The Nigerian labour atmosphere during the outgoing year was literally held down by new minimum wage battle between government and organised labour. Sunday Ojeme reports
For the outgoing year, no other issue dominated labour more than the now controversial minimum wage standoff between the leadership of organised labour and the Federal Government.
Even with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) being on strike as well as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) marking its 40th anniversary, which it prepared for with all fervour, the counter attacks with government over the new wage appear to have downplayed other events within the labour circle.
As early as February, Nigerian workers were assured by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that by the third quarter of the year, they would begin to enjoy a minimum wage increase from the current N18,000.
To ensure a crisis free approach, the Federal Government acceded to the creation of a New Minimum Wage Committee to look into the review.
The all-inclusive committee, inaugurated last November, commenced work with enthusiasm all in a bid to ensure workers’ dream of earning improved wage started on time.
Ngige had given assurance to Nigerian workers that implementation of a new minimum wage in the country would be done, saying that the committee set up for that purpose by the Federal Government had already started work.
“This is a constitutional issue and the constitution makes provision for the minimum wage to be reviewed every five years and we are on course,” he said.
“The committee will decide what the minimum wage will be and it is a tripartite arrangement comprising the government, employers and employees. So, the Nigerian workers should hope that we have their issues at heart.”
However, the promises began to derail gradually as the third quarter drew close; although labour had nursed the fears that the Federal Government would likely renege not only in paying the recommended wage but also failing in implementing the process in the third quarter of the year as promised.
Discordant tunes over the implementation made waves after the Federal Government reneged on its earlier promise.
To complicate issues, the minister said that the September date was just a date to conclude deliberations by the committee, saying that it was making steady progress on its assignment.
According to him, the committee on the new National Minimum wage is expected to conclude its work by the end of September and present its report to the government for deliberation and approval before an executive bill is sent to the National Assembly on the issue.
This was, however, contrary to his position in February that the implementation would begin by September.
Similarly, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had earlier made a promise at the 2018 May Day celebration that the Federal Government would expedite action to ensure that a new minimum wage is ready by the third quarter of the year.
However, the situation came to a head again when the labour rooted for N30,000 as the new wage, which the federal and state government rejected.
The major protest and nationwide strike, which followed the rejection, tore into the country’s business and social strata within the two days it lasted, as the Federal Government promised to look into labour’s grievances by accepting the report of the committee and subsequently transmitting same to the National Assembly.
The wait became too long for labour as it promised to embark on another strike if the government failed to do the needful within a specific period.
A communiqué issued at the end of national leadership meeting, said almost two months after the submission of the report, which included a draft bill, no bill has been submitted to the National Assembly for passage into law.
The communiqué signed by the leadership of the three labour centres, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Comrade Joe Ajaero, United Labour Congress (ULC), said Federal Government was planning to set up a high-powered technical committee, which is alien to the tripartite process and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on national minimum wage setting mechanism.
It added that the national minimum wage committee was both technical and all encompassing in its compositions.
Ayuba, who read the communiqué on behalf of others, also clarified that the new national minimum wage was not only for public sector workers but also for those in the private sector.
The labour leader, therefore, resolved that the Federal Government should transmit the new national minimum wage bill to the National Assembly on or before December 31, 2018.
“We reject in its entirety the plan by the Federal Government to set up another high-powered technical committee on the new national minimum wage. It is diversionary and a delay tactics,” he said.
“Nigerian workers are urged to be vigilant and prepared to campaign and vote against candidates and political parties that are not supportive of the implementation of the new national minimum wage.”
He also declared that organised labour would not guarantee industrial peace and harmony if after December 31, 2018, the draft bill is not transmitted to the National Assembly, stressing that it also serves as a statutory notice for organised labour to recall it’s suspended nationwide industrial action.
Besides, the wage crisis members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are also on indefinite nationwide strike.
ASUU president, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, listed the reasons for their action to include failure on the side of the government to honour the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the union and the federal government in 2017.
He also mentioned that renegotiation with ASUU, which the government intentionally ignored with impunity was part of the reasons for the strike.
In the same vein, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) also went the way of ASUU by embarking on an indefinite nationwide strike.
The ASUP National President, Usman Dutse, said the Federal Government had failed to implement the 2009 and 2017 agreements it reached with the union.
He said the contentious areas, which necessitated the strike included the non-implementation of the NEEDS assessment report of 2014, non-payment of salaries in many state-owned polytechnics, pension deductions and other statutory deductions from staff salaries.
During the year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that the number of unemployed Nigerians rose by 3.3 million to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018 (Q3’18).
Unemployment and underemployment report for Q3’18, indicated that year-on-year (YoY) the rate of unemployment rose by 3.3 million or 19 per cent to 20.9 million in Q3’18 from 17.6 million in Q3’17, while on quarterly basis, it increased by three per cent from 20.3 million in Q2’18.
The report showed that unemployed and under-employed female population far outpaced that of the men folk. Expectedly, the rate of job losses in the rural areas also far outpaced that of the urban centers with the rate of unemployment in the rural center increasing by 7.5 percent, while there was a 2.2 percent decrease in unemployment in the urban center respectively.
The report said: “The unemployment rate accordingly, increased from 18.8 percent in Q3’17 to 23.1 percent in Q3’18. The total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked too few hours (under 20 hours a week) to be classified as employed increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018.”
For the year under review, not much was achieved on the side of government, especially at the centre, as the promised increase in minimum wage from the current N18,000 approved over five years ago remains futile amid the campaign that the economy had exited recession.
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