A new national minimum wage law is possible within two weeks if the presidency submits the bill this week to the National Assembly for passage, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) affirmed yesterday.
In an exclusive interview in Abuja, NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, told The Guardian that with the tremendous goodwill the organised labour enjoys at the National Assembly, lawmakers would expedite action on the bill.
His comment followed President Muhammadu Buhari's receipt yesterday of the report of the tripartite committee on the review of the national minimum wage. While government stuck to N24,000, the organised labour insisted on N30,000.
Wabba said: "The organised labour wants to assure the Nigerian people that once the report is submitted today, labour would be considering what timeframe we think would be sufficient enough for the presidency to transmit it to the National Assembly.
"For the work of the National Assembly, we are very certain because we have an understanding with the leadership of the Assembly that the new minimum wage bill will not take more than two days to consider because what would be presented is an amendment of the existing 2011 National Minimum Wage Law. While passing the bill does not require a long process, most members of the two chambers of the National Assembly are well informed about all the issues that surround the minimum wage bill.
"Clearly, I don't want to quote a specific date because I know how interwoven the process can be. We are committed to watching the process and following up. And anywhere we think there is a deliberate delay, we will respond adequately to every challenge along the way."
Also reacting on the wage issue, Peter Esele, a former president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), took on the Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige. "Just imagine him saying N24,000 is enough to feed a family of four. And that if labour thinks it is too small, they should go to the farm and see how difficult life can be. I was aghast that a minister under this government could utter such horrible words. What he said was provocative and the organised labour should request Ngige to tender an unreserved apology to Nigerian workers."
While receiving the report from the Amal Pepple-led tripartite panel at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Buhari said government plans "to transmit the executive bill to the National Assembly for passage within the shortest possible time." He also expressed commitment to having a new National Minimum Wage Act soon.
He said: "In constituting this committee, we took into account the need for all stakeholders to be adequately represented - the government, the private sector and most importantly the workers. Our goal was to get an outcome that was consensual.
"From the onset, we knew the committee had a difficult task ahead of it. But at the same time, we were also confident that the patriotic and professional background of its members would produce realistic, fair and implementable recommendations that would be considered by both the executive and legislative arms of government.
"I am not surprised that the committee has worked for close to one year. I am also not surprised that on a few occasions, the debates got heated and sometimes, these differences came out.
"What is truly inspiring is that, in almost all instances of disagreements, the committee members always came back to the negotiating table with a common goal of improving the welfare of Nigerian workers."
Earlier in her address, Amal-Pepple said: "After carefully weighing these critical factors and bearing in the mind the overriding interest of the economy the committee, while noting the offer of N24,000 by the Federal Government, is recommending an increase in the existing minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000.
"We believe that the implementation of the recommended minimum wage will, no doubt, boost the purchasing power of workers, increase consumption expenditure and ultimately stimulate business and overall economic growth."
The Secretary General, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Alade Bashir Lawal, meanwhile told The Guardian that governors could comfortably pay workers' salaries. "With this new development of N30,000 new minimum wage, we don't envisage that any sincere governor would have any problem in complying. For the 2019 elections, it makes it sweeter. If you refuse to comply, we will vote you out," he said.