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COVID-19: Labour tackles governors over minimum wage

Following the failure of some governors to implement the N30,000 minimum wage signed into law by the Federal Government, organised labour under the aegis of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has called on them to do the lawful thing and stop using COVID-19 as an excuse. Speaking in Abuja during the association’s Quadrennial National Delegate Conference in Abuja, President of the association, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, advised states that were yet to conclude the process of negotiation to return to the table with a view to doing the needful.

Kaigama said that Covid-19 should not be used as an excuse to derail the legitimate right of workers. According to him, the issue of minimum wage is a law that is binding on all employers of labour. Observation of the law in the breach is, therefore, illegal and will surely meet stiff resistance from labour. He said: “Comrades, it will interest you to note that some state governments, which negotiated the consequential adjustment arising from the minimum wage of N30,000 per month with the organised labour in their states and duly signed the agreement that arose from the negotiation, suddenly reverted to the old salary regime (Pre-2019 minimum wage), a decision that was unilaterally taken. “This unwholesome practice is an invitation to anarchy.

The affected states are, therefore, advised to return the salary chart in their states to what was agreed with labour in the interest of industrial peace and harmony in the states concerned and the country at large.” He recalled that the New National Minimum Wage of N30,000 per month was a product of intense and robust negotiations by the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage. “The assignment lasted for over one year between November 2017 and April, 2019. After extensive negotiations by the Committee made up of Government, Labour and the Private Sector, a compromise of N30,000 was arrived at.

“The Tripartite Committee submitted its report to President Muhammadu Buhari on 6th November, 2018. The report went through various processes and Mr President eventually signed the minimum wage bill into law on the April 18, 2019. “With all the experiences learnt during the entire negotiation exercise, my honest and candid advice to the Federal Government is to kick-start the process of reviewing upward the National Minimum Wage of N30,000.00 per month one year before the expiration of the current arrangement.

“This will go a long way to remove to a very large extent all the brickbats that characterised the last exercise which almost threw the entire country into industrial upheaval,” he noted. Recalling events that preceded the new wage, he pointed out that President Muhammadu Buhari signed the N30,000 monthly National Minimum Wage bill into law, with a Committee on Consequential Adjustment set up to ensure that all categories of public service employees benefitted from the new salary regime. The Trade Union Side (TUS) of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) spearheaded the negotiation on behalf of Nigerian workers.

“At one of the meetings of the Technical Committee, the TUS proposed 66.6 per cent pay rise across board to maintain the existing relativity in the salary structure in the public service but the Government Side insisted that such an increase would beef up the wage bill drastically. “Consequently, the TUS reviewed its demand downward to 30 per cebt for officers on grade levels 07-14 and 25 we cent for those on grade levels 15-17 while the Government Side offered 9.5 er cent for officers on grade levels 07-14 and five per cent for those on 15-17.

“Unfortunately when the Committee reconvened, the Government Side claimed that its mandate was to implement the new wage regime based on the subhead provided for emoluments in the 2019 budget and so deliberately created a stalemate. Thereafter, the Government Side continued to present different unacceptable figures all in an effort to derail the process. “To compound the issue, the government released a circular, which adjusted the salary of officers on grade level 01-06 leaving out those on grade level 07 and above in order to break the rank of public service employees.

“At that stage, the TUS of the JNPSNC had no choice but to issue a strike notice prompting the Government to reconvene the meeting of the Consequential Adjustment Committee,” he said. Also speaking on rising unemployment, he described it as a sad commentary as the attention of the National Delegates Conference (NDC) of the association was once again being drawn to the issue of rising unemployment in the country. According to him, “it is extremely disturbing to note that the rate of unemployment keeps on rising while all efforts adopted by successive Governments including the current one have failed to yield any appreciable positive results. Unfortunately for the nation, the Covid 19 pandemic has come to make the matter worse. “In a recent publication, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that Nigeria has reached 23.1 per cent in terms of rate of unemployment with underemployment at 16.6 per cent.

The above is exacerbated by the fact that the Nigerias misery index is set for a spike as more people have joined the population of poor Nigerians due to the sharp fall in the price of the crude oil in the international market and the projected contraction of the economy (GDP) by 4.4 per cent by the end of 2020 down from the growth of 2.27 per cent recorded in 2019.

“The result of the above gloomy picture should not be lost on us as the Economic Sustainability Committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had raised the fear that except something urgent is done, about 39.4 million (33.6 per cent) Nigerians may be jobless by the end of the year as a result of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, millions of Nigerians will fall into extreme poverty depending on the strength of our economic response. “It is against this backdrop that I call on the Federal Government to urgently look through the recommendations made by the Committee so as to avoid the tragedy of inaction in the face of concomitant high prevalent crime rates and criminality.”

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