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Labour tackles federal government, governors over new minimum wage

The Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress have slammed the Federal Government for presenting N27,000 in the New Minimum Wage Bill presented to the National Assembly against the resolution of the tripartite committee.

At the public hearing organised by the House of Representatives on the bill on Monday, two of the three bodies that formed the tripartite committee agreed on N30,000 while the FG insisted on N27,000.

While organised labour and the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association insisted on N30,000, the FG and Nigerian Governors’ Forum settled for N27,000.

Among those at the hearing were the Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara; Deputy Speaker, Mr Yusuf Lasun; Minister of Finance, Zainab Mohammed; Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige; and Director-General of Budget in the Office of the Federation, Mr Ben Akabueze.

Others were the Chairman, NGF and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari; Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, who was part of the tripartite committee; President, NLC, Mr Ayuba Wabba; Vice-President, TUC, Olusoji Salako; and National President of NURTW.

Also present were the Senior Special Assistants to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang (Senate) and Mr Umar el-Yakub (House).

The workers at different times booed Ngige and Yari during their presentations.

The event took a dramatic turn when Ngige hailed the workers, saying, “Great Nigerian workers!” Responding, they chorused, “No!”

Ngige said the issue of the national minimum wage “is a national matter and fundamental to the dignity of workers”.

The minister said the tripartite committee only agreed to review the minimum wage “to a wage the government can sustain”.

Ngige added, “The Federal Government had earlier offered N24, 000 while state governments offered N22,000. However, after consultations the Council of State approved a minimum wage for all workers at N27, 000, not N30,000.

“As it stands, even though the government is paying 18,000 as minimum wage, states like Edo, Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Rivers are paying above the threshold.

“Let me also put it on record that we didn’t approve a dual minimum wage. I want this committee to note that what we have done is in consonance with Section 34 of Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

“However, I want to bring to the fore the angle of the tripartite national committee on minimum wage’s recommendation; it is not cast in stone. So, for people to call it an agreement is a misnomer.”

The finance minister said, “You will recall that the 2018 budget that was passed by the National Assembly had the a total expenditure size of 9.12tn. The approved revenue for that budget was 7.17tn. At the close of 2018, the Federal Government was able to pay pensions 100 per cent. The total cost of the salaries paid from January to December 2018 was a total of N2.618tn. This represents 72.66 per cent of the actual revenue that was generated between January and December to the tune of 3.603tn.

“The President wants to pay a very good minimum wage but sustainability is important.

“We have to do more work together with the National Assembly to raise the minimum wage. But now, what has been approved and sent to the National Assembly is N27,000.”

Yari said when the wage was to be raised to N18,000, the governors raised the current problems, which he said the workers were aware of.

He said while the parties in the negotiation agreed on N18,000, it was also agreed that the revenue sharing formula was overdue for a review.

“That has not been done. Obasanjo attempted to do it but they did shoddy something and it was not concluded.”

Wabba, who spoke for both the NLC and TUC, said, “We have four amendments that we are proposing here. Amendment one is about the figure. In the current bill, Item 1(a) provides for a minimum wage of N27, 000; we want to say and plead that the figure should be N30,000.”

He added, “Yes, it should be a four-year cycle or if there is a major economic issue that will reduce or affect the value of the current minimum wage. So, whichever comes first will trigger the process of looking at the minimum wage.”

The NLC boss also noted that with the falling value of the naira, workers were forced to insist that the minimum wage must be upwardly reviewed.

Wabba said, “When we signed the 18, 000 minimum wage, it was equivalent to $150; today, 18, 000 is less than $50.”

While dismissing Ngige’s claim that what the tripartite committee did was a mere bargaining, Wabba said, “This document, which we signed and agreed on N30, 000; I want to say all the people were invited there and they signed it because at the end of the day, we came to a negotiating table with different demands.”

The labour leader disclosed that state chairmen of the unions had been directed to discuss with their governors.

He said. “We have been able to discuss with 30 governors, and they agreed to pay N30, 000.”

Dogara noted that there were obvious reasons why the House had to give accelerated consideration to the “very crucial bill”.

He said, “It is a bill that is long overdue, as the current National Minimum Wage, which was fixed in 2011, has become unrealistic due to supervening developments in the nation.”

He hinted that the lawmakers would consider the recommendation of the tripartite committee in the legislative process.

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