The stage is now set for a total shutdown of the Nigerian economy as the nation’s Organised Labour last week vowed to commence a nationwide strike November 6, to press home a demand for a new national minimum wage for workers.
The agitated workers union, arrived at that decision after it became obvious that the federal government has dumped the N30,000 monthly pay for workers adopted by the minimum wage committee which wound down its activities on October 5, 2018.
For Labour that had earlier recorded a partial success with a week long warning strike, on September 27, 2018, there was no clearer indication of government’s unwillingness to grant Nigerian workers a living wage, than the brickbats so far displayed by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, hence the decision to commence mobilisation across the country for a full blown industrial action.
The three labour centres championing the crusade told anyone who cared to know that the current N18000 minimum wage expired in 2015, and all efforts to push through a review has remained an Herculean task with the federal government not showing any willingness or commitment towards giving the workers a living wage despite their economic challenges.
To justify their demand for wage raise, Nigeria’s organised Labour pointed at the high level of inflation that had eaten up whatever was granted them in 2010. This was in addition to the collective bargaining statute that recognised the need to review wages every five years.
Indeed before the Federal Government eventually inaugurated the National Minimum Wage Committee in November 2017, it took several threats by the Organised Labour and even after the inauguration, the committee did not commence work until March 2018.
Doubting the sincerity of the government in continuing the negotiation, the leadership of the three labour centres, including the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the President of United Labour Congress (ULC), Comrade Joe Ajaero and President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobboi Bala Kaigama, came together for the first time on September 12, 2018 in Lagos, and issued a 14 day ultimatum to the government to conclude the negotiation on the matter or face the consequences.
At the last sitting of the Committee, members were reported to have agreed on N30,000 as a workable figure to be presented to President Muhammad Buhari.
According to the members of the Organised Private Sector in the committee, the report ought to have been submitted to President Buhari within the last two weeks.
Our investigation has revealed that the committee arrived at N30,000 after so much arguments and face off between the representatives of the Organised Labour and government, with the latter believed to have come up with N24,000, which the workers representatives bluntly rejected.
An insider privy to developments within the negotiating team, had noted that this may be because Government wanted to be in agreement with the Organised Private Sector which had proposed N25,000, but Labour refused and insisted it was unacceptable.
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba said Labour which had submitted N66,500 at the last meeting moved down to N38,000 and agreed to N30,000 when the members of the OPS as an arbiter so recommended.
He stated, “The Organised Labour were not particularly happy with it, but it is negotiation and believed that it was not too bad, it is a figure that we can work with.
Meanwhile, the Presidency last week urged the workers to forget the agitation for salary raise as it does not have the resources to guarantee its implementation across states .Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, who voiced government’s concern about sustainability of its implementation across the states, noted government was not buoyant enough to pay N30,000 as minimum wage.
Speaking during a Channels TV programme on Thursday, Adesina said even if public office holders sacrifice their entire pay, that will not still make such minimum wage achievable.
He said even some governors are unable to pay the N18,000, not to talk of N30,000.
“So if they can’t pay N18,000 and labour is asking for N30,000 and they refuse to come lower, there may be a stalemate which will not be good for the country,” he said.
“I think in the spirit of negotiation, labour should not insist on N30,000.”
Asked if the political class “especially members of the All Progressives Congress (APC)” agreeing to reduce their salaries will not make the new minimum wage demand possible, the presidential spokesman replied: “I doubt.”
“Even if they decide not to collect anything, it still doesn’t take care of N30,000 minimum wage; it doesn’t.
“Maybe if the members of the National Assembly concede part of their salaries and allowances, it can make a dent on minimum wage. But other office holders dont earn anything outrageous.”
Warning that it would not guarantee industrial peace any longer if Federal Government continues to play double standard on the new minimum wage, labour tasked the Organised Private Sector (OPS) as represented in the Tripartite Committee to speak up on disputed matter.
In a statement jointly signed by the leadership of the three labour centres, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama and the President of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, said the OPS keeping silent in the face of what they considered apparent mischief does the nation no good.
It stated further, “It is not true that we proposed N30,000 as the new national minimum wage. It is also not true that the committee did not agree on a figure during its last sitting. We accepted N30,000 as a compromise to demonstrate the willingness of Nigerian workers to make sacrifices towards nation building. Anything to the contrary no matter the quantum and character of the din or how well couched it may appear cannot be true.
