22nd August, 2016
Labour leaders, lawyers, academics and other stakeholders have condemned the move by Imo, Benue and Sokoto to reduce the working hours and days in their states.
They disclosed in separate interviews that the development was illegal, unconstitutional and a fundamental breach of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue had directed civil servants to use Fridays for farming, while Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo pushed for a law that provides for three days for work and two days for farming.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, said that “the policy is against all known labour laws and international treaties of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“It something that we have already rejected and condemned, you cannot force people to go into farming.
“Even, if you will to do that, it must be through a process of consultation because these workers are not slaves.
“In industrial relations, the issue of consultation, collective bargaining is used before a policy is actually adopted and in this respect there was no consultation,’’ Wabba said.
He said that the new public work policy of Imo government was in conflict with the National Labour Law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Wabba said that national law stipulated eight hours for work per day and 40 hours of work per week which was in accordance with the ILO standard.
He said that the governor was known for non-payment of salaries to workers and that this might be strategy in the long run to cut down payment.
“Workers in that state are working under very serious conditions that are in human and therefore certainly, it is going to affect productivity.
He warned that any state government that tried to enforce workers to act against the ILO convention or labour law of the country would be resisted.
In his reaction, Prof. Chubah Ezeh of Anambra State University, told NAN in Awka that the move by Okorocha to reduce work days of civil servants was unconstitutional and “military in nature’’.
Ezeh, a professor of Political Economy, noted that working hours and days was a constitutional matter which could not be changed without altering the constitution of the country.
“I do not see any sense in such pronouncement or where he manufactured such an unconstitutional idea, which sounds authoritarian or military in nature.
Also commenting, the President of Ndi-Igbo Unity Forum, Mr Augustine Chukwudum, advised Okorocha not to tamper with Imo workers’ salaries.
“If he cannot be creative to use the vast resources in the state to create wealth and pay his workers; let him resign honourably,’’ Chukwudum said.
Mr Austin Chilakpo, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) council Chairman in Imo, decried the governor’s directive, adding that before the bill was passed by the House, the union had rejected it.
Also, the Chairman,Medical and Health Workers Union in Imo, Mr Frances Nzewata, condemned the arrangement, describing it as impunity.
A retired permanent secretary in the state Ministry of Economic Planning, Mr Ethelbert Ejiofor, also criticised the reduction of work days.
Similarly, Chief Stanley Ugama, a former Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), noted that the decision was against the workers’ interest.
“No governor has the right to reduce working hours because labour laws and practices are universal and not confined to a particular area or setting,” Ugama said in Ebonyi.
Mr Ikechukwu Nwafor, NLC Chairman in Ebonyi, said the action was unconstitutional and against the ILO Convention which Nigeria is a signatory.
According to him, no governor under the Nigerian constitution is empowered to either review downward or upward the work hours or days expected to put in by the employees.
Nwafor said: “The crisis and economic losses that the policy will generate will be unimaginable because reducing the work hours means reducing productivity.’’
He said that the policy was not implementable due to the lack of incentives that would boost the programme and ensure its success.
He said that absence of dams for irrigation purposes which remains a critical component for effective agriculture, has not been taken into consideration.
Mr Greg Esheye, the Chairman, Ebonyi State Colleges of Education, Ikwo, Academic Staff Union (COEASU), also dismissed the policy and described it as an unworkable programme.
Esheye said that the policy would slow down the economy of the state because the productivity ratio would be reduced.
“The policy is a bad one and which is completely not acceptable by workers. The governors are violating both the constitution and contravening all known labour law,’’ Esheye said.
Mr Alloy Onwe, a civil servant, noted that farming was the only activity the law allowed a civil servant to engage in and wondered why extra two days should be given by governors to workers for the purpose of engaging in agricultural activities.
“Workers obviously do not need such a “Greek gift’’ from the governors; the economy will be badly affected and there are obviously other measures they can be used to better the lot of the civil servants,’’ Onwe said.
The NLC Chairman in Abia, Chief Obi Igwe, said that the reduction of work days in Imo and other states amounted to a breach of civil service rules.
Igwe said that the reduction would constitute serious friction in the civil service system.
In the same vein, an Umuahia-based legal practitioner, Mr Emenike Azubuike, described the act to reduce the working days in a week by any governor as “ultra vires’’.
Azubuike said that the constitution did not confer on governors such powers, adding that to initiate such a policy “means acting beyond the powers conferred on them by the law.
