There are strong indications that the relationship between the Rivers State Government and organized labour may be headed for the cliff despite what may look like efforts to revive talks.
None of the sides to the brewing crisis, from the run of events, has agreed to yield an inch although the Port Harcourt Telegraph has authoritatively pick up information which suggests that overtures to restart negotiations may have been made.
It is still not clear how the encounter between both sides which flexed muscles last week would end, or whose will, given the contentious issues that are yet to be resolved would eventually prevail.
Nonetheless, the possibility of a face-off appears possible, according to information that is filtering in.
Government has already paid what it considers the new N30,000, but labour sources say the entire exercise which did not meet the expectations of Rivers workers was not transparent.
What is evident, based on our finding, lends credence to the fact that their were some additions here; some subtractions there; a situation workers say has left them more confused, especially without a proper payment chart that they can lay hands on.
Sources spoken to within labour circles wonder how government came by its calculations since there was no formal agreement with labour on the issue.
“They gave with one hand”, a worker who spoke under conditions of anonymity explained, “and took it back the same way through other deductions.”
Within civil service circles, there is a feeling that the implementation process of the N30,000 minimum wage by the Rivers government may have been skewed.
Although there were hints among workers that their representatives would issue a communique last week, labour only succeeded in reaching out to a handful of media organizations. Our Labour Correspondent has learnt that the action by government which lead to the take over of the labour house may have led to a change of strategy.
Finishing touches may have been put into efforts to kick-start talks between government and labour. Dakuku Peterside, Director General of NIMASA, last week urged both government and labour to return to the negotiation table in order to thrash out remaining differences, warning that the State economy may be hurt if talks breakdown.
This publication has learnt that unless something positive is arrived at through negotiations workers would likely take out their wrath on the Rivers State Government.
Labour officials accuse the Wike administration of frustrating the collection of check-off dues by the unions.
It has refrained from using mechanisms available to it that are within the framework of known conventions to collect the said check-off dues on behalf the workers’ unions.
This may be part of the strategies by government to break the resolve of labour. It may be proof that the government has moved from a persuasive posture to the adoption of a tit-for-tat approach in dealing with the workers’ challenge.
On their part, workers see the move as part of efforts by the Rivers State Government to de-legitimize the status of labour and enthrone a culture that might make unionism, especially the payment of check off dues, optional.
It is not the non payment of months of arrears accumulated through months of delay in the implementation of the new minimum wage that drives labour livid with rage.
Under the Wike administration, workers have not had the opportunity to attend workshops , seminars and other capacity building programmes.
They have not benefited from promotions and the payment of allowances, including payments of annual incremental salary steps.
Their place of work which is the Secretariat Complex is in shambles and Government is yet to restore power and electricity supply at the State Secretariat complex.
Worse still, is the poor sanitary condition which exists at the complex built by Alfred Diete-Spiff whose holdings in the Rivers State is the target of the incumbent Government.
Without a commissioner for Health, the absence of a substantive Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, workers fear that they may become victims of the lassa fever if utmost care is not taken. Three persons have reportedly died as a result of lassa fever. Their identities are not yet known and Government hasn’t said where the victims died.
Workers maintain that in order to face medical challenges, meet the needs of their families and be able to feed, there is no going back in their determination to take steps that would secure their entitlements from the government.
Analysts are keenly waiting to see what would happen this week. Will there be a breakthrough? Will Government move from its stand not to pay arrears? Will labour move away from its insistence that Government is owing Rivers workers 10 months in terms of arrears on the implementation of the new minimum wage?
Despite the arm-twisting that is going on, there is no clear indication that deliberations between government and workers have broken down.
The trouble is that Rivers workers do not appear to understand why Governor Wike is dragging his feet on the issue.
They point to what they see as the humane attitude of governments that may be less endowed with funds and insist Wike cannot continue to operate as if there are no other interests in the State except his.
As whispers of a possible roundtable conversation makes the rounds in some privileged circles, the Rivers State Government is for now sticking to its gun. It is not apparently prepared, from the look of its body language, to put more money in the pockets of Rivers workers.
Labour on the other hand insists they are the ones who create the wealth and so, should benefit from the proceeds.
In the meantime, time is running out. Arbitrators hope there would be a breakthrough. The patience of workers is gradually wearing thin, from information that is reaching our news desk.
Soon there may be chants of solidarity for ever. When that happens, Rivers State would enter a new phase in the struggle between workers and their government.
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