By Kelvin Osa Okunbor and Abdulgafar Alabelewe, Kaduna/ THE NATION
Aviation workers shut Kaduna airport
No going back on decision to sack – State govt
Ignore government threat, Labour tells workers
Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are engaged in a show of strength after a notice served by the latter for a five-day strike by workers in the state.
The warning strike begun by workers at midnight today is in protest against mass disengagement of workers and other alleged anti-labour policies of the state government.
But the state government has said that it would not be blackmailed or intimidated by the threat of workers’ strike, insisting that the mass disengagement of workers was a decision taken in the interest of the larger population in the state.
The strike action embarked upon by workers followed a threat earlier issued by the NLC that its members in the state would down tools in protest against El-Rufai’s moves against the state’s workers.
Already, Aviation workers under the aegis of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), have directed their members to shut down operations at Kaduna airport with effect from early this morning in respect of a strike declared by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) against the state government.
In two separate letters jointly signed by the union’s leaders, namely Ocheme Aba, General Secretary, NUATE; Abdulrasak Saidu, Secretary General, ANAP and Ofonime Umoh, Deputy General Secretary, NAAPE, the workers pledged to comply with the directive of NLC to down tools in the state between May 16 and 21, 2021.
The union leaders added that workers at the airport had been directed to withdraw all services within the stipulated period.
“In effect, there will be no operations of any kind into, at or out of the airport within the period.
“This information is provided to enable your management take steps to safeguard valuable property within the airport vicinity during the period of the industrial action.
“This action shall be fully carried out unless otherwise directed by the NLC. And all workers are enjoined to fully comply as no form of sabotage shall be tolerated,” the unions said.
A circular earlier signed by the General Secretary of NUEE, Joe Ajaero, said: “In line with NLC directives on shutdown of activities in Kaduna, you are hereby directed to ensure TOTAL BLACK OUT in Kaduna by 00 hours on Saturday 15th May, 2021.”
He advised the workers to liaise with other states or regions through which Kaduna could be back-fed to ensure that there is no supply of electricity to the state.
Ajaero warned that “any station or officer whose unit is found wanting, the chapter or state council will be sanctioned for anti-union activities.”
Other unions, including railway workers, local government employees and university workers will not resume to their duty posts on Monday.
The state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, had in April announced the plan to disengage civil servants in the state for financial reasons, saying that a significant portion of the statutory federal allocations coming to the state was being spent on the wages of public servants.
“The state government has no choice but to shed some weight and reduce the size of the public service. It is a painful but necessary step to take for the sake of the majority of the people of this state,” the statement read in part.
The governor argued that “the public service of the state with less than 100,000 employees and their families cannot be consuming more than 90% of government resources, with little left to positively impact the lives of the more than 9 million that are not political appointees or civil servants.”
Reacting to the notice of strike served by workers yesterday, the state government said it would not succumb to blackmail.
At a press conference addressed by the state’s Head of Service, Bariatu Muhammed, and the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Alhaji Jafar Sani yesterday, the government dismissed the threat by labour unions to shut down critical services as a futile gesture, warning that it would not condone any disruption of essential services in the state as a result of the strike.
The government also said that the warrant of arrest it issued in 2017 on the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, over alleged vandalization of government facilities subsists.
According to the government, the trade unions planned to use hoodlums during the strike to disrupt the peace of the state, hence it had notified security agencies to take action.
“As is appropriate, the security agencies have been notified of the plans of some trade unionists to recruit hoodlums, including from other states, to create a destructive spectacle and further their self-serving narrative about public service jobs and insecurity,” the state government said.
The government insisted that the sack of civil servants was necessitated by dwindling revenues. “Thus, it is not sustainable to persist in spending 84% to 96% of its FAAC receipts on salaries and personnel costs as has been the experience of the state since October 2020.
“This government was not elected to devote most public funds to paying government workers and treat that as its defining governance mission, to the detriment of developing the state and its people.”
The government explained that the rightsizing of the public service would affect political appointees and civil servants.
“The necessary verification of credentials for full implementation of this painful but necessary decision is still being done.
“It has not determined the total number of officers that might be affected by the decision. Neither has it stopped paying the minimum wage, despite the prompting of the denizens of sentiment who have urged it to suspend payment and thereby violate the National Minimum Wage Act.
“The Kaduna State Government prefers to take lawful and rational steps that are within its powers to rightsize its personnel and thereby reduce its wage bill.”
It stressed that it would not succumb to the “veritable campaign of lies and misrepresentation” by the trade unions on the matter.
The state government also claimed that it “has been assured by some trade unions that they will not be part of the planned sabotage of social and economic life.”
According to the government, the strike was meant to sabotage the state. It therefore called on residents of the state to resist it and do their utmost to protect public facilities.
It noted that the Trade Union Act prohibits strike action by workers engaged in the provision of essential services.
“The law also forbids subjecting “any other person to any kind of constraint or restriction of his personal freedom in the course of persuasion” for strike action”, it added.
The government reiterated that the ban on public processions was still in force in the state, and vowed to protect its facilities and the right of its staff to access and work in their offices.
“It is unlawful for anyone to try to deny them access or exit. Government offices are not the property of any trade unionist and none of them should entertain thoughts of locking up or vandalizing any facility.”
The government identified some of its worker-friendly policies as payment of the new minimum wage and training for civil servants.
“Kaduna is also one of the states that is most faithful in implementing the Contributory Pension Scheme, effective from 1st January 2017”
“The state has also courageously attempted to settle the N14 billion it inherited as arrears of death benefit and gratuity from 2010, commencing payments with those who had exited service the longest.
“Since 2015, KDSG has paid over N13 billion in death benefits and gratuity.”
It added that apart from teachers and health workers, the government has continued to recruit required professionals for its agencies.
“This government has demonstrated in action, its commitment to the welfare of its workers, but it insists that this is sustainable only in the context of the general welfare of residents of the state that the government itself is mandated to serve.”