“There is no law backing the governors to reduce the number of working days in a week. So, it is an abuse of power for any governor to do so.”
He noted that there is a subsisting social contract between the government and the employees.
He said that it would be a breach of the contract “for any governor to wake up one morning and choose to alter the terms of the contract unilaterally’’.
He further said that the governor would also be committing an infraction of the law on minimum wage “if he thinks he would reduce the minimum wage by such a policy’’.
He described the policy as “draconian’’, saying that “it cannot work.’’
In the North-East, stakeholders described the law as illegal, unproductive and would have negative consequences on the national economy.
Similarly, stakeholders in Kano and Kaduna described the idea as being lazy, unsound and unproductive.
Mr Kabiru Minjibir, the NLC Chairman in Kano State, said that it would dampen morale and affect execution time of developmental projects.
“It will certainly affect workers productivity, thereby increasing brain-drain and lack of zeal and motivation for workers to put in their best,’’ Minjibir said.
A Kaduna-based lawyer, Mr Panan Philemon, described the reduction in work days in the civil service as counterproductive.
“I don’t think the step is in the best interest of the state, because any day that workers do not go to work, government incurs huge economic losses.
“The step would delay justice delivery, revenue generation, project execution and could stagnate ongoing developmental projects,’’ Philemon said.
In the South-West, the stakeholders said that reduction in work hours was dangerous and capable of collapsing the economy.
Mr Kabiru Adebayo said that the move was a ‘negative’ step in the efforts at revamping the economy.
He said that the workforce build the economy of any nation, adding that most states derived their incomes from their workers through the tax deducted from their salaries.
“This action, if allowed, will increase the crime rate, encourage laziness among workers, the result of which may cripple the economy of the affected states,’’ Adebayo said.
Another lawyer, Mr Ayinde Edun, said the administrative work would be hampered with such move.
Edun further said that such move would not only affect workers’ productivity but cause significan t economic decline as workers would no longer be committed fully to their duties.
Similarly, Abdulraheem Abdulrahman, a legal practitioner, described the move by some governors as ‘misplaced priority’, and urged the Federal Government to check the governors.
Mr Manzuma Issa, the NBA Chairman in Ilorin, disclosed that the constitution of the country put labour matters in the exclusive legislative list.
He said that the governors who had reduced work hours or days had gone beyond the limit of their powers.
Also, Mr Abiodun Obafemi, NBA Secretary in Ogun, said that law would reduce the productivity of workers and limit the capacity of such state to generate revenue.
He explained that such a situation would also affect the economy and the living standard of the people with attendant security challenges.
“I do not think that an idea of reduction in work hours for Nigerian workers is desirable because our country is still developing,’’ he said.
Mr Olubunmi Fajobi, the TUC Chairman in Ogun, said that it was unacceptable for a governor to reduce work hours just to force workers into agriculture.
He argued that workers were free to engage in any legal activity of their choice outside the work hours.
“What a worker does off work hours is a function of his volition and cannot be determined by any sitting governor,” he said.
He, however, said that any worker, who voluntarily desired to use his spare time for agriculture should be encouraged and supported to do so without any form of enforcement.
In Ekiti, the National Vice Chairman (South-West), Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria, Mr Sola Rotimi, dismissed the move as unwarranted and counterproductive.
Rotimi argued that there should be consideration for some staff serving in critical areas of the public service such as medical, fire as well as security, among others.
According to him, such a decision, if implemented, will only aggravate the current worrisome situation rather than alleviate it.
In Osogbo, Mr Akinyemi Olatunji, the TUC Chairman, and Mr Samuel Ibiyemi, a legal practitioner, said any attempt to do that would amount to re-writing an aspect of the constitution.
In the South-South, the stakeholders said reduction of working hours could be counterproductive to the economy of the nation.
They said that the decision would amount to a negation of the provisions of the nation’s constitution.
In Calabar, Mr Remi Agwuezie, a lawyer, said: “I have not seen it in any labour law that a government can just stand up one day and ask workers not to come to work for some number of days.
“It is alien to Nigeria or International Labour Laws and cannot stand anywhere. It is unproductive and irresponsible.’’
Also, a retired civil servant, Mr Ojong Emmanuel, and a public servant, Mr Greg Odey, described the decision to cut down working days as baseless and unnecessary.
In Benin, Edo, Human Right activist, Jude Obasanmi said that it would lead to redundancy of workers, while in Yenagoa, they unanimously said that the reduction would subvert the law and breed laziness.