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Labour Decries FG’s Refusal To Set Up Minimum Wage Panel

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Labour unions in the country are warming up for a possible confrontation with the federal and state governments over the lack of progress on a new minimum wage for public sector workers and have not ruled out an industrial crisis.

The reason for their unease is the failure of the Federal Government to constitute a committee to negotiate the new minimum wage by naming its representatives whereas the labour unions have expressed readiness to begin the talks as their negotiators are on standby.

Workers have had to contend with rising prices of goods and services since the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government, with the attendant inflation and escalating cost of living eaten deep into their pockets and rendering their monthly wages inadequate to meet their basic needs.

In June 2023, for instance, workers and some labour leaders demanded that the minimum wage be increased from N30,000 to N250,000, adding that the current situation would increase the demand for a salary review. The amount was later adjusted to N200,000 monthly.

This was made known by the Assistant General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Chris Onyeka, who stated that many workers could no longer afford their rents, or pay their children’s school fees.

He also lamented that with the increase in the cost of transportation by almost 300 per cent, many civil servants were trekking to work.

A few weeks after being sworn in as President, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said improved livelihood for Nigerians remained a top priority of his administration, stating that he would have more people-focused economic policies.

Tinubu, in a statement by the Director of Information, State House, Abiodun Oladunjoye, also assured Nigerian workers that the national minimum wage needed a review to reflect current realities.

However, Nigerian workers have continued to groan under the weight of escalating inflation.

The minimum wage was reviewed from N18,000 to N30,000 on April 18, 2019, after several years of back-and-forth.

The Federal Government also stressed that governors of the 36 states of the federation should pay the new minimum wage of N30,000.

The then-Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said it had become imperative that all employers of labour in the country must comply with the national law, adding that a committee was working out a new template for upward consequential adjustment for those already earning above N30,000.

To date, several states have yet to implement the law, even as workers are advocating for further increment to the tune of over N200,000.

Executives of the Organised Labour had said they had appointed representatives who would join the Federal Government representative on the National Minimum Wage Review Committee.

The committee, by law, is supposed to oversee the negotiations and send recommendations to the Federal Government on appropriate wage rates reflective of new economic realities.

Strike looms – TUC

The Trade Union Congress has threatened to embark on an industrial action if the government continues to treat the issue with levity.

The Deputy President of the TUC, Tommy Etuk, said in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents that the wage review committee was supposed to have been set up before now, as the country was due to have a new minimum wage by April 2024.

He said, “If there is no agreement on the minimum wage review, there’s nothing anyone can do. I assure you that it is a recipe for industrial disharmony. The government should inaugurate the committee and let it start work on time to see some grey areas where we can agree or disagree, and work in tandem with the principle of collective bargaining so that we can arrive at a collective agreement.

“We believe it’s the best option rather than waiting for the 11th hour to decide what to give to the organised labour. It will not work that way.”

Etuk added that the right thing for the Federal Government to do was to set up the National Minimum Wage Committee to oversee the modalities across the board.

He said, “The National Minimum Wage Committee should have been inaugurated because the task ahead is a difficult one. It’s not about getting the committee in place and there is a lot to be done. It is about the government to inaugurate the committee and appoint a chairman so that they can start work in earnest.

“April is around the corner, and if things are not done this January, things might get out of hand. This isn’t going to be a fire brigade matter like they always do.

“But I can assure you that the organised labour will not leave any stone unturned to ensure that the needful is done. Whether it is a delay strategy on the part of the government, or not, we have got to follow due process, because it is a matter of law.

“This is because it will go to the National Assembly and the President before it becomes a law.

“The government is conscious of this, and on our part, we’ve done what we should’ve done. It’s just for them to inaugurate the committee and the committee will start working.”

Etuk added that Tinubu seemed like a man who would not play with the welfare of workers since he had been talking about living wage before he became President.

FG keeps mum

A Presidency official who did not want to be mentioned confirmed that talks were ongoing at the Federal Executive Council level on the the Minimum Wage Committee. The official said the administration was keen on reviewing the minimum wage and, therefore, would inaugurate the committee soon.

The official told Sunday INSTANTNEWS , “It is by law. Such a committee must come on stream. The Organised Labour has announced members from its own end. Though it has not been set up formally, we are certain that it will be set up at the right time.

“It is based on law. So, it is not something you simply set up haphazardly. You must follow the legal process. The other one must expire before you bring in the new one. The old one is expiring this year. And the committee will be beginning its work.

