Again, fresh hurdle before minimum wage in states
It has been a windy route for the new minimum wage, which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 18, 2019.In 2011, when the N18,000 national wage became effective, the organised labour had hoped that by 2016, a new wage structure would have been instituted going by the tenets of the 2015 wage law. The 2011 minimum wage had specified a five-year review, now turned into an eight-year period.
While the minimum wage covers all workers that are in pay employment in the country, civil service requires a slightly more than a national minimum wage. In their case, there are provisions for what is termed ‘consequential adjustment’ for other salary grade levels.
Indeed, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, opined that the Federal Government is concerned with the category of workers that earn less than N30,000. This was immediately faulted by the organised labour, hence the delay in negotiation between the Government and Joint National Public Service Negotiation Council (JNPSNC), on the consequential adjustment.
But as the Federal Government concluded negotiations with labour, state governors under the auspices of Nigeria’s Governors Forum (NGF), have faulted the figures arrived at the federal level, saying they have to renegotiate fresh terms with their respective labour state councils, which would be based on ability to pay.This has expectedly elicited condemnation from labour, which faulted reference to ‘federalism’ by governors whenever the issue of wages come up for negotiation.
The General Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Emmanuel Ugboaja, declared that any recalcitrant state unwilling to go into negotiation for the consequential adjustment aspect of the minimum wage is inviting industrial crisis.He said: “We believe that state governors are honourable people that would uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To this end, we are sure that no state governors will break the law of this country; and knowing that the minimum wage is a law, they would respect the tenets of the law. But we also know that there would be some that might want to test the resolve of the organised labour, and for those we would adopt the standard trade union response. For any governor that is worthy of that sobriquet, he should know that salary structures worldwide have pillars that are globally defined.”
The NLC Scribe also castigated the position of the NGF that the Federal Government cannot dictate to them on the consequential adjustment figures for their workers.Ugboaja asked the governors where they have been all this while but waited until now to speak to the issue.He said: “So, it is now that the governors suddenly realised that Nigeria practices federalism? Where have they been since April 18, 2019 when President Buhari signed the minimum wage bill into law? Why have they not begun the process of negotiation of consequential adjustment in their respective states? Why did they wait for the Federal Government to finish negotiation with the national leadership of the organised labour before initiating theirs? Why didn’t they invite workers for negotiation in their states since?”
Ugboaja said the NLC at the national level remains committed to ensuring that negotiations of consequential adjustment is done in accordance with best global standard, saying: “We are committed to negotiations at the state level. We are also committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue with all the state governors. We are ready to negotiate at the state level just as we did at the federal level.”
He insisted that the figures that would be arrived at the states must be borne out of Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), after due negotiation with various state councils of both the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and NLC.He said: “The leadership of Congress has empanelled a standing committee to monitor the negotiation of consequential adjustment at the state level. This is to ensure that all the parameters are complied with.” He added that the leadership of organised labour has directed its state councils on what to do.
“We have directed all our state councils to begin the process of negotiation. We have made it clear to our state councils that we are not going to accept awarded consequential adjustment by any state governor that is not a product of collective bargaining agreement. Workers are not slaves, and we will not accept being treated as such,” he said.To the immediate past General Secretary, Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Marcus Omokhuale, there is no need to embark on any fresh negotiation at the state level.
His words: “My take is very simple. The unions have to be on top of the situation. I am happy that the National Joint Negotiating Council has invited state councils and schooled them on negotiation skills. “But what I expected is not a matter of negotiation; what I expected the national body to tell the state councils is that they should insist on what has been agreed upon nationally, and not subjecting the entire thing to another round of negotiation.”
Besides, he argued that “If it is subjected to another round of negotiation, some of our labour leaders will compromise. I say this because over the years it has been proven that when time for negotiation comes, some labour leaders see it as an opportunity to enrich themselves. Having collected what they can collect, they give states government free hand to add and subtract whatever figure they feel like.
“Some of the labour leaders in the states also compromise because of their closeness to their governors and what they get from them. Most of them value what they get from these governors than what they can get for the workers. So, the headquarters of the joint council and NLC should insist that no state council should further subject the agreed minimum wage to another round of negotiation,” he said.
Omokhuale also urged that the NLC Secretariat to warn the counciks against compromise. “The national leadership has to write a strong-worded letter to the various state councils to go to the negotiation councils in their states and stand on what has been agreed upon.”
On his part, a former Chairman of NLC Kwara State Council, Emmanuel Ayeoribe, said labour does not have any option than to paralyse commercial activities in states that are unwilling to negotiate the consequential adjustment. He also faulted the position of the governors for hiding under federalism whenever payment of workers’ salaries is under discussion.
He said: “I think the argument of the Governors’ Forum is a misplaced one. Misplaced in the sense that when it comes to workers’ salaries, we tend towards federalism, but on other issues we erode that philosophy. It is either we adopt federalism wholeheartedly or jettison it. The governors cannot in one breath proclaim federalism when it favours them, but shift away as soon as the situation does not favour them.”
Ayeoribe submitted that for an economy that is always staring at recession due to weak purchasing power of the people, one sure way of boosting economic revival is payment of correct salary to workers.He said: “We should place minimum wage in the proper place we ought to. There are many things that better wages will cure; it will improve productivity, and reduce corruption to the barest minimum. Why won’t there be corruption in governance process when workers are poorly paid? A bag of rice today is more than N25,000 amid a minimum wage of N30,000. Workers won’t eat anything other than rice? How can workers purchase other food items, pay house rent, pay children’s school fees, and transport to places of work without the temptation of taking advantage of their positions? Even that meagre N30,000 is under a threat. What sort of system are we running in this country? Is there justice in a system like this?”
He declared that the organised labour must keep the pressure on any state governor that is unwilling to implement the minimum wage to the letter.He stated: “To beef up the economy of any state, good wages must be paid to workers. So, the argument is misplaced and borne out of insincerity of purpose. We have never been sincere about how federalism should operate in our country. Therefore, if any state is not ready to go into negotiation on the consequential adjustment, labour should get set to fight it out. We all remember that during the last general elections, virtually all the gubernatorial candidates promised to implement the minimum wage if they were elected. So, why this sudden realisation that they cannot pay? Didn’t they know what states had before seeking elective offices?”
He further explained that decent economies adjust salaries based on some economic parameters and realities, saying, “While our agreement in 2011 said the minimum wage law would be reviewed every five years; it took us more than three years to get this underway and now, no one knows when the implementation will begin especially at the state level. So for me, if any governor is not ready to implement the new national wage floor, such a governor should await the fury of the organised labour movement. Such a struggle at this point is going to be a very long battle that may destroy some of the governors if care is not taken.”
No comments yet