9 November 2018

Nigeria: Don't Delay Minimum Wage Bill, Labour Tells Buhari

Abuja — The organised labour Thursday asked President Muhammadu Buhari to send to the National Assembly, without any delay, a bill fixing N30,000 as national minimum wage or risk resumption of hostility.

"We expect the matter to be properly concluded, and for the bill to be sent to the National Assembly. We expect that to happen within a couple of weeks. And if it becomes protracted we will take the appropriate decision," General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Peter Essom, told THISDAY Thursday.

The labour union top official spoke in reaction to the presidency's insistence yesterday that the president had not approved any figure as the national minimum wage despite the recommendation of the National Minimum Wage Committee, which proposed N30,000.

The presidency in a statement by Buhari's media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, had corroborated Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed's, position on Tuesday that the president was still considering the committee's recommendation and would make his opinion known in due course.

Adesina said reports that the president had reneged on his earlier acceptance of N30,000 minimum wage as recommended by the committee had been of concern to the presidency and described as unnecessary, the brewing controversy over the wage proposal, explaining that until the report and recommendation of the committee were reviewed by the executive and legislative process on the new minimum wage concluded, nobody could attribute any claim to the president.

He said the president would follow due process on the new minimum wage, insisting that the current controversy amounted to putting the cart before the horse.

He also accused members of the opposition of playing politics with the minimum wage, threatening that judgment awaited them at the forthcoming polls.

"The presidency is concerned over recurring reports alleging that President Muhammadu Buhari has reneged on earlier acceptance of the N30,000 recommended as the new National Minimum Wage by the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Committee," he said, adding, "These reports are contrary to what transpired on Tuesday when the committee presented its report to the president. Responding, President Buhari, while acknowledging the concerns raised by government on affordability and labour's focus on meaningful increase, stated clearly in a speech, which was made available to the media: 'In a way, both arguments are valid. I want to assure you all that we will immediately put in place the necessary machinery that will close out these open areas.

'Our plan is to transmit an Executive Bill to the National Assembly for passage within the shortest possible time. I am fully committed to having a new National Minimum Wage Act in the very near future.

'As the executive arm commences its review of your submission, we will continue to engage you all in closing any open areas presented in this report. I, therefore, would like to ask for your patience and understanding in the coming weeks.'

"From the above, and throughout the report-submission ceremony, the president never mentioned any figure. What he committed himself to was a new minimum wage, and only after the report of the committee has been reviewed by the executive and legislative processes of government and an appropriate bill presented to him for assent.

"Until the proposed minimum wage has gone through the whole gamut of law-making, President Buhari, who is a stickler for due process, will not be caught in this unnecessary web of controversy, which amounts to putting the cart before the horse and hair-splitting."

But labour in a swift response yesterday warned that it would not accept any form of delays, stating that it certainly would not allow reopening of negotiation over the figure already fixed.

Essom told THISDAY that there were no more elaborate reviews or processes to be done other than for Buhari to send the draft bill prepared by the committee to the National Assembly for immediate legislative approval.

He disagreed that N30,000 was labour's demand, explaining that was a compromise figure among the federal government, organised private sector and labour, contending that there was no basis for a review of the committee's recommendation.

"It is the figure that was submitted by the tripartite committee, he (the president) himself set up. So we need to be factual from the beginning," Essom said, adding, "As far as we are concerned, we will recall that Labour's demand was N66,500 and that the N30,000 was the outcome of tripartite negotiations. If the government on their own want to jettison that and start renegotiating a new figure, whatever the industrial consequences that follows, they will be held responsible. We stand by the figure that was recommended by the committee and no manipulation of that is going to be accepted by us."

On what labour would do if government insisted on lowering the figure, Essom said: "I think what we will say is that at the appropriate time you will hear from us."

Essom said labour would insist on the sanctity of the agreement at the tripartite negotiations, which settled for N30, 000.

Labour had threatened a nationwide strike to begin last Tuesday, if the government failed to endorse the N30,000 as new minimum wage.

Court Directs Submission of Terms of Settlement

Meanwhile, Justice Sanusi Kado of Abuja Division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) has ordered both the federal government and labour to submit before the court a report of their resolutions on the dispute over minimum wage.

The order given was sequel to a request for adjournment by counsel to the federal government to allow time for parties to reach amicable resolution of the dispute and present their agreement before the court, adding that negotiations by parties were still ongoing.

The federal government had dragged organised labour before the court over its planned strike, if government failed to accede to its demand of N30,000 as the new minimum wage in the country.

The federal government had also in an ex-parte motion prayed the court to stop labour from embarking on the strike pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

Delivering ruling on the ex-parte, Justice Kado, said he granted the ex-parte order stopping the strike which the labour had planned to commence on November 6, in the interest of the people.

He, in addition, ordered the federal government to put organised labour on notice and adjourned hearing to November 8, 2019.

The strike was, however, averted after an agreement was reached on November 5 between labour and the federal government with N30, 000 recommended to President Muhammadu Buhari as the new minimum wage regime.

When the matter came up yesterday, the three defendants - the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and the Nigerian Governors' Forum were absent and were also not represented by any lawyer.

However, the federal government and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, were represented by their legal team led by Emmanuel Omonowa.

Omonowa informed the judge that based on the order made by the court on November 2, negotiations on the new minimum wage were ongoing.

He, therefore, pleaded with the court to give more time to the parties in the suit to enable them to continue with the negotiations and later give a report on the negotiation efforts to the court.

"Pursuant to Order 42(1) of the National Industrial Court Rules, the court should allow parties to see the possibility of amicable settlement of the matter," Omonowa said.

Justice Kado, while granting the request for adjournment however reaffirmed his November 2 order restraining organised labour from embarking on the planned strike and warned all the parties to the suit against taking any step to cause disruptions in the case.

He subsequently adjourned till January 30, 2019, for the parties to report to the court on whether or not they had settled amicably or would still be interested in going on with the case.

Justice Kado had on November 2, in a ruling on an ex parte application moved on behalf of the federal government by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata, stopped the labour from embarking on their planned strike scheduled to commence on November 6.

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