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Experts See Danger Around Minimum Wage Battle



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By Victor AhiumaYoung, Udeme Akpan, Peter Egwuatu and Nkiruka Nnorom

LAGOS — Industry experts and financial analysts have noted that the economy is on a tough road to recovery and that the minimum wage agitation and return of fuel subsidy will further complicate the process and prospect of early recovery.

This is even as Organised Labour Weekend said President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly, NASS, will determine its next line of action, following last Friday’s stalemated negotiations on a new national minimum wage, NNMW.

It will be recalled that the tripartite committee on NNMW had on Friday, June 8, ended negotiations without an agreement due to sharp division in offers between employers (government and OPS) and organised labour ( Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC).

Contrary to expectations, the Federal Government negotiating team added N2,000 to its earlier offer of N60,000, leading to the deadlock that forced labour to declare a nationwide strike.

As a result of the deadlock, the committee resolved to take both the N62,000 offer by the Federal Government team which has the backing of the OPS and the N250,000 now demanded by organised labour to President Bola Tinubu for further action.

One of the members of Labour’s negotiating team told Vanguard that President Tinubu and the National Assembly will determine the next step organised labour

He said: “At this point, we are looking up to the President and the National Assembly to right the wrong done by the government negotiators and their OPS counterpart. It was a high-level conspiracy among the federal government negotiators, the state governors and the OPS.

“Members of OPS hid under the bogus name of small and medium enterprises, SMEs, to claim they cannot pay reasonable wages.

“The OPS had willing tools in state governors who, from the onset, did not attend most of the meetings and never wanted to improve the wages of their employees, but were clandestinely meeting with OPS to scuttle any chance of a reasonable wage.

“For the Federal Government side, members of the team, besides ensuring that Mr President did not know the true situation of things, members did everything, including threats, to ensure we did not move forward.

“One senior government official singled out the NLC president for threats, blaming him for what he termed organized labour’s tough stance. Even when the TUC president wanted to defend the NLC’s president, he was not allowed to speak.

“Well, we have done our best. Since it was Mr President who set up the committee in the first place, we have returned the responsibility of doing the right thing to him. Don’t forget Mr President has always promised Nigerian workers a living wage. He now has all the opportunities to fulfil his promise to Nigerian workers.

“However, in case Mr President fails to do the right thing, members of the National Assembly who are representatives of the people, should rightly take up the responsibility of making Nigerian workers earn a living wage.

“We believe if the executive arm pretends not to be aware of the sufferings and pains Nigerian workers and masses are going through, we expect our representatives in the National Assembly to appreciate our pains.

‘’The issue will come to them (National Assembly members) as an executive bill. From there, they should take it up and make the nation’s workforce happier.

“What Mr President and the National Assembly do will determine our next line of action. After that, we can hold our organs’ meetings to decide our responses. For now, we have to wait. That is all I can say.

Recall that after two days of waiting at Friday’s meeting, the Federal Government negotiating team raised its offer by N2,000, bringing its total minimum wage offer to N62,000, while organised labour reduced its demand to N250,000 from N494,000.

It was also gathered that the Organised Private Sector, OPS, is backing the government on the N62,000 offer.

Following the disagreement the Tripartite Committee on New National Minimum Wage, NNMW, has adjourned.

Meanwhile, the International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, has petitioned the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, expressing grave concerns over his recent characterisation of the NLC and TUC’s nationwide strike as economic sabotage.

In a letter to Akpabio, General Secretary ITUC-Africa, Akhator Joel Odigie, wrote: “We have received information from our affiliates in Nigeria – The NLC and TUC – that the Nigerian Parliament, particularly the Senate, through its utterances and actions, is gaslighting the country’s organised labour for merely taking industrial actions that they were forced to undertake to protect their members from biting socioeconomic hardship.

“There are concerns that the Senate’s utterances represent covert scenario-building and establishment of pretexts to punish and harm trade unions for undertaking legitimate, patriotic and democratic actions to protect their human, labour, social and economic rights.

“Mr. Senate President, ITUC-Africa expresses grave concern over your recent characterisation of the NLC and TUC nationwide strike as economic sabotage.

We found such assertions unfounded and detrimental to the values of democracy and the spirit of patriotism that many Nigerians uphold.

“The ITUC-Africa monitored and followed the processes before, during, and after the industrial action, and we remain seized by the processes. From our monitoring of the events, we observed that the industrial action was avoidable, especially as Nigeria’s organised labour demonstrated firm commitment towards open, effective and inclusive dialogue and negotiation.

