By Akanimo Sampson
Labour has sparked off a potential row on the troubling national minimum wage of N30, 000 a month as the Federal Government moves to renegotiate the pay of workers earning more than N30,000. The re-election seeking President Muhammadu Buhari has already said that workers will have their pay renegotiated.
The Cross River State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is pushing for a pay structure for all political functionaries in the country based on the N30, 000 minimum wage regime. NLC Chairman in the state, John Ushie, who made this public in Calabar, the state capital, during their protest march said the organized labour has run out of patience and that it is only a ‘’delay tactic’’ on the path of governments at all levels to go into election proper.
According to him, ‘’the minimum wage is long overdue since 2015. But you will agree with me and other Nigerian workers that we have run out of patience. Some of the workers even accuse the leaders of the union of being compromised. They say that because 3years ago, this minimum wage was long overdue. But the Government continues to play on the intelligence of Nigerian workers.
‘’We are here to protest to obtain a commitment from our state governor for the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage, when it is enacted into law. We are also here to send a message to Mr. President to immediately transmit the minimum wage bill to the National Assembly for immediate passage into law, so that the money can get to Nigeria worker’s pocket.
‘’All workers, including politicians and political office holders be placed on thirty thousand naira minimum wage. This is done then they will have enough money to build infrastructure, power, water facilities and other essential social amenities.’’
Some of their placards and banners however, reads: Stop Delay Tactics, Minimum Wage Three Years Overdue, Our Minimum Wage Or No Election, Let Politicians Be Placed On Minimum Wage, Transmit Minimum Wage To The National Assembly Now, Governors’ Forum Is Not Constitutional, Government Should Emulate the Organised Private Sector, Labour Rejects Any High-Power Technical Committee On Minimum Wage, N30,000 Minimum Wage Now Or Never, and Negotiation On Minimum Wage Is Over, Now Is Implementation.
A representative of the NLC President, Boniface Isok, commended the efforts of the protesting workers, for the patience and maturity they have so far displayed, pointing out that labour will not hesitate to show them (government) what they can do if anyone tries to disrupt the protest, or feels that he or she is wiser.
In the mean time, it seems the new pay will not be for all cadres of workers. President Buhari had said it was important to prepare the minds of those to be affected that a windfall is not on the way so as not to be caught unawares.
The government will begin talks with the workers after the new minimum wage Bill must have been passed into a law. Buhari spoke at the inauguration of the Technical Advisory Committee on the Implementation of a New National Minimum Wage.
The development came barely 24 hours after the government and labour agreed that a New National Minimum Wage Bill will be sent to the National Assembly on or before January 23. Unions are demanding N30, 000 for the least paid worker. But governors are willing to pay N22, 500 and Abuja is offering N24, 000.
Buhari had named Bismarck Rewane as head of the panel, which he inaugurated at the Council Chamber, State House, Abuja, before the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) began on Wednesday. Mermbers of the committee have been drawn from the public and the private sector.
It has a month to complete its work and summit its report and recommendations. The members are: Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) Chairman Babatunde Fowler, ex-FIRS boss Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, Dr Ayo Teriba and Prof. Akpan Ekpo.
Others include: Budget Office Director-General Ben Akabueze, who is the secretary of the committee, representative of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF); National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission Chairman Richard Egbule; Permanent Secretary, Service Welfare Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Didi Walson-Jack; Permanent Secretary, General Service Office, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Olusegun Adekunle; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Dr. Mahmoud Isa-Dutse; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Olajide Odewale; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, and Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata.
Equally on the panel are: Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters, Office of the Vice President, Dr. Adeyemi Dipeolu; Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Economic Policy, Dr. Joseph Nnanna; Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris; Director-General, Debt Management Officer, Ms. Patience Oniaga; Director-General, National Institute of Social and Economic Research, Dr. Folarin Gbadebo-Smith; Statistician-General, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Dr. Yemi Kale; Mrs. Aisha Hamad, Mamman Garba and Tunde Lawal.
