Organized labor has said that the federal government was not sincere about paying the over N290 billion arrears of salaries and promotion arrears owed workers in the federal civil service, saying they may not be able to stop the workers from taking action for too long.
Labor said while the federal government was pressuring state governments and assisting them with bailouts to pay salaries and allowances owed to workers in the various states, it was silent on the plight of workers in federal service whose promotion and other allowances dating back to 2007 have not been paid and have accumulated to over N290 billion.
Secretary General, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Comrade Bashir Alade Lawal who disclosed this in an interview on the sideline of the 106th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland,
said since 2007, the government has failed to pay the workers arrears of promotion, transfer allowance and shortfall in salaries among others.
Comrade Lawal said the Federal Government was not sincere about the issue of the payment, adding that it was an irony that the Federal Government would give bail out to the state governments to pay the salaries and arrears of their workers while leaving its workers unpaid.
The labor leader said the workers are now restive, warning that the leadership may not be able to control them anymore, as the situation in many federal ministries and parastatals is getting out of control.
He said: “If you look at the entire problem, you will agree that government is not sincere with workers. This indebtedness date back to 2007, and you want to imagine that workers who are working are being promoted as at when due, but government is refusing to pay them their promotion arrears.
“Somebody that has been promoted from level 8 to 9, from 9 to 10, from 10 to 12 and so on, is still earning level 8 salary because the employer, which is the Federal Government has refused to do the right thing. So, this issue has brought this arrears that runs to N290 billion.
“The insincerity of the Federal Government is demonstrated in the first instance, when they gave bailout funds to states totaling about N734 billion. They asked the states to use their share to pay arrears of workers’ salaries. But the Federal Government failed to pay its own workers. That is the height of insincerity. Now, the Federal Government has accepted that there is a problem.
“As I speak with you, the situation is very tensed, workers are very restive and no labor leader can guarantee that the situation will not go out of hand. We are just trying to manage the situation, knowing some of the other challenges facing the country.”
Comrade Lawal expressed hope that the recent efforts by the National Assembly, labor and the executive arm of government will resolve the issue and forestall imminent crisis, adding that Labour and the National Assembly had offered a window to be utilized to address the issue of N290 billion debt.
He said: “Now we have come together, including the National Assembly on the issue of this N290 billion. The National Assembly has offered a window that we should utilize what is currently in the budget. What is in the budget is N30 billion and so the two side would then meet and look at the possibility of packaging a sort of loan or bond to be able to sort this out.
“The N10 billion released by the government is just in the interim, to just start doing something. The N30 billion in the budget is not what is readily available because of the process involved before it can be accessed.
“However, the agreement we have with the National Assembly and other stakeholders is that as soon as the budget becomes law, the money will be released immediately. So, from the N290 billion, you would have sorted out 40 billion, remaining N250b billion.
“With the National Assembly, we are hopeful with the kind of interest shown, because most of the lawmakers saw what happened during May Day in Abuja where they were evacuated into their vehicles during workers’ reaction as a result of frustration.
“So, let us see the result of all these initiatives and hopefully the way we are looking at it that we will be able to sort it out this year. Anything short of that or should they decide to foot drag on this, I bet you even with the leadership of the union, peace will not guaranteed. ”
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige had assured, that the government will go into bond market for funds to off-set all the arrears of salaries, promotion arrears and pension.
“We have taken step and initiated payment in that same direction. Before I left home, N10 billion was already being processed for promotion allowances arrears,before I left home sum of N14.6 billion has been expended in the areas of shortfall of salaries and as we go back home we have other machinery and plans to even go into bond market and get some funds to off set all these areas,” Ngige said.