“We also observed that Nigeria’s organised labour’s communication with the government, its members, and the public was regular, precise regarding its demands, and conciliatory regarding its readiness to conclude the negotiations and reach a binding agreement.

“ITUC-Africa asserts that the industrial action, which commenced on June 3rd, is a lawful and justified response to the Federal Government’s failure to address critical issues affecting Nigerian workers.

“These issues include unresolved national minimum wage negotiations, unjust electricity tariff hikes, and discriminatory consumer classifications.

The strike is a legitimate manifestation of the workers’ frustration with the daily economic difficulties and declining working conditions.

“From the preceding, Mr. Senate President, we found your remarks troubling and capable of undermining the democratic principles the Senate is meant to protect. Victims of socio-economic hardships seeking survival must never be gaslighted and labelled as enemies of the state.

“Besides, as representatives of the people, the National Assembly must understand and respect its citizens’ grievances. Industrial actions such as strikes, protests, pickets and work-to-rule are fundamental industrial and democratic rights.

“They are essential tools for facilitating industrial harmony and productivity and holding authorities accountable. They must never be criminalised, as your recent utterance seems to suggest.

“Mr. Senate President, Nigerian workers and people must be given the needed fiscal support to cope with their current biting socioeconomic woes.

Therefore, ITUC-Africa appeals that you use your good offices to genuinely and effectively mediate in the negotiation process to ensure an amicable and binding agreement on the contending issues. The struggling Nigerians look up to your leadership

In a related development, industry experts and financial analysts have hinted that the economy is on a tough road to recovery, adding that the minimum wage agitation and return of subsidy had further complicated the process and prospect of early recovery.

Speaking on the prospects of the economy, Tajudeen Olayinka, Investment Banker & Stockbroker said: “Re-emergence of fuel subsidy and the fact that the economy has lost its purchasing power, are clear indications that the economy is failing to adjust along the lines of set parameters.

‘’The economy cannot afford a return to subsidy regime in any guise, more so, with the current agitation for minimum wage by organised labour.

“I think the government and the economic team will need to put on a thinking cap because what will worsen the current economic situation is allowing labour leaders to mislead the government into setting a minimum wage that appears to be chasing inflation.

“You do not chase inflation with minimum wage, rather, you deploy all available resources to cause inflation to moderate to a minimum wage level that is affordable to the economy.

“Organised labour must show a good understanding of the problem that has befallen our nation. Any minimum wage level above N60,000 could spell doom for the economy.’’

However, Prof. Omowumi Iledare, a professor of Petroleum Economics and Policy Research, disagreed with an increment in workers’ wages as a solution to weak purchasing power.

He stated: I don’t think spending nearly a quarter of the budget to reintroduce subsidy payments in petrol is the way to go.

There are also other ways to improve the welfare of the society than high wages in an inflationary economy with a usually low productivity.

‘’First, embrace the rule of law as a nation. Second, tax less and spend borrowed funds for infrastructure and promote transparency and accountability.

Reacting to the disagreement between the Federal Government and organised labour on a new minimum wage, controversial Catholic priest, Ejike Mbaka, said weekend that governors and members of the National Assembly should also earn the N62,000 minimum wage proposed by the Federal Government.

Governors came out weekend to stress the fact that they cannot pay a N60,000 minimum wage which organised labour had even rejected.

But speaking in an interview with African Independent Television, AIT, on Saturday, Mbaka said governors, senators, and members of the National Assembly should also earn the N62,000 minimum wage.

He said: “We can push these poor Nigerians to the point of rebellion. That is my fear. We were all stranded in Lagos that day; we could come back (labour strike).

‘’Just like a joke, the labour people entered the airport and stopped every operation and if this happens again, it might be tantamount to what nobody dreams or what we dream but out of fear we cannot release to the public.

“If we decide to give labour N60,000 or N62,000, why not generalise it to National Assembly members – Senate and House of Representatives – and governors?

“All of them are civil servants. So, are the others slaves? I cannot imagine why somebody can be amassing billions and billions as sitting allowance, wardrobe allowance, newspaper allowance, vehicle allowance and what they call suffering allowance. The people that should have such allowances should be the poor masses in the villages.

As teachers, how much are they being paid? Our nurses and doctors, how much are they being paid?

‘’Let us be realistic, our civil servants that wake from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

“They wake up early and return late. How much are they being paid? And look at the level of inflation in the country.

Mbaka asked the government to “speedily” address the minimum wage issue with Organised Labour to avoid another strike. If they (the government) are not careful, this crisis can be hijacked and nobody knows the ripple effects.”

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