As organised labour flatly rejects the N27,000 proposed by the National Council of State, observers are watching with keen interest developments expected to unfold in the day ahead, Sunday Ojeme reports
The peak of reconciliation between organised labour and the Federal Government crumbled again within the week as the ‘final’ endorsement of a new minimum wage for workers by the later created a wider gulf rather than cementing the ill-tempered relationship that have existed for months.
Labour and Nigerians alike had waited with bathed breath for an end to the crisis as the Federal Government finally accepted the report of the Tripartite Committee on New Minimum Wage, and subsequently promising to transmit same to the National Assembly on January 23.
These two positions taken by government were able to calm labour’s fray nerves as they had mobilised on two occasions to create disorder through industrial action.
With series of warnings sent across, and the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari is bent on not seeing the forthcoming elections disrupted, he quickly capitulated to labour’s demand by first accepting the report as well as agreeing to transmit same to the lawmakers.
In all, however, labour’s hope was dashed again as the National Council of State (NCS) emerged from its meeting to announce a double minimum wage for the country with the Federal Government staying put on the proposed N30,000 while N27,000 was arranged for states and private sector employers.
The reaction from the leadership of the top three labour centres, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and United Labour Congress (ULC), in rejecting the NCS’s spilled with acrimony.
To say the least, the follow up in the last few days remains tell-tale signs of an impending major confrontation between the warring parties over an issue that is expected to have been done away with by now.
First to fire the salvo in this regard was the NLC with the General Secretary, Peter Ozo-Eson, saying that the council of state had no jurisdiction to determine another amount after a Tripartite Committee had submitted its report.
“It is abysmal of government to be delaying the submission of an Executive Bill to the National Assembly and by wrongfully adopting N27,000 through the council of states,” he said.
To this end, an emergency National Executive Council meeting has been called for Friday to weigh on the deadline given to government within which to submit an executive bill to the National Assembly, which also goes with a warning that workers should not be held responsible for any development after its NEC meeting on Friday.
On its part, TUC believes the council of state’s decision, though advisory in nature, is weighty enough to give semblance of authority to the decision.
President of the congress, Bobboi Kaigama, said: “This decision must not be allowed to stand because it will set a wrong precedence for the future: ie, after statutory bodies have done their jobs, council of state will now sit to review it.
“Let it be known that N30,000 minimum wage is a product of negotiation, not legislation, not advise and not a decree. Minimum wage issue therefore, is moving to a new theatre, the National Assembly.
“We expect the representative of the people if really they are to do the needful during the public hearing.”
ULC was not left out in the rejection as its president, Comrade Joe Ajaero, said the decision reached on the minimum wage by the council of state was shocking.
Corroborating NLC’s position, he also agreed that the council of state does not have the power to approve or confirm minimum wage for the country.
“ULC rising from its just-concluded Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting in Lagos rejects in its entirety the proposed N27,000, which is contrary to the N30,000 agreed by the national minimum wage tripartite committee and which has since been submitted to the President.
“We want to state that workers are workers everywhere whether at the federal level or at the state level.
“They all have the same challenges; go to the same market, same schools and much more they suffer the same fate. You cannot, therefore, pay them differently.
“We will, however, in the next few days in consultation with other labour centres if they are still in the struggle for a just national minimum wage take steps to ensure that the interests of Nigerian workers as it concerns the national minimum wage are protected.
“The only honourable path he should tread is to transmit the N30,000 figure as agreed by the Tripartite Committee and even the President on the day of submission of the committee’s report,” Ajaero said.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that the days ahead may be unsettling for the Federal Government as it has to contend with the outburst from labour amid tension in the polity already being generated by political activities.
New Telegraph had predicted last year that an end to the minimum wage crisis appeared not to be sight, as unfolding developments revealed that politics has been deeply entrenched in whatever promises government made.
The setting up of an all-inclusive New Minimum Wage Review Committee had given Nigerian workers a ray of hope as they believe that the current administration under President Buhari was out to make a difference by improving their welfare through a new wage.
The confidence reposed in the whole arrangement also reflected among members of the committee, who put everything into work to ensure the assignment was quickly done, delivered and acceptable to all the parties involved.
Despite the commitment and expectations, signs were, however, in the air that the Federal Government had been making mere political pronouncements just to pacify Nigerian workers as regards implementation of the new wage.
There have been fears within labour circle that the Federal Government was likely to renege, not only in paying the recommended wage but also failing in implementing the process in the third quarter last year as promised, which turned out to be true.
While labour had prepared itself to battle the Federal Government over its failure to transmit the report by the Tripartite Committee on New Minimum Wage to the National Assembly in the New Year, the governors came out hard to maintain their stance of not paying the proposed N30,000.
Not prepared to mince words over the issue, Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, and Governor of Zamfara, Alhaji Abdul’aziz Yari, said paying N30,000 wage was impracticable.
Yari said the proposed wage would be paid if labour would agree to downsizing of the workforce across the country or Federal Government accedes to the review of the national revenue allocation formula.
He alleged that the tripartite committee did not include governors’ submission of N22, 500 in its proposal to Buhari ‘because it said that the governors’ decision came late.
Although the governors are yet to make their stance known in the current dispensation, their silence might be a reflection of acceding to the national council of state’s proposal as they were duly represented at the meeting.
The minimum wage crisis had dragged long enough for all to believe that it would be finally settled not just this quarter but this month even as a major party to the conflict, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), gave the Federal Government up till January 1 this year to begin implementation.
The failure to smoothen things out becomes more devastating as the Federal Government and the committee had, last year, given assurance that the new minimum wage would be implemented by the third quarter of 2018 with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, restating the same position during NLC’s 40th year anniversary.
Ngige would, however, reneged on the promise later, saying that the committee on the new national minimum wage was expected to conclude its work by the end of September and present its report to government for deliberation.
Prior to this summersault, the labour leaders had cautioned the Federal Government on renegotiating what had been concluded by the committee as well as shifting the date of implementation.
Specifically, the President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, had noted that labour would resist any move to renegotiate the minimum wage at any level.
He said: “We are battle ready against public and private organisations that would refuse to conform to the new minimum wage. As the benefits of a new minimum wage cannot be over emphasised, an increase in the minimum wage will pull many workers out of poverty.”
As the decision of the Federal Government opens another vista of conflicts over the minimum wage issue, it is advisable for it to toe the path of honour and rectify issues on time in order to forestall more industrial crises in days to come.
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