“As far as Nigerian workers are concerned and as represented by us, we shall no longer negotiate on a figure for the new minimum wage having reached an agreement on this during the last sitting of the tripartite committee.”
Labour wondered how a nation where governments owe its workforce several months in arrears of unpaid salaries has not sought ways to pay its outstanding wages but rather seeking ways to gag same workers from protesting this crime against them and their families through the promulgation of ‘’No Pay, No Work’ policy, noting that it is akin to ‘’beating a child and denying him the right to cry.’’
“Has the Government considered criminalizing non-payment of workers; salaries? Has it considered paying arrears of salaries with interests? Of course, it has not! They are only interested in “No Work, No Pay” Seekiing ways to constantly gag and put workers in a strait jacket has always been their pastime”, it added.
However as a prelude to the resumption of the strike on November 6, the three labour centres said it shall organise a day of National outrage and mourning on Tuesday, the 30th day of October, 2018 in all states of the federation including Abuja.
The event it noted will be used to sensitise Nigerians on the plight of the workers and on the issues at stake.
For their part, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) last week joined the fray on minimum wage as they demanded for N30,000 as monthly National Minimum Pension for pensioners, they equally issued a threat notice on a pending matter.
The NUP president, Dr Abel Afolayan, at a briefing said that pensioners’ demand had become imperatives because the last pension review was done in July 2010, while a new review was due in July 2015.
Afolayan lamented that some pensioners were still earning as little as N4,000 as monthly pension.
The Union therefore issued a 21-day ultimatum to the federal government to pay the balance of the 12 months arrears of the 33per cent pension increase of 2010 or face picketing of its offices.
At a recent meeting with the new Director General (DG) designate of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) Mr. Timothy Olawale and his predecessor, Mr. Olusegun Oshinowo, the Minister had appealed to NECA to weigh its influence on Organised Labour to accede to the new National Minimum Wage figure mutually agreeable to all the social partners.
“We need to arrive at a figure which the employers can afford to pay as an employee cannot fix a figure for the employer. Rather, it must be based on collective bargaining and mutual agreement by the tripartite partners. It is not a function of moving motions or voting at the National Tripartite Negotiation committee to insist that the figure must be as the Organized Labour appears to make it look,” Ngige said.
Bearing in mind the economic implications of the proposed strike, Nigerians are however of divergent views on the approach Labour should explore to realise its objective. While some urged government to fulfill labour’s demands of N30,000 based on the general poverty in the country, others advised both the government and the Organised Labour to meet midway to avoid the catastrophic effect of a total strike on the economy from November 6.
Mr. Frank Odeh, Human Resource Director at Cybele Cosmetics, said workers could go on strike if that is the only language the Federal Government would understand to answer labour on the new minimum wage.
He lamented that there is a wide gap between the elected officials and workers, even though some of them are less qualified.
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He said, “If what the National Assembly members are earning is compared to what the workers are demanding, it is quite outrageous. Even when we compare the minimum wage elsewhere, Nigeria is almost the lowest and that is why we have so much poverty in the country. People are really suffering. The minimum wage review is overdue.
“The state governors also are being economical with the truth as there is no state government that cannot pay the N30,000, if they can cut down on all their frivolous spending.”
Odeh reasoned that Nigerians should not judge payment of the new wage on the fact that prices of commodity would increase.
He stated that rather the new wage would bring succour to the economy as it would increase the purchasing power of the workers as well as encourage manufacturers to increase productivity.
“Government has not been sincere with us. The Minister of Labour and Employment has been playing with workers intelligence, otherwise how could you agree on something only to renege and tell Nigerians a different thing”, he said.
For her part, Mrs Bolanle Olakanle, a school proprietor and a business woman however called for restraint on the part of the two contending parties.
Pleading that both Labour and government should dialogue, she warned that the strike would impact negatively on all areas of the economy.
She said, “Even for us operating private school, the strike is going to affect us indirectly as parents may not be able to pay school fees. Definitely all the sectors of the economy would be shut down.
“The Federal Government should look at the plight of the workers, I don’t believe their demand is out of place. On the other hand, Labour should also try to meet government proposal midway because a strike at this period may cost many workers to lose their jobs. Already we have a lot of youths looking for jobs and adding to the number of the unemployment is not in the best interest of the economy.”
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