Nigeria: Minimum Wage - Organized Labour's N497,000 Demand Unrealistic - Presidency

27 May 2024

THE Presidency has said that the N497,000 demand by the organized labour as new minimum wage is unrealistic and advised the labour to be serious in its demand.

The Presidency also said that what should be paramount to arriving at the new minimum wage by the Tripartite Committee on the new minimum wage should be the availability of resources to pay whatever is agreed upon

Speaking exclusively to Vanguard in an interview in Abuja, Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, noted that the governments both at the federal and states have a bloated workforce.

Recall that the organized labour had made a demand of N615,000 minimum wage but later reduced the demand to N500,000 and then N497,000, while the government and the private sector in the last Tripartite meeting increased their offer to N57,000.

Fielding question on whether the recent N497,000 wage demand by the organized labour is outrageous, he said, "Well, it's very simple. I think the demand is outrageous. If you ask Mr. Ajaero or our brother who is the President of the TUC, Osifo how much do they pay their drivers or their lowest paid workers, how much do they pay their cleaners, can they pay them N500,000, can they pay them N615,000. It's unrealistic.

"We have bloated civil service at all levels. Government is keeping them as a social service, because it doesn't have other jobs for them.

"The last time someone gave the census of the federal civil servants, they are said to be about 50,000. I am not talking about the police, army or those employed by some agencies. I am talking about the hardcore civil servants.

"If you visit the Federal Secretariat, you will see them milling round.

"You do not expect much productivity from them. Yet these are people Ajaero wants the Federal Government to pay N615,000.

"At the moment, what government is spending on recurrent expenditure, is too high . I don't foresee any government either the federal, state or local government council spending spending all its money just to pay workers.

"There are still people who are self employed, people who are doing their own businesses to whom government has responsibility to do roads, provide healthcare, provide education and others. So, Labour should be realistic.

"From what I have seen so far, they are unserious, unrealistic with their outlandish demand. I know that what the President has been promising is not just a minimum wage but a living wage.

"It's too early now to say this is what government will agree to. But I think they are still negotiating. In the coming weeks, they will agree on a figure and then announce it to the Nigerian people.

"Then we have to be worried whether the states have the earning power to pay whatever the minimum wage agreed on because some states found it difficult to pay the old minimum wage of N30,000.

"I read a few days ago that Zamfara state government which failed to pay the N30,000 current minimum wage announced that they will pay.. If some states have not paid minimum wage announced by President Muhammadu Buhari five years ago, it is an indication that the states will also fail the new minimum wage. So labour needs to be realistic.

"In my own view, I think what labour should be talking about is how to make affordable housing available, how to reduce transport cost, how to make food cheap and affordable to our people because by the time you spend less money on food, less money on transport, education and other things, the earning power will improve. I don't believe in quantum of money, it will not solve the problem.

"We have seen all the wage increases in the past. They ended up creating more frustration to the workers."

Asked if President Bola Tinubu will rejig his cabinet as the government marks one year in office on May 29, he said that such is not considered presently.

He said, "I don't have any information about that. The President instead of approving a lavish anniversary, asked the ministers to go out and give their scorecards.

"Some of them have done so . We started on Thursday and Friday and we are taking more ministers on Monday . It will run until we exhaust all the major ministers who have stories to tell, who have score cards to present.

"I am not aware whether the President is entertaining removing some ministers. Don't forget, those ministers are not one year old, they came in I think late August and they have barely spent nine months or so in the government.

"The President would want to give them some time to really show whether they are performing or not."

Further asked his personal assessment and whether the ministers have lived up to their responsibilities, he said a good number of the cabinet members have so far discharged their responsibilities creditably.

According to him, "Many of them have done wonderfully well. All of them cannot be on the same level. It depends on what you are doing in your ministry, the kind of subjects you are superintending and so on. But I can say many of them have done well, many of them have been eager to implement the President 8-Point Agenda as it relates to the work they are doing in their ministries. I can say many of them have done well"

Asked how much he would suggest as a fair minimum wage to workers, he insisted that that should be based on the available resources to the government.

He said, "It depends on the purse of government. The government knows how much money is available and how much it can afford. If I want to make my own suggestion, I will say anything from N75,000, anything between N70,000 and N80,000. But the real test is affordability and sustainability by all tiers of government and the private sector."

On the claims by the organized labour that any amount less than N77,000 is wage reduction, Mr. Onanuga, said the current minimum wage still remained N30,000, adding that any other thing is palliative approved by the government.

He said, "You are talking about workers collecting wage award. The wage award is a temporary thing, it's a palliative, it's not permanent, so you cannot say it's part of the salary, the salary they are being paid is about N30,000.

"Government has to look at its purse, look at what the private sector can pay, look at what states can pay, that's why they call it a Tripartite Committee. They will look at the figure and say we can afford this or we cannot afford this, that's how I think it should go."

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