil producing state. In the country’s Monthly Federation allocation cadre, Enugu state is almost at the bottom level. The state is more of civil servants’ state than any other thing.

On assumption of office, Ugwuanyi took note of the abovementioned facts about the state and set his administration’s priorities right from the onset. Ugwuanyi firstly introduced fiscal discipline, accountability and prudence in the management of the state meagre resources. His government plugged the leakages and loopholes in the handling of the state Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), an action that shored up the state’s IGR tremendously and significantly.

Knowing the indispensable roles of workers in formulating, implementing and strengthening government policies and programmes, Ugwuanyi without delay made worker’s welfare one of his administration’s top priorities.

To show his administration’s preparedness, sincerity and commitment to this, Ugwuanyi’s quickly cleared the backlog of salaries owed workers in 14 out of the 17 council areas in the state, he inherited from his predecessor.

As if that was not enough for the workers, Ugwuanyi’s administration commenced the prompt payment of workers’ salary and allowances every 23rd of the month and 13 month in December as Christmas bonus.

Ugwuanyi’s government absorbed 54% of the total cost of the 100 housing units at Elim Estate, Ibagwa Nike allocated to workers and prudently utilised the state/ local government share of Paris Club Refund. His government also promoted and recruited over 4000 workers and at the same time approved the elongation of the terminal grade of qualified primary school teachers to level 16. Not left out in Ugwuanyi’ s ceaseless largesse to workers in the state are 731 former staff of some state parastatals who were paid arrears of salaries owed them and 42 casual staff of Enugu State Teaching Hospital, Parklane Enugu that were made permanent staff of the hospital. N100 million was also approved by the Enugu State Executive Council to be spent monthly in clearing the backlog of pension arrears owed pensioners in the state over the years. Because of the huge accumulations and backlogs, Ugwuanyi’s government is still struggling till date with scarce resources to clear pensions and meets up with its other financial obligations.

It is on record that since 2015 Ugwuanyi came into office, workers in the state have never embarked on any strike action.That is unprecedented in the history of government-workers relationship in the state. The workers have always had the best of relationship with Ugwuanyi’s administration, because of the way Ugwuanyi’s government has continued to care for thier welfare.

So it was not out of place, when in 2018 in Enugu, the leadership of the Organised Labour in the state alongside its national leadership conferred on Ugwuanyi, the award of the most Labour-friendly governor in the country, an award many Nigerians described as well deserved.

Having done all the above mentioned good things for Enugu workers since 2015, I was not doubtful of Ugwuanyi administration’s readiness to pay the 30,0000 minimum wage when the issue began to rage in April last year between Federal Government and its workers. My only little worry and surprise then was that even at the peak of the negotiations between the Federal Government and Labour union over the payment of the minimum wage, Ugwuanyi’s government recruited 1500 primary school teachers and recently the State Executive Council approved another recruitment of middle level and senior cadre personnel into the state’s civil service.

According to the State Commissioner for Information, Nnanyelugo Chidi Aroh, “the recruitment is aimed at strengthening the state workforce by bringing in sharp and fresh hands into the system. The government also approved the total overhaul of the State Ministry of Health that would entailed the recruitment of consultants, nurses and others.”

One interesting and good thing about Ugwuanyi government’s approval of the new 30,000 minimum wage is that it is an outcome of the collective bargaining and dialogue between the leadership of the Organised Labour in the state and Ugwuanyi’s government. This is unlike in 2011 when the then Enugu state government unilaterally fixed what should be paid to workers in the state as minimum wage. It would be recalled that Ugwuanyi set up a joint committee on consequential adjustment of the new minimum wage which has the leadership of the Organised Labour and representatives of the state government as members.

The committee looked into the financial books of the state government thoroughly before arriving at a consensus on the new minimum wage adjustment before its approval by the state executive council. This was confirmed by the Chairman of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council, Comrade Chukwuma Igbokwe, when he said: “What happened was that in 2011, we were not given this opportunity as labour union to go into negotiation with government. We were shut out by the state government then. What was paid in 2011 as minimum wage was not a product of collective bargaining. That means that consequential adjustment was done in 2011. “What Enugu Government did then was to add money to salaries of those below N18,000 and so on. That kind of arrangement created confusion in the service. We are happy to be fully involved in the consequential adjustment negotiation with Ugwuanyi’s government before arriving at a consensus.

“We are happy with the outcome, which is the approval of the new 30,000 minimum wage for workers in the state to take effect from February 2020.” With all these, one can say unequivocally that since the creation of Enugu State in 1991, workers in the state have never had it so rosy and good as they have experienced and witnessed it under Ugwuanyi’s administration. The governor has indeed shown the workers undying love and care since 2015.

With the prompt and constant payment of salaries and allowances 23rd of every month since 2015, which has helped the workers in the state to be financially stable and plan for their future, the workers cannot stop supporting and celebrating Ugwuanyi. No wonder they massively voted for his reelection in 2019 and have continued to show his government undiluted solidarity and support in the state.

Chinweuba, a retired civil servant, writes from Independence Layout, Enugu