Going down memory lane, May 1 of every year is an important day set aside to commemorate the Chicago incident of May 4, 1886. That was the horrible day law enforcement agents attempted to violently put down a protest by workers demanding for an eight-hour working day which led to a rowdy situation during which a bomb was hauled at the police. Eight people lost their lives with many injured at the Haymarket Park venue of the rally. Seven radical Labour activists were later sentenced to death with four executed, one committed suicide and the rest served various terms in prison. It was in commemoration of this very ugly incident that international Labour movement set aside this day to celebrate workers worldwide.
In many parts of the world, industrial relations is still far from being cordial as workers still experience one form of injustice or another. You will agree with me, however, that workers have since gone past the Industrial Revolution era characterisation as providers of labour who rely on their brawn in the enterprise equation. Today, the concept that everybody is trying to adapt to is the worker as ‘stakeholder and joint owner’ in any enterprise or organisation.
Indeed, that is what it should be. Without workers, there can be no government. While it is possible in an efficient and well primed system for the government to function without the political functionaries, it is inconceivable that any government can function without workers. You will recall that for more than two years, due to dire financial constraints, I could not form my cabinet, but the government ran smoothly, because the civil service was capable and efficient. Indeed, workers are the greatest asset of any people. Incontrovertible is the fact that workers are the most viable instrument for ensuring a successful execution of government’s policies and programmes on security, education, environment, health, transport, agriculture, and employment generation, among many others. For this and many more, we appreciate our workers.
I will, therefore, like to thank all the workers in Osun for their support, steadfastness, sacrifice and unwavering loyalty these past seven years. The workers have been our cutting edge instrument of governance and service delivery. Our infrastructure and human development programmes have been hugely successful because of the workers through their sacrifice, endurance and commitment. I implore you also to extend the same courtesy to our successor. The saying is apt here that government goes and comes but the civil service remains. The only permanent government structure is the civil service that enjoys a permanent tenure. I urge you, therefore, to support the government, but more importantly, be committed to the principles of anonymity, impartiality and patriotism. Let honesty, dedication and commitment to the objectives of governance be your watchword. You are civil servants which means your duty is to serve the people.
As we all know, the tragedy of financial tsunami that befell our nation hampered us from doing as much as we would have loved for our workers. We, however, did our best, as the situation will permit. As you are all aware, we have committed more than 80 per cent of the resources of the state to paying salaries, pensions, gratuities and other emoluments of workers. When we came, the monthly wage bill in the state was N1.3billion, but by the time we embarked on modulated salaries, it had risen to N3.6 billion, largely on account of the doubling of minimum wage from N9,000 to N18,000. Monthly pension payment also increased from N250 million to N500 million. Quite paradoxically, our monthly revenue fell from the peak of N5 billion to less than N1 billion and even negative allocation in some months.
But we have exerted ourselves to satisfy workers and ensure every worker gets something at the end of the month. This informed our painful decision to pay modulated salaries to the top echelon of the civil service and political appointees. Nevertheless, we have recorded many milestones this year. First, we commissioned the ultra modern, newly constructed road from Orita Olaiya to Ita Olokan and named it Workers Drive to honour, appreciate and celebrate our hard working workers.
Our administration has also lifted the cap on career progression for all workers in the state, especially teachers, who now have opportunity to rise to the apex of service. Consequently, we have appointed nine teachers as Headmasters General to oversee the Elementary and Middle Schools in each of the nine Federal Constituencies in the state, just as we appointed three Tutors General to superintend the High Schools in the three Senatorial Districts in Osun.
We have also commissioned a lake resort at the Osogbo secretariat, named after Mrs Oluwakemi Olufunke Kolawole, who was slain last year on her way to Abuja. This is to immortalise her and honour her good memory as a dutiful, dedicated, efficient and loyal public servant. The brakes have now been lifted from promotion and career progression as we speak. Workers will now be confirmed, converted, promoted and moved to the next level as and when due. We have also made huge sums available to pay the gratuities of workers, including those on contributory pension scheme, many of whom have since obtained their bond certificate. The agitation has been rife to increase the minimum wage of workers and negotiation is ongoing in determining what should be the benchmark. I support the demand of workers for good condition of service and improvement in their living condition. However, the solution lies in improved productivity and wealth creation, not just in asking for and getting any amount we want, using the power of collective bargaining and industrial action.
The only way we can sustain the government, pay workers and satisfy the larger population is by being productive. Each person must have a surplus from his or her productive effort over consumption. Part of this surplus must go to the government as taxes, levies and rates. The entire workforce of the government must be run as a successful business enterprise in which income is more than expenditure.
No amount should be considered too much to pay if the system can generate it. If we are making enough money to pay workers N100,000 minimum wage, so be it. But we must first be in a position to make the money and have more income than expenditure. This requires that we ask for a realistic amount that our current effort can sustain and then strive to generate the money before we can spend it.
What we have been doing in the past is to spend money we did not earn. We receive money from Abuja every month that we don’t know where it comes from. We spend money because it is available, not because we have the capacity to work for it. Nowhere is this ever done without dire consequences.
Remarks of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Osun Governor, at the 2018 Workers Day in Osogbo.