Pointing out that the last time Nigeria’s national minimum wage was reviewed was in 2011, Buhari said that it was evident that a review was necessary, despite the prevailing fiscal challenges.’’This is why I constituted the Tripartite Committee of government (federal and states), the Organised Private Sector (OPS) and Labour to consider the national minimum wage and make recommendations to the government for its upward review.
‘’That committee has since submitted its report with some recommendations. We are currently working on the final steps that will lead to the submission of a National Minimum Wage Amendment Bill to the National Assembly. I want to make it clear that there is no question about whether the National Minimum Wage will be reviewed upwards. I am committed to a review of the Minimum Wage.
‘’Also, it is important to explain that even though the subject of a national minimum wage is in the exclusive legislative list, we have been meeting with the state governors because it is imperative that the Federal Government carries the state governments along in determining any upward review of the minimum wage for workers.
‘’This is especially necessary considering the prevailing public sector revenue challenges, which have made it extremely difficult for some of the governments to pay workers as and when due. As you know, we, at the federal level, have made adequate provision for the increase in the minimum wage in our Budget 2019 proposals which we submitted to the National Assembly.
‘’Therefore, we will be able to meet the additional costs that will be incurred in moving up all personnel who are currently earning below the new minimum wage. However, we anticipate that after the new minimum wage has been passed into law, we will be going into negotiations for salary review for all the workers who are already earning above the new minimum wage. It is therefore important that we are properly prepared to meet these demands.
‘’We must therefore look at ways of implementing these consequential wage adjustments in a manner that does not have adverse effects on our national development plans, as laid out in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). The ERGP sets appropriate targets for levels of capital expenditure, public debt, inflation and employment among others.
“It is absolutely important that the implementation of a new minimum wage does not adversely affect these targets, and thereby erode the envisaged gains for the workers. It is against this background that I have set up a Technical Committee to advise the government on how best to fund, in a sustained manner, the additional costs that will arise from the implementation of the consequential increases in salaries and allowances for workers currently earning above the new minimum wage’’, Buhari said.
Continuing, he added that the committee will be chaired by an economist and financial expert, Rewane, with other experienced economists and administrators from the private sector working with government officials.
The committee is to advise the government on how to successfully bring about a smooth implementation of impending wage increases and identify new revenue sources, and areas of existing expenditure from where some savings could be made in order to fund the wage increases without adversely impacting the nation’s development goals as set out in the ERGP.
It is also to “propose a work plan and modalities for the implementation of the salary increases, any other suggestions that will assist in the implementation of this, and future wage increases. Given the urgency of this exercise, the Committee is expected to complete its deliberations and submit its report and recommendations within one month today. It is now my pleasure to formally inaugurate the Technical Advisory Committee on the Implementation of an Increase in the National Minimum Wage.’’
During the budget proposal presentation, Buhari had promised a new minimum wage which, he said, will help maintain jobs for the teeming unemployed.
However, NLC President Ayuba Wabba has explained why labour is not involved in the panel, pointing out that the technical committee ‘’is purely an internal arrangement of the Federal Government.’’
Wabba said Labour & Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, has already assured labour that the committee was an in-house affair of the government and has nothing to do with labour, adding, ‘’government promised labour to put in place processes of mobilising resources. Labour had thought that the committee will renegotiate the minimum wage, but we’re assured that it has nothing to do with that.’’
For the General Secretary of the National Union of Textiles, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Issa Aremu, the committee should facilitate the full implementation of the negotiated N30,000 and not in any way undermine the implementation of the new minimum wage.
Aremu, a NEC member of NLC and labour representative on the National Income and Wages Commission, said the technical committee was mandated to anticipate the implications of the new minimum wage increase for the upward “salary review for all the workers who are already earning above the new minimum wage”, it was commendable. President Buhari reaffirmed commitment to the new minimum wage with the discussion with organised labour to send the Executive Bill to that effect before January 23rd.’’
He described as desirable that the representatives of Labour were parties to the implementation of what he called “critical labour market issues like minimum wage and salary review for other categories of workers earning above the minimum. Indeed ideally the best statutory committee to drive the mandate of the Bismarck Committee would have been National Salaries, Incomes, and Wages Commission (NSIWC).’’