You cannot force workers into farming, Labour tells governors

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Labour leaders and other stakeholders have condemned the move by Imo, Benue and Sokoto to reduce the working hours and days in the states.

They said, in separate interviews, that the development was illegal, unconstitutional and a fundamental breach of the International Labour Organisation Convention.

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue had directed civil servants to use Fridays for farming, while Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo pushed for a law that provides for three days for work and two days for farming.

The Nigeria Labour Congress President, Ayuba Wabba, said that “the policy is against all know labour laws and international treaties of the International Labour Organisation.

He said, “It is something that we have already rejected and condemned, you cannot force people to go into farming.

“Even, if you will to do that, it must be through a process of consultation because these workers are not slaves.

“In industrial relations, the issue of consultation, collective bargaining is used before a policy is actually adopted and in this respect there was no consultation.”

He said that the new public work policy of Imo government was in conflict with the National Labour Law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Wabba said that national law stipulated eight hours for work per day and 40 hours of work per week which was in accordance with the ILO standard.

He said that the governor was known for non-payment of salaries to workers and that this might be strategy in the long run to cut down payment.

He said, “Workers in that state are working under very serious conditions that are inhuman and therefore certainly, it is going to affect productivity.”

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He warned that any state government that tried to enforce workers to act against the ILO convention or labour law of the country would be resisted.

Mr Austin Chilakpo, the Nigeria Labour Congress council Chairman in Imo, decried the governor’s directive, adding that before the bill was passed by the House, the union had rejected it.

Also, the Chairman,Medical and Health Workers Union in Imo, Mr Francis Nzewata, condemned the arrangement, describing it as impunity.

A retired permanent secretary in the state Ministry of Economic Planning, Mr Ethelbert Ejiofor, also criticised the reduction of work days.

Similarly, Chief Stanley Ugama, a former Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, noted that the decision was against the workers’ interest.

“No governor has the right to reduce working hours because labour laws and practices are universal and not confined to a particular area or setting.”

In his reaction, Prof. Chubah Ezeh of Anambra State University, said in Awka that the move by Okorocha to reduce work days of civil servants was unconstitutional and “military in nature’’.

Ezeh, a professor of Political Economy, noted that working hours and days was a constitutional matter which could not be changed without altering the constitution of the country.

“I do not see any sense in such pronouncement or where he manufactured such an unconstitutional idea, which sounds authoritarian or military in nature.

Also commenting, the President of Ndi-Igbo Unity Forum, Mr Augustine Chukwudum, advised Okorocha not to tamper with Imo workers’ salaries.

“If he cannot be creative to use the vast resources in the state to create wealth and pay his workers; let him resign honourably,’’ Chukwudum said.

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