Kaduna/NLC Impasse: The victor, the vanquished and the masses
NEWS DIGEST – Kaduna State had recently dominated the news again after Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, instituted an industrial action in the state, shutting it down for 3 days.
This came as a result of the publicised intention (and in some quarters, implementation) of the Kaduna State Government to retrench some staff as part of its Public Service Revitalization and Renewal Programme. The Governor in several occasions and press releases had explained the justification for the “rightsizing of the state’s public and civil service”, emphasizing that the state cannot sustain the use of 84.97% to 96.63% of its monthly FAAC transfers on the settlement of personnel costs.
To understand the situation, let’s do some analysis. There are majorly 2 ways the state government gets its income from; the FAAC allocation and the IGR. And the projected population in Kaduna is about 8.9 Million(KDBS).
As at March 2021, Kaduna State Government published its wage bill which suggested that the state government had in its employ a total civil service workforce of 31,064 staff.
Let’s use the month of March for this analysis; N4.819 Billion was paid to the state from FAAC and IGR target for the year 2021 is N50.6 Billion according to the 2021 approved budget. Since there isn’t any accurate data(publicly published) on the IGR generated for March 2021, we can take an average from the yearly target to ascertain a presumptive monthly IGR value, and based on that, we would be having about N4.2 Billion for the month of March
Now by summing the revenues from the two major revenue sources of the state for the month of March, I.E N4.8 Billion(FAAC) plus N4.2 Billion(Presumptive IGR), we would be having N9 Billion.
As published by the governor on his Facebook page, N4.498 Billion out of N4.819 Billion FAAC transfer was used to settle the total wage bill of the state(excluding Local Government employees). That is roughly 93% of the FAAC allocation.
By extrapolation, that means the wage bill(personnel cost) that is supposed to be roughly 17% of the total budgetary expenditure(since it is about 50% of the total recurrent expenditure and the Recurrent expenditure is supposed to be about 34% of the total budgetary expenditure) according to the budget, is now gulping 48.9%(almost 3 times higher) of the total monthly government revenue from FAAC and IGR.
And that means, state civil servants which are less than 1% of the total states population are gulping almost 48.9% of the states revenues(from IGR and FAAC) leaving other government expenses,liabilities (like the overheads, standing orders, security etc) and the essential social investments and services for the remaining 99% population with the rest of the 51.1%
Now does that make sense? No it doesn’t!
But it’s still a dilemma because we are dealing with people here, and sacking a number of them(even if they are redundant) would mean stripping them off their livelihoods. However, Elrufai has countlessly asserted that the state government would do its very best to expedite the payment of due benefits to the victims. He has also made it public that Kaduna State is executing a number of agricultural and entrepreneurship development initiatives which the affected victims can leverage on.
In one of the statements signed by the Governor’s Special Adviser on media and communications, the government affirmed that the “Government realises that the disengagements may have short-term psychological and financial impacts on the persons to be affected. Therefore, KDSG will not only work with the Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) to expedite payments of any contributory pension benefits due to those so entitled to them but will also give preferential treatment to those disengaged that are willing to take advantage of the state government’s various agricultural and entrepreneurship development schemes.”
It is based on the above that the NLC went on a 5-day warning strike. And the aim was basically to challenge the legality of the rightsizing process and force the Governor to backtrack from implementing the said public and civil service rightsizing. The Governor however had made it categorically clear that nothing would force him to backtrack. This generated a serious rift between the two parties.
However, the strike had since been called off(3-days into it) courtesy of an intervention by the federal government through the ministry of labor and a conciliatory meeting had already taken place.
And it is on this basis that people are asking, who is the victor and who is the vanquished of the impasse?
Firstly, when NLC announced the commencement of the strike, the leaders categorically mentioned that the warning strike will spill over to a total one if there is no remorse from the state government. However, the NLC suspended the strike before the 5 days was due, and this suspension was not because the state government “showed remorse” but due to the intervention of the federal government. But an intervention by the federal government is in no way a warranty for outright suspension of the strike, especially a warning strike which was stipulated to hold for a certain number of days. ASUU for example had entered into countless dialogue sessions during the period of its industrial action but never backed out until an agreement was struck.
The NLC was expected to complete the 5 days warning, it was also expected to hold the conciliatory meeting while still observing the strike(or perhaps a partial call off targeting sectors like power supply). This would have established an impression of strength and determination. However, their withdrawal gave an impression of weakness especially as it came just two days to the due date. And it gave Gov Elrufai an advantage to capitalize on.
Secondly, it was established in the conciliatory meeting that the “impasse was caused by communication gap between the State Government and NLC occasioned by both the local chapter and even the Kaduna State Government Officials”. NLC alleged that the issues that led to the strike included “Retrenchment of workers by the Kaduna State Government; Compulsory Retirement of workers on Grade Level 14 and above; Compulsory Retirement of workers who have attained the age of 50 years irrespective of their Grade Levels; Reduction of the staff strength of Local Government to 50 in each of the 23 Local Government Areas (LGAs); and Casualization of workers on Grade Level 1-6”.
The Kaduna State Officials however debunked all the 5 issues raised tagging them as mere propaganda projected by the political opponents of the current leadership of the state government. This suggests that NLC acted on unsubstantiated information as communicated to her by her “Kaduna State affiliate Unions and Negotiating Councils”.
