Fostering Industrial Peace In Anambra

IfeanyiChukwu Afuba

At his re-election for a second term as Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress, Anambra State Chapter, in April 2019, Jerry Nnubia cited the “cordial relationship between the State Government and organised labour” as a principal achievement of his leadership in the past four years.

Nnubia and the delegates who returned him unopposed had good reasons to seek sustenance of the State’s industrial peace. Their sense of history balked at a return to the turbulence of the recent past.

For nine months of 2001 to 2002, public service was grounded in the State as workers agitated for payment of arrears of salaries from the Chinwoke Mbadinuju administration. Ten years later, public medical services were shut down for thirteen months, from January 2011 to February 2012 with doctors’ strike for implementation of medical services salary scale. The doctors’ unrest during the Peter Obi administration ranks as the longest industrial action in the history of the State.

Constructive engagement by the Labour unions with the Willie Obiano administration has helped to usher in nearly seven years of industrial peace in Anambra State. But while maturity and understanding by the workers’ leadership has impacted government – labour relations in this era, the personal disposition of Governor Willie Obiano seems to weigh as the underlining factor.

With a reputation for charity preceding him, Obiano served notice of a new deal for the State workforce early in his governorship.

“Workers were the first organised group that the new Governor met with,” recalls Harry Udu, Head of Anambra State Service.

“He came here at the Secretariat to meet with them. And without any prompting, without any pressure from anyone, he looked at the salaries of workers and said it shouldn’t be this way. He approved and implemented fifteen percent increase in workers’ salaries from January 2015.”

Those familiar with Obiano’s generosity in private life now turned to their colleagues with vindication. “Didn’t I tell you? That’s why we counseled that workers give him their votes in the governorship election.”

Other packages, including but not limited to provision of buses for commuting of workers and annual Christmas gift have followed since.

But for the State Head of Service and indeed, for many public servants, the spirit of Willie Obiano’s regards for the worker was best exemplified in the retention of those curiously recruited by his predecessor.

“I served the former government as Permanent Secretary. Almost 6000 people were recruited by the former Governor, Peter Obi in January 2014 but it was Obiano who paid the new intakes. Obiano could have decided to discard them but he took everyone in and paid.”

Barrister Harry Udu’s emphasis on this point is in no way exaggerated. The unwritten code for transitions in Nigerian government and politics is that virtually all employment and contracts by an outgoing administration in its last six months are repudiated by the successor government. But here was Governor Willie Obiano bending backwards to accept not just the 5800 new employees but also the last minute contracts of N127b the past administration had no business awarding.

Notwithstanding the burden of liabilities inherited by his government, Obiano plodded on with increasing workers’ fortunes.

Dr Jide Onyekwelu, Chairman, Nigeria Medical Association, in Daily Independent of Monday, September 21, credits the Obiano – led Government for raising doctors’ salaries to seventy percent from the forty percent paid by the last administration.

On learning that the State Fire Service personnel had for more than 15 years been receiving twenty naira as monthly hazard allowance, a scandalized Obiano promptly approved a monthly allowance of twenty thousand naira.

Ikenna Jibuike, Chairman, Joint Public Service Negotiating Council on the new national minimum wage, conceded that the “state government had always given attention to workers’ welfare.”

Head of Service, Harry Udu identifies the State Health Insurance Scheme as constituting another welfare package for workers.

“It has been more than a success story. Workers marvel at the little amount they are asked to pay after treatment as the bill would have been largely written off by the scheme. This has raised the standard of health for the workers. That is another serious welfare package.”

Demonstrations of the resolve to put the State and the people first must have struck the leadership of organised labour, leading to the present amicable relations. It is hoped that this mutual regard between Government and workers endures for the greater interest of the society.

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