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Relief for workers as new minimum wage berths

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja and Gloria Ehiaghe, Lagos
23 April 2019   |   3:51 am
It has been a tortuous two years journey for the new minimum wage to finally become a reality. While labour and Nigerian workers reserve the right to drown themselves in momentary ecstasy, the way it impacts their lives may be of greater importance in the days to come. President Muhammadu Buhari may have famously signed…

Mr. Bobboi Kaigama, the President of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) .<br />

It has been a tortuous two years journey for the new minimum wage to finally become a reality.

While labour and Nigerian workers reserve the right to drown themselves in momentary ecstasy, the way it impacts their lives may be of greater importance in the days to come.

President Muhammadu Buhari may have famously signed the minimum wage into law to attract momentary applause, the N30, 000 or $80, which is way below the worth of N18, 000 which was $100 in 2011, Nigerians may not feel the effect of the wage increase until each sector negotiates how it cascades down the ladder.

Besides, the while the state governors were always in Abuja, the seat of power, cap in hand to pay the N18, 000 coupled with sliding oil prices, where the Federal Government would source the revenue to pay the N30, 000 still begs for answer.

Will the government remove subsidy on fuel or will it mark up the Valued Added Tax or simply embark on aggressive borrowing to fund the new wage are posers that would come to light in the fullness of time.

It was the General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr Peter Ozo-Eson that sounded a note of caution to the stakeholders that are carried away by the excitement of the moment, when he stated that signing the bill into law is not an end itself, but the beginning of another process in order to ensure that the Nigerian workers feel the impact of the upward adjustment of the national wage structure.

He said the labour movement would lead the process of ensuring each sector negotiates with the unions to ensure credibility of the process across all levels of the workforce in the country.

He also explained that the take-off date of the minimum wage is the date the President signed the bill into law, which was Thursday, 18th April 2019, saying, “yes the last minimum wage ought to have started in 2016 but that did not happen.

The negotiation took more than two years but that does not mean this take-off date of this will be 2016. No. The day a bill is signed into law is the day such law takes off. Therefore, this one has a provision of a five years review and it will lapse in 2023.”

NLC also expressed its appreciation to President Buhari for signing into law the new national minimum wage bill of N30, 000.

Congress Scribe noted: “However, we would use this opportunity to call for immediate implementation of the law, given the fact that this process has dragged on for nearly two years.

“In furtherance of this, we urge employers, particularly federal and state governments, to commence immediate negotiations with the appropriate unions on the impact of the new law on the wage structure with a view to timely and judicious implementation.”

The NLC counterpart, Trade Union Congress (TUC) was also not left out of the ecstasy, the trade centre commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the bill approving N30, 000 as the new national minimum wage into law.

President of TUC, Bobboi Bala Kaigama and Secretary General, Musa-Lawal Ozigi, said in a statement that the new wage would in no small measure give workers a sense of belonging.

The duo, however, noted that while the organised labour appreciates the approval of the new wage, it is also instructive to note that its gains have been eroded by inflation, adding that prices of commodities have gone up even when employers have not commenced payment.

Kaigama said: “The N30, 000 monthly National Minimum Wage that we are even asking for to a family of six actually amounts to less than N50 per meal per person. It is exclusive of utility bills, school fees, etc.

“Given our extended family system as Africans we are also expected to once in awhile extend hands of fellowship to parents, in-laws, relations, friends who have lost their jobs, brothers and people of the same faith.

“We recall that some lawmakers promised to give the wage bill supersonic attention whenever it was brought before them and they have kept to their word. To us it means we still have men and women with milk of kindness left in them.”

He, therefore, called on the 9th Assembly and well meaning Nigerians to prevail on governors to pay workers their salaries and pension to pensioners as and when due to avoid crisis in the industrial sector.

The TUC boss lauded the Federal Government, lawmakers and Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA) for taking step to improve the quality of workers by working hard to see the birth of a new national minimum wage for the country.

It appears that the organised private sector would not find implementing the new wage problematic going by the body language of Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA).

The Director General of NECA, Timothy Olawale, who noted that the efforts and struggles of the Nigerian workers were not in vain, said the new wage structure will boost the purchasing power of the Nigerian worker.

He clarified that the new wage was not a general salary increase but a wage below, which no employer should pay.

He further explained that employers who are already paying above N30, 000 are not obligated to comply while other social partners should respect the understanding in order not to jeopardize the prevailing industrial peace.

The NECA scribe said organised businesses are committed to the implementation of the new national minimum wage to ensure industrial harmony.

His words: “The organised businesses wish to commend the President for attending to the National Minimum Wage Bill as sent by the National Assembly. It shows that he cares for the welfare of the masses and working class in particular. We believe that the implementation date will be the date of assent.

“As employers in the private sector, we have restated our commitment to implement and ensure compliance, that immediately it is signed into law, with the effective date, we are all going to implement.

“Our position is that this year we are going to put it in our budget and we have ensured that all employers adhere to the voice of NECA to make sure they make provision for it in their budget, which they have done since the beginning of the year, so we expect them to pay.”

Also, the Secretary General of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Bashir Lawal called on the Federal Government for quick implementation of the wage, so that labour under the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), can commence in earnest on how the wage will affect those who earn above the minimum wage scale.

Even with the present state of the economy, Lawal stressed that what is needed is the will from the part of government and the state governors to ensure prompt payment of salaries, and the need to plug all loopholes, some of which he said have been stated during the tripartite committee meeting.

“We do not see any problem unless for recalcitrant state governors, who want to prove a wrong point. However, when we get to that bridge, we will cross it. We are fully prepared,” he said.