Labour leaders in Nigeria Wednesday cautioned the Federal Government to stop foot dragging on the New Minimum Wage and allow the tripartite committee conclude its job to avoid industrial crisis.
The ultimatum coincided with an assurance from the Federal Government on the new minimum wage.
The labour leaders, who are members of the Minimum Wage Committee at a joint news conference addressed in Lagos, gave the federal government 14 days to ensure that the committee conclude its work or be ready to face industrial action.
Ayuba Wabba, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, said that the committee was not pleased with the comments alleged to have been made by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige.
According to him, Ngige had last week allegedly said that the committee should adjourn indefinitely to enable him do further consultations with the government.
“We view his supposed pronouncement with great concern, suspicion and outrage. This new antic certainly is not acceptable to Nigerian workers, who had expected a New National Minimum Wage since 2016,“ he said.
The NLC president said that in the course of the meeting, the committee members had time to consult and received memoranda and inputs from 21 state governments, specialized Agencies of the Federal Government, the Organized Private Sector, Organised Labour and the general public.
Joe Ajaero, President of the United Labour Congress, (ULC) said that issues concerning the minimum wage has been concluded and that the committee was expecting government representative to pronounce their own figure.
Ajaero, however, refused to give a likely figure that could be approved as minimum wage and also did not give a clear answer on whether government was sincere on paying the new wage.
He said that the call for a new minimum wage became necessary because it was already overdue, and in view of the increasing cost of goods and services.
However, the Presidency on Wednesday reassured workers of the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to an increase in the minimum wage.
Sen. Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) who gave the assurance in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, spoke in response to alleged lack of commitment by the Federal Government to an upward review of the minimum wage, which has been N18, 000 for over eight years.
“I want to assure you that the Buhari-led administration is very honest and committed to reviewing the salaries of workers.
“If he was not, he would not have set up a committee on minimum wage headed by a retired Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. This is a sign of commitment, the Minister of Labour is part of it.
“So, it shows the level of commitment, and it is not a committee of the Federal Executive Council, it is a presidential committee set up and inaugurated by the president.”
Enang urged NLC to consider unemployed Nigerians in its demand for salary increment.
”The workers and labour should include all those who are qualified to be employed but are not yet employed.
“So, when we are talking about increase in the salaries of workers, let us also make allowance for new people to be employed.
“That is; thinking about those you and I have trained who have graduated, who out of frustration sometimes act and behave in a manner which they ought not to, and sometimes take to social media to harass the government and you.
“Sometimes, they even revolt against you in the house because they do not have what to do. So, when we are talking about increase in salaries, I agree to it, but I think we should also factor along creating employment for those who are yet to have.”
The presidential aide said the Federal Government was already working towards achieving that by encouraging its agencies and parastatals to employ young and qualified Nigerians.
Enang stated that the government was also creating self-employment opportunities for enterprising youths through its social investment programme.
He said the government was equally creating the enabling environment in the agricultural and technological sectors for young Nigerians.
The tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee, made up of 29 members drawn from organised labour and the federal and state governments, was inaugurated in May, 2017.
Although the committee was given till Sept. 1 to submit its report, it could not meet the deadline due to disagreement over the minimum wage figure.
On Aug. 21, Minister of Labour and Employment Dr Chris Ngige, however, blamed the delay on the inability of state governors to agree on a figure.
According to the minister, the Federal Government through its Economic Management Team, is working with the governors to find a common ground
Until then, the minister said he could not tell when the new minimum wage would be implemented.
The NLC on Monday said the Committee on National Minimum Wage was yet to agree only on a figure for the new minimum wage for the Nigerian workers.
Wabba said: “However, just before we conclude, the Minister of Labour spoke at that occasion as a representative of the Federal Government, saying the they needed to go and consult before arriving at a figure.
“We felt that since this committee was inaugurated in November and everybody was aware that all stakeholders needed to tidy up whatever consultations they needed to do and make sure that we are able to work within that timeline.
“Clearly speaking, they were not prepared to produce a figure by that date. But our report has been completed. What is left is just to agree on a particular figure as minimum wage.
“All the parameters to be used to arrive at a figure are there. I can say clearly that states have sent in memorandums.
“In fact, 21 states sent in memorandums, with about 12 quoting figures, NECA has submitted a figure, organised labour has submitted a figure.
“With this new development, they are saying that they want to consult, we could say that it is not a fair process if somebody is saying at this point that he has not consulted,” he said.
Wabba noted that the organised labour, would meet formally and issue a formal statement, and also see how they would ensure that the interest of Nigerian worker was not in any way undermined.
According to him, this is where we are and we think that it is proper that we put the fact before our members.
“Labour leaders have already called for our organ meetings where we will brief our members.
“Already, it is in public domain that both the government and labour agreed that the timeline must be respected and they were saying that September is not feasible.
“We are committed to respecting the timeline and that is why we left everything we are doing to do the needful to be able to do a good job.
”All the parameters you can think of have been considered and the report is ready. But the only thing missing is the issue of the figure.”
The NLC president also recalled that individual states had quoted figures and every state was given the opportunity to make its own presentation.
He also noted that a letter was written to every state by the secretariat to send in their memo, making their inputs and 21 of them actually made inputs.
“You are aware of the figures quoted by organised labour. We have enough data to do justice to the work and we have actually done justice to the work. I am telling you that this is what has happened.
“So there was enough time for everybody to make input. This should have been consummated but some people are saying they need time for consultation.
”We thought that should not have been the situation, because of the importance of the issue to Nigerian workers; and the workers can also not continue to be patient,” he said.