However, even before the strike commenced, KDSG had countlessly debunked the above raised issues through several press releases and media chats. In one of such press releases, the Governor’s SA on Media and Communications wrote that “The stories circulating in the social media about pruning local government personnel to 50, converting junior staff to casual staff and the like are false and should therefore be disregarded. These false claims are a rehash of the contents of a forged letter that was circulated just prior to the 2019 elections”. Going ahead to act based on the misinformation even after being debunked is obviously another flaw on the part of the NLC.
Thirdly, in the same meeting, it was clearly established and resolved that an employer holds the right to retrench workers for as far as due process is followed. KDSG had however made it clear in several occasions that “Each and every decision taken will be in full compliance with the Kaduna State Public Service Law and any regulations made pursuant thereto, and other extant laws.”
Lastly, the major takeaway from the conciliatory meeting is the resolution that the government must adhere to and comply with the “Principle of redundancy” as enshrined in section 20 of Labour Act, Cap L 1 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) while executing the rightsizing . And a lot of people think this is a win for the NLC, thinking that this provision of the labor act can actually force the Governor to abandon his rightsizing mission.
Section 20 of Labour Act, Cap L 1 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN)states that;
(I) In the event of redundancy-
(a) the employer shall inform the trade union or workers’ representative concerned of the reasons for and the extent of the anticipated redundancy;
(b) the principle of “last in, first out” shall be adopted in the discharge of the par- ticular category of workers affected, subject to all factors of relative merit, in- cluding skill, ability and reliability; and
(c) the employer shall use his best endeavours to negotiate redundancy payments to any discharged workers who are not protected by regulations made under subsection (2) of this section.
(2) The Minister may make regulations providing, generally or in particular cases, for the compulsory payment of redundancy allowances on the termination of a worker’s employment because of his redundancy.
(3) In this section “redundancy” means an involuntary and permanent loss of em- ployment caused by an excess of manpower.
Now, by analyzing the laws critically, one would understand that almost every provision in the redundancy section favors Elrufai and the KDSG.
For example, the definition of redundancy as provided in Nigeria’s labor act is too broad, hence, subject to different interpretations. This is unlike in the laws of other countries like the United Kingdom where the definition of redundancy covers and specifically spells out almost every possible situation that could lead to loss of employment under the aegis of redundancy. This gives KDSG the advantage and opportunity to define redundancy in such a way that it suites the objectives of the state government’s Public Service Revitalization and Renewal Programme.
Secondly, the “Last in First Out(LIFO)” principle is also looked upon as a provision that could prevent KDSG from rightsizing the civil service(as it has started) because by this principle, most of the employees KDSG is targeting for retrenchment would be somewhat protected. The principle provides that retrenchment should be done in such a way that the last person employed gets retrenched first. However, further in the subsection, it states that the adoption of the LIFO principle is “Subject to all factors of relative merit, including skill, ability and reliability”. This “relative merit“ condition renders the subsection less rigid as an employee who is last to be employed might possess a higher level of skill, ability or reliability and in this case would be retained while some of those employees that were employed before him but do not hold the relative merit advantage would be susceptible to retrenchment. This therefore is also another advantage Elrufai can leverage on to reaffirm his current stand on the rightsizing process.
Thirdly, while the law speaks of the redundancy payment, it still does not stipulate the detailed procedure of redundancy/severance payment calculation. This is also unlike Labor Laws of other countries like the United Kingdom. Although the subsection stipulates that “ The Minister may make regulations providing, generally or in particular cases, for the compulsory payment of redundancy allowances…”, it has been established that there are currently no regulations made by the minister “which regulates or gives a guide on redundancy process and the calculation of redundancy sum in Nigeria pursuant to the provision of S20 (2) of the Labour Act”. This is also another advantage on the part of KDSG as NLC would have no option but to accept the State Government’s preferred mode of redundancy payment since there’s no clear regulation or compensation guide in this regard.
Having made the above analysis, I would leave the verdict of who the victor and who the vanquished is between NLC and KDSG to the reader.
But while you do that, I think the major point of concern should be how to ensure that the retrenched workers are paid off handsomely and expediently. And this is the aspect NLC ought to strategically hammer on. The government has already pronounced that they would work “with the Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) to expedite payments of any contributory pension benefits due to those so entitled to them”. The government had mentioned that its commitment towards the clearing of gratuity and death benefit backlog that had piled up since 2010 and is to the tune of N13 Billion is a testimonial of its determination to pay benefits to those entitled. They had also mentioned that there are relief systems in place as the government has made provision for a number of agricultural and entrepreneurship development schemes like the KADSTEP, KADSWEP, AGRA, APPEALS etc that the victims of the rightsizing could particularly leverage on.
It is my hope that NLC, State House of Assembly Members and other relevant stakeholders would re-channel their focus and energy towards ensuring that the KDSG fulfill its promise of expediting the payment of benefits to those entitled. It is also expected that they would rigorously embark on educating and orienting the victims on the several development schemes and the process for application and ensuring that the victims leverage on these opportunities to mitigate the resultant strain from the sudden loss of employment.
Abdulhaleem Ishaq Ringim is a political and public affairs analyst, he writes from Zaria and can be reached through [email protected]