Labour movement in Nigeria has bemoaned the unwillingness of the Federal Government to implement the new national minimum wage, following its failure to reach an agreeable consequential adjustment.
Meanwhile, the leadership of Trade Union Congress (TUC), led by its President, Quadri Olaleye, and including his deputy, Bola Audu, General Secretary, Musa Lawal and 3rd Deputy President, Chika Onuegbu and Chris Okonkwo, were in the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo late Thursday evening. The issues discussed and outcome of the parley remained unknown as at press time yesterday.
The Executive Secretary of the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA), John Odah, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian in Abuja, yesterday, said the claim that the economy of Nigeria cannot support the percentage of consequential adjustment Labour is demanding is an after-thought, as well as unfortunate.
This is just as the Enugu State Chairman of TUC, Mr. Chukwuma Igbokwe, advised Nigerian workers to shun remarks by Timi Frank, the former deputy national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that labour leaders have compromised.
He told journalists in Enugu yesterday that if the government listens to Frank, it might spell doom for the country and could precipitate protracted labour unrest.
He also urged workers to disregard the comment made by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that government cannot pay the new minimum wage unless some workers were laid off, pointing out that government had already paid N500billion on arrears of salary.
Frank had advised the federal government to disregard the labour threat of going on strike over the implementation of the new minimum wage, insisting that labour leaders hobnob with those in authority and thus lacked the integrity to call workers out for strike.
Odah argued that the Federal Government just realising that the economy cannot support the required amount of money to implement the new wage from grade level one to 17 is untenable, adding: “That such a statement is coming from a minister that was a part of the negotiation with the social partners several months after negotiations ended and the law signed into law is, to say the least, very unfortunate.
“Having signed the Bill into law some six months ago, it is not acceptable to now renege on it. Relativity is about justice done to the workers and not a single worker should feel bad that justice has not been done to him or her as far as salaries and wages are concerned.”
Odah, who is also a former general secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), disclosed that salary relativity in the civil service is a new phenomenon, saying it is the responsibility of the National Commission for Income Salaries and Wages to determine, through engagement with the Joint Public Service Negotiation Council.
“Salary relativity is aimed at ensuring that all categories of workers get some form of salary increment once there is a general income increase, such as a new minimum wage. The percentage of the relativity is subjected to further negotiation between the Commission and representatives of the workers, as represented by the Joint Negotiation Council.
“It is not the responsibility of any minister to decree percentage into existence or whips up public sentiment towards getting sympathy; it is often an agreement that is arrived at through excruciating negotiation,” he stated.
Odah recalled that the last time the minimum wage was effected in the country in 2011, the consequential adjustment was agreed upon by the social partners without any of them lording predetermined figure over the other, stating: “I will advise the government to continue the negotiation and also ensure that that does not break down. I know that through open negotiation and sincerity of purpose, agreeable figures that will be acceptable to all the parties will be arrived at.”
But a former president of TUC, Peter Esele, said labour leadership slept on their right when they failed to negotiate the consequential adjustment alongside the minimum wage, adding: “Even if labour did not get to negotiate the figures, they would have extracted a commitment from government.
“I say this because the negotiations were so thorny and took many twists and turns, which also showed some level of reluctance on the part of the government to implement a new wage. In 2011, we ensured we got a commitment from the government to implement the new wage, which was N18, 000.
“The best time politicians behave well is when elections are around the corner, but labour failed woefully to explore that opportunity. Now, the government seems not bothered again, because there is nothing at stake. For me, labour shot itself in the foot."
Ngige had insisted that the government cannot afford about N580 billion annually that would be required to implement the new national wage floor.
To that, Igbokwe said: “He doesn’t know what he is talking about because if government should listen to him, it will be easier for labour to take drastic action,” adding that this would aggravate the issue unless a consensus was reached after October 16, when further negotiation between labour and government would take place.
“I don’t think Ngige knows what he is saying,” the labour leader said, noting that the organised labour had made it clear that upward increment in worker’s salary became necessary because of the prevailing economic realities in the country, such as the increase in monetary foreign exchange, VAT, as well as general high cost of living in the country.
“Labour has been magnanimous in scaling down their demand from 66.6 per cent to 29 per cent and 24 per cent, and for this reason, the government should heed to their demand.