By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA – THE Federal Government Thursday raised the hope of the Nigerian workers with the recommendation of a 29-member Minimum Wage Committee to work out modalities and come up with a new minimum wage that would bring relief to Nigerian workers.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige who disclosed this while presenting the report of the Technical Committee on Minimum Wage and Palliatives to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir David Lawal, said the welfare of Nigerian workers was key to the change Agenda of the present administration.
According to him, “Recall that in May 2016, the Federal Government effected an upward review of the pump price of premium motor spirit to between N143 to N145 and on 17th May set up a Committee comprising Labour and government to seek out palliatives to cushion the effects of the pump price increase as well as look into the review of the minimum wage which is a constitutional matter.”
“Government did this knowing full well the attendant sufferings which the nation’s workforce, indeed, regular Nigerians were passing through as a result of this tough government decision, taken anyway in the overall interest of the generality of the people
“The present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari had no option than to demonstrate that whatever decision it has taken was in pursuit of the well-being of the citizenry. And today, the report of the technical committee is ready and we are confident that its far reaching submissions will make a lot of meaning in the life of the Nigerian worker and that of his family.”
He further said the submissions of his committee were in two volumes comprising the Minimum Wage and the Palliatives. He noted that the minimum wage was last reviewed in 2010 and signed into law in 2011 under the previous administration of President Jonathan, adding that the current exercise was in compliance to a five –year constitutional provision on minimum wage review.
“We have no problem in tackling the issue of the minimum wage. We recommended a 29-man Minimum Wage Committee to be chaired by a reputable Nigerian, who will be neutral and non-partisan, with labour and civil service experience so that the person would be on a familiar turf.”
There will also be a secretary with the secretariat of the committee to be domiciled at the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission. Eight persons are expected to represent each of the following; the Federal Government, the organized labour, organized private sector and three members representing the state government to be drawn from the Governors Forum, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Governors Forum and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Governors Forum.
On Palliatives, the Minister said the Committee identified dwindling economic fortunes of the Federal Government as the major problem having taken submissions from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Budget and Planning as well as the Ministry of Finance. He however enthused that the committee made far reaching recommendations capable of alleviating the sufferings of the masses.
“We made all-encompassing recommendations in the areas of salaries, allowances, promotions and pensions both at the state and federal levels; affordable housing and transport to help out suffering workers of Nigeria.
“We also looked at the mass transit scheme. And in housing, we recommended that government through its ministries and agencies should give more support for mass housing for civil servants by invigorating the Federal Mortgage Bank, as well as assisting the housing schemes being undertaken by the labour unions and further support workers to venture into agriculture.”
In his remark, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Engr. Babachir David Lawal commended the technical committee especially the organized labour for their cooperation and input into the report and restated the commitment of the Federal Government to study and take it to fruition.
He said, “We have to work hard and diligently too, to conclude our report and make a submission to government because I know that this government is favourably disposed to the improved welfare of Nigerians as a whole. We should take the opportunity of this disposition to conclude our report and send it to the President for consideration.”
Speaking at the occasion, President of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, asked the federal government to put in place a benchmark for the implementation of the new national minimum wage when it is finally put in place.
Comrade Kaigama told the government to immediately address the problems facing federal civil servants while giving bail out to state governments.
He dismissed the notion in some quarters that the minimum wage issue was a government affair, saying organised labour fought to ensure that the issue of minimum wage was maintained in the exclusive legislative list in order to protect the vulnerable Nigerians.
He said: “Minimum wage is not only federal government issue. At a point, we had to go to the National Assembly to protest before the issue of minimum wage was maintained on the exclusive legislative list.
“The belief has always been that minimum wage should be on the concurrent list, forgetting the fact that minimum wage is about the ordinary person and not about the public sector alone.
“If the states do their minimum wage, who is going to do one for the private sector and the disadvantaged in the country. That goes to say that it must come from the federal government.
“So, the government should ensure that the benchmark for all employers is made as a law so that everybody in the country is carried along irrespective of the number of persons employed.
“We also hoped that the committee will look into the idea being canvassed that minimum wage should only be for workers in organisation of 50 staff and above because be the worker a gardener or a house help, they are all Nigerians and should be considered.
“So, the standard should be that employers of labour that has at least one employee in their own employment so that it will go holistically.”
On the claims by state governors that they were not carried along in the process of negotiating the minimum wage in the last, he said that the state governors were only trying to be unnecessarily smart.
He said, “Your predecessor was involved in the process in the last exercises and now you deny that governors were not part of negotiation.
“I hope that we all realize that constituting a minimum wage committee is not just coming for the inaugural meeting. It demands that you partake in every committee work so that at the no of the day, you are part of the process so that when the report is ready, everybody will be on the same page.
“We hope that they will not sit in the comfort of their homes and delegate people to work for them and come back later to deny being part of this. So, as we constitute a committee, we should ensure that every stakeholder takes the committee work very seriously so that the process of the work will be seen to have taken into consideration everyone in the Nigerian economy.”
Kaigama who acknowledged the efforts of the federal government in giving state governors bailout to meet pressing needs in their state, expressed optimism that the report would not be dumped in the dust bin of history.
He said: “We hope that the report will not be one report that remains on the shelf as usual. We are happy to note that the federal government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has been able to bail out state government even though they refused to use those bail out for the purpose for which the funds were released.
“Again, there is the issue of the Paris Club refund to the governors. The first trench was released now they are getting the second trench. We hope that this places a burden on them to ensure that the issue of arrears in salaries, pension and gratuity are addressed.
“On the part of the federal government, we crave the indulgence of the government to ensure that they don’t only bail out states when federal workers have very serious problems.
“They have salary arrears, death benefits, promotion arrears, pensions that have not been paid over the last one year for the contributory pension scheme because the federal government has not been paying its own contribution.
“Most of our members who retired in the last one year have not been paid till now. We hope that the government will use the opportunity of this report to address all the silent issues that have been enumerated for the purpose of maintaining a very sound industrial harmony in the system”.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal said the Buhari administration was interested in the welfare of Nigerians, adding that the committee report will be studied by the Main committee and a report submitted to the President for immediate action.
Also speaking, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba accused the governors of playing to the gallery as they have always been part of the negotiation of the minimum wage.
He said the governors were part of negotiation of the last national minimum wage, pointing out that all states of the federation sent memo to the negotiating team while many of the, proposed a minimum wage that was far above the current N18 minimum wage.
He expressed surprise that the governors turned round later to say they were not consulted before arriving at the existing minimum wage.