By Mustapha Suleiman
The organized labour comprising of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, the Trade Union Congress, TUC, and the United Labour Congress, ULC, have threatened to shut down the economy on January 23, if President Muhammadu Buhari fails to transmit to the National Assembly an executive bill for the enactment of N30, 000 as the new National Minimum Wage.
Labour argued that the tripartite process leading to the agreement by the social partners on the new national minimum wage was thorough with all participants- labour, government and employers of labour having input, hence the President has no reason whatsoever not to transmit the N30,000 to the legislative arms for legislation.
Labour said in the course of deliberations over the new minimum wage, it initially demanded for N56,000 as the new minimum wage, then backed down to N30,000.
The NLC president Ayuba Wabba accused the government of dilly-dallying on the issue, which he said had strained government -labour relations and warned it could trigger a major national strike.
Towards nipping in the bud the threat of national industrial action by labour, the Federal government agreed on Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to transmit the new national minimum wage bill to the national assembly on or before January 23rd.
Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige assured labour leaders that the federal government will try to implement religiously all the processes to transmit the bill within the stipulated time.
He said, “We have a target time of January 23, 2019 and we hope that all things being equal, the executive will be able to do so. We will take on the statutory meetings of Federal Executive Council (FEC), National Economic Council (NEC), and the Council of States to enable us transmits the bill on the new national minimum wage.”
The minister commended the leadership of the organized labour for their cooperation and understanding and appealed to them to shelve their threats of protests and strike in line with the signed MoU.
NLC President Ayuba Wabba commended the minister for his conciliatory role which led to the signing of the MoU, which he said involved a lot of sacrifices and understanding from both sides.
Wabba said, “We are committed to the process and we hope that this timeline will be respected and we will put this across to our organs to be able to conform to all the details of the Memorandum of Understanding.”
The NLC President said further that the congress agreed with the timeline with the understanding that the National Assembly will be back from their recess on the 16th, saying ” we said on or before 23rd the bill, all things being equal, must be transmitted to the national assembly and we hope from there because we know also that the national assembly are desirous of making sure that workers have a decent wage and they will also be able to do the needful.
Sequel to the signing of the MoU, President Muhammadu Buhari, Wednesday, inaugurated the Bismarck Rewane-led Technical Advisory Committee on the implementation of a new National Minimum Wage.
The President said the committee would recommend “modalities for the implementation of the new minimum wage in such a manner as to minimise its inflationary impact, as well as ensure that its introduction does not lead to job losses.”
“The work of this technical committee will be the basis of a Finance Bill which will be submitted to the National Assembly, alongside the Minimum Wage Bill,” he added.
In a prompt reaction to the committee’s inauguration, President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba said that the newly inaugurated Federal Government’s Advisory Committee on new minimum wage has no bearing on the agreement reached on the minimum wage with the organized labour.
Wabba also said that the advisory committee would not in any way affect the timeline of Jan. 23 agreement reached between organised labour and the Federal Government on the transmission of Minimum Wage Bill to the National Assembly.
The NLC president said the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige had earlier informed labour that the committee is an internal process of the Federal Government.
He said, “I think it is their own way of facilitating and mobilising their own resources for the implementation and also making sure that nothing is left undone and we do not have any problem with that, initially we were thinking it is a committee that will renegotiate the new national minimum wage, but they said no, it is an internal process of government. Government has the right to set up any committee and we are not even members of that committee.”
From labour perspective, the bone of contention now is for Mr President to transmit the agreed N30,000 to the National Assembly, but whether the National Assembly will vote in its favor or not is not a serious concern to the organized labour.
But, Wabba, often referred to No 1 Labour man assured that the passage of the bill by the legislative arm will be a mere walk -over.
Also at the centre of the storm are the state governors who have repeatedly, through their umbrella body, Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), said they could not afford to pay the N30,000 being demanded by labour due to paucity of funds. State governors are insisting that they should be allowed to set their own minimum wage, as many of the states are hardly able to pay the subsisting one.
However, labour had remained unperturbed by the state governors’ claim of financial constraint in paying the N30,000 as minimum wage to state workers.
The trio of NLC President, Ayuba Wabba; the TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama; and ULC President, Joe Ajaero, had blamed the state governors of squandering the state resources on frivolities at the detriment of paying states workers decent salary.
They said the essence of national minimum wage is to protect the right of the worker to earn a decent standard of living and also a means of promoting fair distribution of income and wealth.
Labour said it would mobilize workers across the country to vote out all the state governors who kicked against the national minimum wage of N30,000.
To mount pressure on the governments to dance to its tune, NLC declared a nationwide strike in September over the stalled process of providing a new national minimum wage, but the strike was hurriedly suspended after a few days because an agreement was reached to resume negotiations by reconvening the tripartite committee set up to find a lasting solution to the problem.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government could not get the nod of state governors to present a proposal for an acceptable minimum wage to the committee.
However, the state governors in its efforts to prevent the workers from embarking on strike had threatened to enforce the ‘no work, no pay’ policy.
The policy labour claimed was mis- interpreted by governments to caged workers from exercising their rights to decent wages.
Speaking on the labour insistence on N30,000 minimum wage, Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige said that the federal government is being mindful of states and private sector employers who might not be able to meet up with the payment, which by extension could lead to job cut.
He said job loss at this critical time should be avoided as the implication could be worse than the clamour for the new minimum wage.
Experts are of the opinion that Nigeria blessed with natural resources, with adequate planning and fiscal discipline could pay its workers decent wages, create jobs and be among leading industrial giants.
As labour renewed its threat to mobilize workers nationwide “for a prolonged national strike and enforce their right,” the federal government should do the needful to save the country the huge financial loss that often accompany such an economy shut down.
In what sounds like a last warning over the minimum wage impasse, Wabba warned that if by January 23rd, nothing is done about the transmission of the minimum wage bill to the National Assembly; labour would not look back in embarking on a nationwide strike without any prior notification.