“It was mentioned at the last FEC meeting. The Minister of State for Labour said something about that committee. So, it is on course. The government is committed to setting it up.”

The spokesman for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, had earlier directed inquiries on the minimum wage issue to the Presidency.

When contacted, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Rabiu Ibrahim, stated, “The Federal Government’s agencies relevant to the issue, particularly the Ministry of Labour, are working on firming up the processes towards a consensus on all aspects of the issues.”

Speaking on the living wage, Etuk said a lot of things must be considered such as transportation, housing, health and education.

He said, “These are critical components that will form the negotiation for minimum wage. With what’s going on now, it’s not even enough. In a month, a worker will spend not less than N70,000 on transportation. We’ve not even spoken of rent where a one-bedroom apartment goes for about N400,000.

“When you consider all these and look at the negotiation of the N200,000 minimum wage that was then. It’s no longer realistic to look at the inflation rate, which is 28.9 per cent as of today.

“Whatever is being given as minimum wage is to be consumed by inflation. Even the N200,000 being clamoured by organised labour, I don’t think that is the right thing to do. This wage doesn’t cover the National Health Scheme and you don’t expect a worker to die because of cancer or another life-threatening disease.

“These are the components that will form the discussion and engagement with the government on a minimum wage that will be measured.”

Etuk added that negotiations had successfully started across the 36 states for a living wage as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy.

He stated, “When it comes to the issue of palliative, it is to ensure that there is industrial peace and harmony, and also to stop the socio-economic challenges facing the workers. We believe that it is incumbent on the NLC and the TUC in the states to develop a strategy to engage the government to do the needful.

“Most of the state governors have been saying they’ve given palliatives in terms of an additional N10,000 every month, some said they’ve paid 13th month salary and also distributed grains.

“It is incumbent on every organised labour in the states to develop a strategy to engage the government to do the necessary things. We are also begging the Federal Government to live up to the memorandum of understanding they consciously signed on the payment of the N35,000 wage award. I can also assure you that the Minister of Labour recently acclaimed that they’re working on it and they know the implications.”

Sokoto in talks

The organised labour in Sokoto State led by the NLC has disclosed that discussion with the state government on the wage award will soon reach a compromise level.

The Chairman of the state NLC, Abdullahi Jungle, said the state government had made some promises to the union.

However, he noted that the governor was yet to give the green light.

Jungle stated, “I am sure you know the state governor is in Abuja as we speak, but we have written a letter to him and he promised to see us when he returns.

“All I can say now is we are making progress and the state governor is ready to sit with us to know how much should be approved as wage award and when it is expected to commence.”.

Efforts to speak with the state government officials were not successful as both the state commissioner for information and the spokesman of the governor could not be reached at the time of filing this report.

Kwara adamant

Workers in Kwara State have alleged that the government has refused to engage with the organised labour on issues around minimum wage, stressing that life has been really difficult after the removal of fuel subsidy.

This is as the labour leaders insisted that the 14-day ultimatum issued to the state government to accede to their demands by paying all workers a monthly wage award of N35,000 stands.

The Chairman of the TUC in the state, Tunde Joseph, lamented to Sunday PUNCH that despite many letters written to the government to pay the wage award, it had remained adamant.

He added that the NLC and TUC in September 2023, wrote to the state government on the wage award after the Federal Government and the NLC agreed on it at the federal level.

However, the state Commissioner for Communications, Mrs Bolanle Olukoju, said the administration, despite being among the third lowest recipients of federal allocations, was committed to the welfare of workers.

“In the wake of the removal of subsidy by the Federal Government, the administration has committed additional N1,392,135,000.00 every month to the payment of palliatives to the workers alone,” the commissioner said.

She added that the doors of government officials remained open for the workers to lodge their complaints.

Kano wage award

The Kano State Government commenced the payment of N20,000 as a wage award to the state and local government workers in December. It will last for six months.

It also agreed to pay N15,000 to pensioners for three months from December 2023.

The Chairman of the NLC in the state, Kabiru Inuwa, disclosed in an interview with INSTANTNEWSNAIJA

He said the agreement was reached after the state government and representatives of labour signed an agreement following a meeting between both parties.

Inuwa stated, “The agreement came after serious discussions with the committee set up by Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf on the issue.

“The agreement was signed between the state government and representatives of the labour comprising Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and the Joint Public Service Negotiation Council.

