By Oji Odu
Organised labour comprising three prominent workers’ bodies- Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC), has spontaneously rejected the N27,000 minimum wage and the N30,000 for Federal Government workers following the figures approval by the National Council of States (NCS). They said the figures are unacceptable, questionable and smack of deceit by government.
While rejecting the disparity, many question the reason why the NCS should be brought into the scene, bearing in mind that all interested stakeholders, including President Muhammadu Buhari had agreed to the N30,000 new minimum wage regime. There are also fears that the weight of the NCS recommendation could sway both Executive and legislative positions on the issue as the battle shifts to the National Assembly which could bring a shocking position, as the 2019 elections close up.
The new figure of N27,000 is N3,000 below the N30,000 the federal government and organised labour agreed upon and N4,500 above the N22,500 offered by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
In what is described as the “spirit of give and take,” the Council, which is the nation’s advisory body to the president made up of past Heads of State, State Governors, with the Vice President as the Chairman, asked the workers to accept N27,000 as the new national wage.
Taking a swipe, NLC General Secretary, Peter Ozo-Eson, declared that the Council has no jurisdiction to determine a separate amount after a tripartite committee had adopted N30,000 as minimum wage and submitted its report to the federal government.
Warning that government’s action was calling for a shutdown of the economy, and working should not be held responsible for their actions after Friday, January 25 National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, said that NLC had fixed a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting for Friday to consider its next line of action.
NLC further argued that it was absurd for the government to be delaying the submission of an executive bill to the National assembly and wrongfully adopting N27,000 through the Council of State.
The TUC on its part described the N27,000 recommended by the National Council of State after the federal government had agreed to pay N30,000 was an after-thought and deceptive.
In a statement he signed yesterday, TUC President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, regretted the Council’s decision which he that although it is advisory in nature, is weighty and may give the semblance of authority to it.
“This decision must not be allowed to stand because it will set a wrong precedence for the future, that is, after statutory bodies have done their jobs, the Council of State will now sit to review it.
“Let it be known that N30,000 minimum wage is a product of negotiation, not legislation, not an advice and not a decree,” he said, stressing that as the issue moves to the theatre of the National Assembly,…Nigerians expect the representatives of the people, if they really are to do the needful during the public hearing.
ULC ‘s stance was no different. The body also rejected the N27,000, stating that the National Council of States lacked the powers to approve, confirm, affirm or accept any figure as the new national minimum wage.
In his reaction, ULC President, Joe Ajaero, said: “What they have pretended to have done is therefore without any force of law, standards or other known practices of industrial relations the world over. It is a mockery of the essence and principle behind the setting of a national minimum wage to attempt to segregate it between Federal Workers and State Workers.
“We want to state that workers are workers everywhere whether at the Federal Level or at the State Level. They all have the same challenges; go to the same market, same schools and much more they suffer the same fate. You cannot therefore pay them differently,” he said, as he urged President Buhari to disregard the position of the National Council of State because it ridicules the statutes and principles governing the nation.
Ajaero stated that, “The only honourable path he should tread is to transmit the N30,000 figure as agreed by the tripartite committee and even the president on the day of submission of the committee’s report. We will not accept the use of any cover of state to jettison the collective will of Nigerian workers and the trade union movement.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said after the Council of State meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, that the executive bill on the new minimum wage will be transmitted to the National Assembly today, January, 23, 2019.
He described the N27,000 proposal as only the benchmark, adding that the federal government would pay N30,000 to its workers.
According to him, organisations with less than 25 personnel have been exempted from applying it, and the approved amount is subject to review after five years.
“So, a bill will now be transmitted to the National Assembly that will amend the 1981 Act and 2011 Act. The highlight is what you want to know. The figure of N27,000 monthly has been approved for transmission to the National Assembly. The frequency of the review of the bill is five years, to get it in consonance with pension law of the federation as enshrined in the constitution.
“Exemptions to this bill will be establishments that are not employing people up to the number of 25. The various times prescribed have also been altered in the bill and will be sent to the National Assembly before the close of work tomorrow (today),” he stated.
Will labour shutdown the nation as threatened if legislature agrees with the N27,000, or back down? “Nigerians will never take them serious again if they do,” Kaliwo Johnson, a Sociologist told the Magazine in a chat.