24 January 2019

Nigeria: N30,000 Minimum Wage - Uncertainty Without End

Photo: Premium Times
President Muhammadu Buhari; Senate President Bukola Saraki and former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the National Council of State Meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

Tuesday's approval of N27,000 minimum wage for state and private sector workers by the National Council of State, NSC, has added to the imbroglio over the protracted new national minimum wage. The council also in the approval which has been rejected by Organised Labour, fixed N30, 000 minimum wage for federal workers.

If the position of the NSC stands, it will return Nigeria to year 2000 wage increase where the Federal Government and oil-producing states' workers were paid N7,500 as minimum wage, while other states' workers were paid N5,000.

Because of strong opposition from workers and labour leaders on the premises that all workers irrespective of federal, oil-producing and non-oil producing states, buy from the same market, the disparity was abrogated in 2011 giving rise to the subsisting N18,000 minimum wage.

Recall that when the Tripartite Committee on the new minimum wage submitted its report to President Muhammadu Buhari on November 5, 2018, workers were full of expectations. In fact, some had hoped to use the new minimum wage to celebrate the 2018 yuletide season following the National Assembly's assurance of an accelerated process once it received the draft bill.

In fact, the Tripartite Committee had revealed that it included an executive draft bill in the report submitted to the President.

The Ama Pepple-led committee had in the report recommended new minimum wage of N30,000, which organised labour described as a product of compromise.

At one of the committee meetings, the Federal Government proposed N24,500, while the Nigeria Governors' Forum, NGF, on the eve of the submission of the committee's report proposed N22,500 after the committee had agreed on N30,000.

However, over two months after the submission of the Tripartite Committee's report, there is no sign if or when the new minimum wage will become a reality.

More worrisome is what appears to be government's delay tactics and organised labour intentionally or unwittingly aiding government.

An indication that the government is not ready to fast- track the process came after organised labour issued a December 31, 2018 ultimatum to the government to either transmit a bill to the National Assembly or risk industrial unrest afterwards.

Prior to the ultimatum, leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, had on December 17, 2018, put the government on notice of a nationwide mobilisation and sensitisation protest slated for January 8, 2019.

In its response, the Federal Government through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, fixed a conciliatory meeting with the leaders of Organised Labour on January 4, 2019.

While leaders of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, honoured the invitation, leaders of the United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, stayed away, claiming that the three labour centres had on December 20, 2018 met in Lagos and resolved that they would not attend any further meeting on the minimum wage with the government.

As explained by Ngige, the meeting was aimed at pacifying labour to shelve the proposed nationwide protest scheduled for Tuesday, January 8, over government's failure to transmit the New National Minimum Wage bill to the National Assembly.

At the meeting, the leadership of labour impressed it on government to forward the executive bill on the N30,000 minimum wage as agreed by the Minimum Wage Tripartite Committee to the National Assembly within one week.

But the government delegation asked for four weeks to enable it finish its consultations and forward the bill to the National Assembly.

Speaking after the January 7 meeting, Ngige informed that the Tripartite Committee's recommendations would also be transmitted to the Federal Executive Council, FEC, National Economic Council, NEC, and Council of State which comprises former Presidents and Heads of State for final ratification, and subsequently, send to the National Assembly for enactment into law.

Ngige said: "We have made progress and tomorrow (Tuesday), we will know the definite date when the bill will be transmitted to the National Assembly.

It has been difficult to arrive at a date because there are processes to follow on the bill. We have to go to the FEC with a council memo on the bill. After that, we will go to the NEC and the Council of State.

"We can control the FEC date, the same with NEC, but for the National Council of State, the President has to look at his own time-table and we inform past Heads of State and Justice of the Federation.

"This can take two weeks but we are trying to see if we can accommodate all these meetings by next week because we cannot do Council of State meeting again this week. Immediately after that meeting (Council of State), we will transmit."

The National Assembly members who were on Christmas and New Year holidays resumed on Wednesday, 16th January, 2019.

But it appears the leaders of the organized labour are unknowingly acting and playing the script of the government.

Many have wondered why Labour gave a December 31 2018 deadline to government to send an executive bill on the new minimum wage to the National Assembly or risk industrial unrest, and then decided to hold a national protest on January 8.

A former labour leader who participated in the last two minimum wage negotiations, faulted the rationale for a protest and further meetings with government after a tripartite committee had concluded its report.

According to him, what the leaders of organised labour ought to have done at the December 20, 2018 meeting in Lagos, was to fix a date for a nationwide strike and not protest, saying "I hope our colleagues are not playing into the hands of government. Labour should push the government harder because the elections are around the corner. In few days from now the lawmakers and other government officials will be too busy with electioneering that if care is not taken, the minimum wage issue will become secondary. Labour must take a decisive action now that there is a little window before it is too late."

As it is, the uncertainty over the new minimum wage will persist because going by the scenario, the Attorney General of the Federation has to come up with an executive bill to be considered by the FEC, NEC populated by the governors and then to Council of States before taking the bill to the National Assembly.