“The government shall also ensure the prompt disbursement of the wage award to all eligible civil servants and pensioners in the state.”

Benue unresponsive – NLC

In Benue State, labour leaders are in a serious dilemma over the silence of the state government on the implementation of the wage award.

Labour union leaders in the state explained that the government had yet to respond to several letters sent to it on the subject.

The chairmen of the NLC, Terungwa Igbe, and TUC, Gideon Akaa, both said the government had yet to respond to letters forwarded to it since October last year.

The TUC boss, who said that the move to meet with the state Head of Service to have a dialogue was rebuffed, lamented that the hands of labour leaders in the state were tied due to recent political developments in the state and the rot left behind by the immediate past administration.

He said, “It’s really bad. You know the political situation in the state. If we begin to complain, the government may say we are being sponsored by the opposition.

“The past administration did not pay salaries and pensions for some months and the present administration has been paying.  So, some people will ask us why we are complaining about wage award when the government is paying salaries.”

Akaa said the state working committee would soon meet and come up with a resolution to inform the national executives of the situation in the state concerning the wage award.

Efforts to speak to the Commissioner for Finance, Michael Oglegba, were not successful as his phone did not connect.

Bauchi

The Chairman of the NLC in Bauchi State, Dauda Shuaibu, told Sunday PUNCH that the state government had yet to start paying workers the N35,000 wage award.

Speaking in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, he said the negotiation committee was waiting for the governor’s consent before talks could commence.

He said, “The Bauchi State Government has not paid workers the N35,000 wage award but we have written to them so that they can engage us in the negotiations.

“We negotiated under the Joint Public Service Negotiation Council and we have written to the government, we followed it with a reminder and they have written a memo to His Excellency on that.

“They are waiting for his permission to go ahead with the negotiations. As soon as they get the go-ahead, we’ll start the negotiations.”

‘No plans yet’

Out of four demands made by the Gombe State Negotiation Committee, none has been implemented, one of our correspondents has learnt.

The requests include payment of N35,000 wage award, consideration of biometrics attendance introduced by the state government, and clearing of outstanding N30,000 minimum wage to local government employees as only the state civil servants are currently benefitting from it.

Disclosing this in an interview in Gombe, the Secretary of the state NLC, Ibrahim Fika, said, “Nothing has been done yet by the government. The only thing we have is the N10,000 allowance for workers.

“We have four demands in our negotiation but as I speak, nothing has been implemented. However, I spoke to the chairman on Monday who told me that the governor is now in town; so, very soon we will meet with him and perhaps he will accede to our requests.”

The Commissioner for Economic Planning, Salihu Alkali, said,” Yes, we did not capture any increase in wages in the 2024 budget.”

Kaduna

The Chairman of the NLC in Kaduna State, Ayuba Suleiman, insisted that the state was still awaiting the decision of the Northern Governors’ Forum on the uniform wage increase for workers

Suleiman maintained that the organised labour had written and received a favourable response from the state government on the matter.

He stated, “We wrote the government and they told us that they were ready to negotiate. This was before the northern governors met on the need for a uniform wage award.

“The position has yet to change. Perhaps, the government wants to base its decision on the uniform wage increase being planned by the northern governors.”

When contacted, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Uba Sami, Alhaji Mohammed Shehu, could not be reached as his telephone indicated that it was unreachable.

‘No meeting yet’

In Bayelsa State, no meeting has been held between the organised labour and the state government concerning the implementation of the wage award.

The state Chairman of the NLC, Simon Barnabas, who disclosed this, said the government had not replied to a letter written to it last year on the implementation.

The Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Ayibaina Duba’s rang out when contacted by one of our correspondents.

N10,000 for A’Ibom

In Akwa Ibom State, the state Chairman of the TUC, Mr Dominic Abang, said that workers in the state were being paid N10,000 as wage award.

He said the union had written to the governor for the payment of the full wage award but he had yet to respond to the request.

“The governor has not answered us. We have written a reminder to him but he has not answered us. We are trying to give him the last reminder before giving him an ultimatum,” Abang added.

The Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr Ini Ememobong, in an earlier interview, claimed that the state government had been paying the wage award to its workers.

 Oyo reacts

The Chief Press Secretary to the Oyo State Governor, Sulaimon Olanrewaju, said Governor Seyi Makinde was living up to expectation in the payment of the wage award to civil servants in the state.

Olanrewaju said that the government had since September 2023 been paying the wage award to its civil workers. However, he did not confirm how much was being paid.


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