Lagos, like many cosmopolitan cities in the world, has always been facing a myriad of challenges and the sources of these challenges are multidimensional: the challenge of coping with the ever-increasing population as a consequence of urban migration, environmental and health issues, traffic management, security, et cetera. These challenges call for solutions and require cooperation on a scale that is unprecedented.
It is for this reason that the Administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu conceived the development agenda, described by the acronym ‘THEMES’ which comprises six pillars (Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and the Environment, Education and Technology, Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy, Entertainment and Tourism and Security and Governance.
In this regard, one of the fundamental strategies identified by the government for the actualization of these development agendas is the creation of industrial peace and harmony. While industrial peace is a cross-cutting factor that entails the absence of violence making it easier for businesses to sell, entrepreneurs and individuals to produce and governments to effectively regulate, it was recognized that without it, it will not be possible to overcome the identified challenges, let alone empower the institutions and organisations necessary to address them. It is, therefore, no wonder that the government considered it expedient and desirable to establish a cordial government-labour relation knowing full well that the responsibility rests squarely with it.
Hardly would anyone dispute that Lagos State has witnessed and enjoyed relative peace since the Administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu given the escalating and occasionally terrifying scale of insecurity in some other States of the federation. The general peace and in particular industrial harmony being experienced can be attributed two factors: the maturity and experience of the Governor (who have had the privilege of managing labour portfolio during the Administration of Babatunde Fashola as the Honourable Commissioner in charge of the Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions) on one hand and the cooperation and understanding of the labour unions leaders, on the other.
One effective way of bridging the gap between government and Labour unions is through constant engagement and interactive events. Within this sphere, grievances and complaints can quickly be addressed and policies would benefit from such engagements. This, it is believed, led to the appointment of a Special Assistant to take charge of Labour Matters. Therefore, the culture of engagement that marked the relationship between labour and government explains the industrial harmony witnessed in the State. This milieu has consequently allowed the government to initiate and implement programmes and policies that have immediate and long-lasting tangible values on the workers and the good people of Lagos State.
One specific area in which the State Government has demonstrated sincerity, which gladdens the heart of labour leaders, is implementing most of the workers’ welfare demands with a pledge to fulfil those that are yet to be redeemed. The Governor believes that a productive workforce remained the backbone of a prosperous society and that Lagos workers are important stakeholders in the growth of the State’s economy and they deserve more than just an increment in the minimum wage. This is what prompted the Administration to initiate welfare programmes that are specifically targeted at improving workers’ welfare and helping them to stabilise their livelihoods, especially following the economic disruption occasioned by the spread of COVID-19 in the State.
The outbreak of the pandemic made it inevitable for the government to ask most civil servants to stay at home and work from there. It is a thing of commendation on the part of the State Government that no worker was laid off and there was neither delay nor cut in the salaries of state workers despite the economic recession that accompanied the pandemic and which led to the downward review of the State’s 2020 Budget. The State Government strengthened its social safety net to prevent a widespread loss of jobs, which would have resulted in the reversal of progress made in poverty reduction.
In the same direction, conscious efforts were made by Sanwo-Olu’s administration to meet the pension obligations and reduce outstanding payments, while at the same time expanding programmes geared towards providing social safety nets to the aged and retired Public Officers. The State Government increased allowance paid to pensioners and have consistently ensured that pensioners get their pension at the same time State workers get their monthly salaries.
By no stretch of the imagination, the Sanwo-Olu’s Administration has demonstrated a tremendous amount of labour friendliness given the plethora of incentives granted to workers. For the record, the Governor:
- Approved 10 hectares of land for the State Chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) for the purpose of a housing scheme for workers;
- Offered to build a befitting headquarters for the unions in the next 12 months, with official cars for its leadership;
- Appointed a representative of labour union on the Board of the Pension Commission with a promise of extending similar courtesy to other labour-centric statutory bodies;
- Cleared the backlog of pensioners’ benefits and did not owe any retiree their monthly allowance;
- Paid the statutory uniform allowances for medical workers which was lumped into their salaries;
- Promised to support labour unions in Lagos with buses for Labour City Transport to assist in the movement of workers;
- Increased the allowance paid to Pensioners;
- Granted full autonomy to Judiciary.
The recent Doctors’ strike presented a sow point in the management of labour in the State given the Governor’s commitment to workers’ welfare. The strike understandably would have been avoided if it were limited to Lagos State. The State Doctors were acting under directive from the umbrella body and could not disregard or act unilaterally without recourse to it. Even in spite of its national dimension, the State Government was able to address the entire issues that relate to Doctors’ welfare even including the grievances which led to the strike in the first place. In this connection, the Governor:
- Approved sponsorship of Resident Doctors in the state (100 per cent of the fund) and full implementation of the state’s support of both the exams and update courses that lead to qualification as specialists in various fields of medicine;
- Approved recruitment of over 150 new resident doctors and medical officers to reduce the human resource deficit in the public service of the state;
- Approved the commencement of the building of the medical residents’ quarters at LASUTH, as well as other medical staff quarters across the state;
- Approved the final tranche of 25 per cent difference between the remuneration packages of the state and federal doctors in the public service to complete the harmonisation.
At a broader level, the State Government has the distinction of introducing the Learning Management System which is an online platform for training of Civil Servants to improve competencies and efficiency in the Public Service. It is the first of its kind in the annals of Public Service training in Nigeria. In point of fact, workers are exposed to regular online and physical training, seminars and various webinar series more than ever before. It is convenient to say that about 50,000 Civil Servants would have had one form of training or another by the turn of the year. It is unparalleled.
In one of his public statements concerning labour matters, the Governor assured that his administration would proactively manage and adapt resources to further make life better for all workers and people of Lagos state. He said that the task ahead is to secure the common resilience and protect the welfare of workers through continuous investment in the labour force, adequate compensation for work and consistent empowerment of Lagosians. He added that as responsible decision-makers, his Administration has respected and faithfully upheld the guidelines of the International Labour Organization on preserving the livelihood of workers, during the pandemic, by enacting human-centred policies to keep people at work and empowered.
What more assurance does one expect from a Governor who has demonstrated and acted his words as it concerns the development agenda of his administration particularly regarding workers welfare. The onus lies on workers as represented by labour unions to continue to encourage the State Government by discharging their responsibilities honourably for the good of the entire State.
This echoes the appreciation expressed recently by the Chairmen of Trade Union Congress and Nigerian Labour Congress, Lagos State chapter, Comrades Gbenga Ekundayo and Funmi Sessi who, at different occasions, extolled the Governor’s leadership qualities and commended him for his commitment to workers welfare since he assumed office especially in areas of prompt payment of salary, allowances and timely remittance of workers’ pensions, describing him as one of the most labour-friendly Governors.