Lagos — Organised Labour in Nigeria, yesterday, handed down a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to ensure completion of works on the new national minimum wage or risk unprecedented industrial unrest in the country.
At a joint briefing in Lagos, leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and United Labour Congress, ULC, warned that at the expiration of the ultimatum, they could no longer guarantee industrial peace in the country.
Efforts to reach the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, last night, proved futile as he neither replied calls put through his known mobile phone lines nor the text messages sent to the lines.
The Director of Press, Ministry of Labour and Emplotment, Mr. Samuel Olowoekere, also failed to respond to calls made to his phone lines.
They accused the federal government, particularly the Minister of Labour and Employment, of frustrating and delaying the process of arriving at a new minimum wage workers had been expecting since 2015.
The labour leaders in a statement signed by President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, lamented that the tripartite committee set up by government had yet to finish its job, having failed to agree on a figure, following government's refusal to present any.
He argued that, while the committee had concluded its deliberations, the Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, told the committee that the federal government needed to consult more before coming up with its own figure.
According to him, this negates the earlier agreement to work within its timeline.
The Labour statement
The statement read: "This press conference is made inevitable by the latest provocative statement by the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, who said a few days ago that the committee should adjourn indefinitely to enable him do further consultations with the government.
"His pronouncement came at a time the committee was finalizing its work of arriving at a definite figure for submission to government.
"We view his latest pronouncement with great concern, suspicion and outrage. This new antic certainly is not acceptable to Nigerian workers who had expected a new national minimum wage since 2016 but who out of uncommon sacrifice and patriotism, hearkened to government's appeal and the process was delayed.
"You may wish to recall that the National Minimum Wage Committee was inaugurated in November 2017 but commenced work in March 2018 with timelines to deliver on its mandate of arriving at a new national minimum wage in August/September 2018.
"In the course of the work of the committee, members had the ample time to consult. In any case, the committee was satisfied that it received memoranda and inputs from 21 state governments, specialized agencies of the Federal Government, the Organized Private Sector, Organised Labour and the general public.
"We even recall that Dr. Ngige himself had assured workers during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in February this year that workers should expect a new national minimum wage in September this year.
"We wonder what has gone amiss between February 28 and now. Or do we assume that the Minister is acting a script?
"In the light of this, his pronouncement is capable of rubbishing the work of the committee as well as raising serious concerns about the readiness of the government to accede to the putting together of a new national minimum wage.
"Beyond this, the Minister's pronouncement has generated considerable tension among workers and provoked sharp reactions from the unions which justifiably argue that the government is only out to waste the time of workers and is not prepared to pay a new national minimum wage.
Need for new minimum wage
"For the sake of emphasis, the national minimum wage was not only legally due about two years ago, the increase in the pump price of petroleum products by this administration with fundamental consequential effects on the citizenry, the increase in electricity tariff, the massive devaluation of the Naira, leading to a punitive exchange rate, and hyper-inflation, all of which led to a rising cost of living for workers and other Nigerians, made a new national minimum wage not only necessary but urgent.
"Similarly, we are saddened to note that the recommendations of the Technical Committee on Minimum Wage and Palliatives, chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which was mandated to fashion out mitigatory strategy, policies, and programmes to cushion the vagaries of the increase in the pump price of petroleum products, have not been implemented to date.
"The present posturing of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who functioned as Acting Chairman of that committee brings back painful memories of precious time wasted, energies dissipated and hopes betrayed.
"Coupled with this, the Minister's latest pronouncement goes to cast further doubt on the integrity of the government as well as underscores the inherent danger in doing business with government.
"In view of the foregoing, we demand that government does all that is necessary to ensure that the Tripartite Committee is allowed to conclude its work within 14 days from today.
"We would want to use this opportunity to let the government and the whole world know that in the event that this demand is not met, we will not guarantee continued industrial peace and harmony."