Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel may be in for big trouble managing the impending labour crisis in the state as the state sets to boil following the issuance of a 14-day ultimatum before strike by the Council of Unions in state-owned tertiary institutions (Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua; College of Education, Afaha Nsit; and College of Arts and Science, Nung Ukim).
In their letter dated 15 June 2016 and titled “Insensitivity of Government to Unions’ Demands: 14 days ultimatum,” addressed to the Governor Akwa Ibom State, and made available to our reporter, the Council of Unions decry Government’s insensitivity to the plight of staff of the state-owned tertiary institutions, blaming government for not responding to their requests and correspondences on issues affecting their members, thus causing frustration and lack of motivation to the affected members.
The issues highlighted by the Council of Unions in their letter include the non-implementation of 2013, 2014, and 2015 staff promotions and payment of the arrears involved; the non-implementation of the earlier approved 65 years retirement age for staff in Akwa Ibom State owned tertiary institutions as approved by the State Executive Council; the non-implementation of proper placement of staff on right CONTEDISS based on September, 2013 schemes of service for Polytechnics; the non-payment of Peculiar Allowances to qualified non-teaching staff; the non-payment/refund of the balance of 7.5% Contributory Pension fund to some staff in tertiary institutions in the state; the deliberate removal of names of some staff from payment voucher; and the failure to implement full payment of salaries and allowances to Principal Staff of these institutions.
The Council of Unions seem spoilt for war as they draw a battle line in their letter, stating, “In view of the foregoing, the Council of Unions wish to state categorically that if government does not respond positively to these protracted grievances within 14 days from the date of this letter, The Unions will have no other option than to proceed on strike.”
This is not the first time that the union will embark on strike for government’s failure to attend to the issues raised in their letter. For instance, in the first halve of year 2015, the unions had –for the same reasons – directed its members to down tools. However, due to government’s plea, the union met, negotiated with government and suspended the strike.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting between the Commissioner for Education, Elder Aniekan Akpan, with management and unions of Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua on Tuesday, 28th July, 2015, clear decisions were reached on the refund of 7.5% Contributory Pension; tenure for Principal Officers in the Polytechnic; 65 years retirement age; 2013 and 2014 promotions; deductions for the cooperative society; migration; and check-off dues. The resolutions were to be presented to the congress of the various unions with a view to suspending the strike embarked upon by the unions.
The Council of Unions in Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic honoured the resolutions reached. In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting of the Council of Unions in Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua, Ikot Ekpene, held on Thursday, 30th July, 2015, the resolutions reached with government were conveyed to congress of the different unions, with the Council of Unions stating in a communiqué, “Accordingly, Council of Unions resolved to suspend the ongoing strike embarked upon by the unions with effect from Monday, 3rd August, 2015.” However, they also concluded that, “…if at the end of the reasonable period given to government to implement the demands of the unions and government fails, the Council of Unions will call their members out for an indefinite strike action without any notice to government.”
Even when the Council of Unions kept their part of the bargain, government has failed to implement – in full – the seven points pointed out in the communiqué. As described by Comrade Emmanuel Ekpo, Chairman of SSANIP, Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, “government had been foot-dragging.” He added that, “government has been devising a lot of means to frustrate the implementation of these resolutions. He (Ekpo) drew attention to the particular case of the implementation of 65 years as retirement age, where the Head of Civil Service, Akwa Ibom State, Mrs Ekereobong M. Akpan, asked that unions should source for and present proof of the implementation of 65 years retirement age in other state owned tertiary institutions. “We had since submitted the proof, but the Head of Civil Service has not acted,” Ekpo added bitterly.
In a letter addressed to the Head of Civil Service, Akwa Ibom State, dated May 3, 2016, and captioned “Proof of the implementation of 65 years retirement age in other state owned tertiary institutions,” the Council of Unions had forwarded a compilation of circulars on the subject as issued by the Head of Civil Service of Plateau State; the Registrar, Kogi State College of Education, Ankpa; the Executive Secretary, National Board for Technical Education, in favour of Delta State Polytechnic; and the Executive Secretary, National Commission for Colleges of Education, in favour of College of Education, Afaha Nsit. “This letter was signed and received by office of the Head of Civil Service, Akwa Ibom State on May 6, 2016; till date, the Head of Civil Service has not responded to this letter,” Comrade Ekpo lamented.
Speaking with our reporter, a unionist, who pleaded strict anonymity, hinted that the Head of Civil Service is not in support of the implementation of the resolutions reached by government and the unions. “It is clear by her actions and comments that she wants to frustrate the whole effort that unions have made to work harmoniously with government; she wants to cause trouble for Governor Udom Emmanuel,” the unionist quipped.
The age retirement of staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education was fixed at 65 years by The Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education (Harmonization) Act, 2012. Although this act has been implemented in other states – owned institutions, it is yet to be implemented in Akwa Ibom State. This and other outstanding issues, if not quickly resolved, may lead to another brawl between government and labour.
At the time of going to press, efforts to get the Hon. Commissioner for Education comment on the looming labour crisis proved abortive as he did not pick calls sent to his mobile phone.