How Okorocha’s controversial work plan emerged


Imo State is in the news again and probably for what some concerned citizens and labour leaders called “the wrong reasons”. They have equally not failed to wonder why “obnoxious policies and equally vexatious labour practices should start from the state”. *Okorocha The latest government policy that is currently making the rounds, as well as attracting varying commentaries, is the three-day working week for civil and public servants in the state. HOW THE POLICY BECAME PUBLIC On Friday, July 29, 2016, Governor Rocha’s Okorocha invited journalists to his palatial estate along Spibat Road, Akwakuma, Owerri North local council area of the state, for a chat. Indeed, a fraction of this huge estate spills into Mbieri in Mbaitoli local government area. This is an issue for discussion in future. The apparently elated Governor, who called for the parley, following the favourable results that came from the previous day’s re-run elections, started by reviewing how his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, faired in the poll. The discussion gradually snowballed into who would eventually succeed him and how Senator Ifeanyi Araraume cannot succeed him. He hinged his reason on the fact that Araraume comes from almost the same village as Chief Ikedi Ohakim, who had ruled the state. The issue of the relocation of Ekeukwu Owerri Market, the massive demolition of people’s properties to make way for the expansion of Owerri roads, equally came into focus. The Governor brought up a few other things and thereafter, it was question time. Answering a question, Okorocha announced immediate reduction of the official work days from five to three days, for civil and public servants in the state. He also reasoned that the workers could “use the two extra days to engage in any private business enterprise of their choice, particularly farming, to generate and augment their personal income”. Okorocha then told his guests that he would present the proposal to the State Executive Council, stressing that he would go ahead and implement it if approved. “ Ndigbo are not predominantly civil and public servants, but aggressive pursuers of their destinies. It is as a result of this that Igboland has low poverty rate in the country”, Okorocha said. INFORMATION COMMISSIONER REACTS Addressing newsmen in his office Wednesday, August 3, 2016, the Commissioner for Information, Tourism and Public Utilities, Chief Vitalis Orikeze Ajumbe, not only said that the Governor tabled the new policy before the State Executive Council two days earlier, which was approved, but had gone ahead to scrap annual leave for workers. “Having given approval for the immediate implementation of the new work policy, the beneficiaries will no longer be entitled to annual leave, casual leave, sick leave and unnecessary absence from work, for all manner of reasons”, Ajumbe said. After rolling out the categories of workers that would benefit from the new work policy, the Commissioner however said that “nurses, doctors, teachers, journalists, broadcasters and other essential service workers would maintain the old work schedule. The Commissioner also assuaged the palpable concerns among workers that the new policy was another way of forcing in a salary cut through the back door. “I must make it very clear that the new policy will not in anyway, affect the take home pay of workers. Government is giving it’s word on this”, Ajumbe said. SPEAKER JOINS THE FRAY In a bid to join in the damage control, the Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, Chief Acho Ihim, recalled the assembly men last Thursday, August 4, 2016. They were presented with two major issues. They included the swearing in of the three successful APC members that were returned elected and the approval of the new work policy. While the Speaker announced that the legislators had “earlier approved the new work rule before proceeding on vacation, he also put the questions in less than three minutes and before any lawmaker could air his view on the matter, he hit the gavel and announced that “ the ayes have it”. NLC CALLS IT REPREHENSIBLE Meanwhile, the State Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Austin Chilakpu, has described the Governor’s proposal as “reprehensible, a slap on the Nigerian Constitution and the biggest joke of the year”. Chilakpu remarked that neither the Governor nor the state legislature has the power to alter the work days of public and civil servants. “The Governor must be told in clear terms that he would be subverting the Constitution of Nigeria, which he swore to uphold by reducing the work days in the state”, Chilakpu said. According to the labour leader, the international labour law prescribes that a worker must put in 40 hours per week, adding that this translates to eight hours per day. The Imo NLC boss further argued that “ holidays and annual leave were built in to enable workers take care of the needs the government is talking about. Debunking Okorocha’s claim that Imo pays the highest salary to civil servants in the country, Chilakpu said that workers receive minimum pay like their counterparts in other states of the federation. “There are states which pay higher than Imo State. It is most baffling why the Governor always like to borrow negative examples. The reduction of work days must be another way of justifying the inexplicable salary cut of workers”, Chilakpu said. IMO PEOPLE CONDEMNS IT Speaking on the issue, an Owerri biased legal practitioner, Dr. Sam Ejiogu, opined that the three-day work week was merely a policy of government to stem the growing criticism that has trailed Governor Okorocha on the heels of his unilateral decision to reduce civil service salaries as he wished. “It is therefore a fire brigade approach since no impact assessment was carried out to justify the issue. I doubt that the Governor has the right to do what he has done, in the light of all the available labour laws in the nation and the international arena”, Dr. Ejiogu said. In his own submission, the former Chairman of Owerri Municipal Council, Chief Chijioke D. B. Williams, reminded government that “anything pertaining to rules, condition of service and regulations, are established by law and civil service rule at a global level based on which salaries and other remunerations are mutually agreed on and established”. He then warned that any amendment, alterations to it therefore, requires a defined process to achieve, stressing that “if workers are going to work for three days out of five a week, in other words, 24 hours out of 40 hours a week, which is roughly half of the prescribed hours, is the Governor now saying that he will place them on half salary?” A colleague, Chinonso Alozie, thinks that the new policy has introduced a large dose of discrimination among Imo workers, pointing out that this cannot be what the government set out to achieve.