Labour tackles council of state

Meanwhile as expected organized labour has not only rejected the position of National Council of State and insisted on N30,000 minimum wage for all workers, but threatened a large scale industrial unrest in the coming days..

The three labour centres, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, have warned of serious consequences over the National Council of State's approval, contending that the council state has no power to recommend, affirm or approve any minimum wage.

A mockery of process

ULC in a statement by its President, Joe Ajaero, at the end of its Central Working Committee, CWC, said: "The emerging news of the unfortunate decision of the federal government through the National Council of State to unilaterally propose N27,000 as the new National Minimum Wage is shocking and goes against the grain of all known traditions and practices of Industrial Relations especially as it concerns National Minimum Wage setting framework.

ULC rising from its just concluded Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting today (yesterday) in Lagos rejects in its entirety the proposed N27,000 which is contrary to the N30,000 agreed by the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Committee and which has since been submitted to the President.

"We state that the National Council of State in a National Minimum Wage setting mechanism is an aberration. It is also important that we make it clear that the National Council of State does not have powers to approve, confirm, affirm or accept any figure as the new National Minimum Wage. What they have pretended to have done is therefore without any force of Law, standards or other known practices of Industrial Relations the world over.

"It is a mockery of the essence and principle behind the setting of a National Minimum Wage to attempt to segregate it between Federal Workers and State Workers. We want to state that workers are workers everywhere whether at the Federal Level or at the State Level. They all have the same challenges; go to the same market, same schools and much more they suffer the same fate. You cannot therefore pay them differently.

"Government's attempt at this dichotomy is an effort at segregation and apartheid in nature. It is an attempt to put a sword within the trade union movement and to further the marginalization of Private sector workers in Nigeria thus seek to weaken the trade union movement in the country. "ULC saw this coming earlier in January and that was why we distanced ourselves. We urge the President to disregard the pronouncement of the National Council of State as it ridicules the statutes and principles governing the nation. The only honourable path he should tread is to transmit the N30,000 figure as agreed by the Tripartite Committee and even the President on the day of submission of the Committee's report. We will not accept the use of any cover of state to jettison the collective will of Nigerian workers and the trade union movement.

"Once again, we remind the President that he promised Nigerian workers that he was going to transmit the N30,000 as agreed by the Tripartite Committee to the National Assembly for passage into Law. He should not allow himself to be seen as a President who does not keep to his words. We hold him to that agreement and there is no other thing that would be acceptable to Nigerian workers except the N30,000 arrived at through the Tripartite process."

TUC's view

Similarly, TUC, in a statement by its President and Secretary General, Bobboi Kaigama and Musa Lawa-Ozigi, said: TUC rejects, out rightly the new National Minimum wage of N27, 000 as recommended by the National Council of State, the fact that the federal government agrees to pay N30, 000 notwithstanding.

"The Council of State decision though advisory in nature is weighty and may give semblance of authority to the decision. This decision must not be allowed to stand because it will set a wrong precedence for the future: i.e, after statutory bodies have done their jobs, Council of State will now sit to review it.

"Let it be known that N30, 000 minimum wage is a product of negotiation, not legislation, not advice and not a decree. Minimum wage issue therefore, is moving to a new theatre, the National Assembly. We expect the representative of the people if really they are to do the needful during the public hearing."

NLC holds NEC tomorrow

Also, the NLC has rejected the N27, 000 new national minimum wage adopted by the National Council of State.

The NLC General Secretary, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, made this known to the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.

According to him, the council had no jurisdiction determining another amount after a Tripartite Committee had submitted its report.

"It is abysmal of government to be delaying the submission of an Executive Bill to the National Assembly and by wrongfully adopting N27,000 through the council of states," he said.

However, Ozo-Eson, said the NLC has scheduled an emergency National Executive Council, NEC, meeting for Friday to weigh on the deadline given to government within which to submit an executive bill to the National Assembly.

The NLC scribe added that the Federal Government was only projecting a shutdown of the economy with its latest action.

"This is because workers should not be held responsible for any development after its NEC meeting on Friday," he said.

Yesterday, the Presidency sent a draft on the minimum wage to the National Assembly. Though, the details of the bill is still skechy as at the time of this report, at the National Assembly, the bill will be subjected to public hearing and it is not certain whether the lawmakers may have the time to follow the rigorous process before or after the general elections.

It should be emphasised that even if the National Assembly passes the bill into law, it will still be transmitted back to the President for his assent before it becomes an act.

As it stands, even with accelerated hearing, the earliest to expect the implementation of the new wage would be second quarter of this year.

Even if the National Assembly passes the bill into law, it will still be transmitted to the President for his assent before it becomes an act.

Going by recent activities, it is doubtful if organized labour will be able to muster the political will and capacity to quicken the implementation of a new minimum wage.

For the expectant workers, the N30,000 new minimum wage looks near, but very far.

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