By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG, TAYE OBATERU, VINCENT UJUMADU, AKONI OLASUNKANMI & OSCARLINE ONWUEMENYI
LAGOS—INDICATIONS emerged, yesterday, during the Workers’ Day celebrations, that Organised Labour and state governments were heading for a showdown over the implementation of the N18,.00 new minimum wage as many states were hinging its payment on the implementation of a new revenue allocation that will give more money to state and local governments rather than the Federal Government.
But Labour has not only rejected any condition before the implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage bill signed into law by President Jonathan in March 20011, but also said it would do all within its power to ensure that the new wage was implemented quickly in both the public and private sectors.
This came as Labour warned that Nigerians would no longer accept failures from governments, stressing: “The alternative is predictable; workers and the Nigerian people will be compelled by objective conditions to take their destiny in their own hands.”
Addressing workers and other guests including the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, at the Eagles Square venue of the National May Day celebration in Abuja, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, noted that the struggle for a new national minimum wage had been long drawn.
Minimum wage agreement
He recalled that during the last May Day celebrations, the agreed minimum wage of N18,000 was announced, with a call on the government to quickly pass it into law.
Comrade Omar who spoke at the May Day celebration with the theme, “Growing the National Economy for Job Creation and People’s Welfare,” said: “Unfortunately, it has taken almost a year for the amendment to the Minimum Wage Act to be passed.
Now that the law has been passed, we must commit to ensuring that the law is observed and that the new wage is implemented. We have heard some discordant notes from some of the state governors about inability to pay the new minimum wage.
“On our part, we know that all governments and private sector employers covered by the law can conveniently pay the wage. In the particular case of governments, what is called for is a re-ordering of priorities and a reduction in waste and graft. Calls have been made by some governors for a review of the Revenue Allocation Formula in favour of the states, to enable them have access to more resources to pay the new wage.
“While we agree that positive developmental impacts can arise from the de-concentration of resources, this cannot be a condition precedent to the implementation of the new minimum wage. Comrades, a major task ahead of us is to ensure that not only is the minimum wage implemented quickly in both the public and private sectors, but also to ensure that the implied adjustment of the general wage structure is undertaken.”
Buttressing Labour’s belief that governments at all levels had the capacity to pay, Comrade Omar lamented that despite the sorry state of affairs, “about 10 per cent of the population corner over 30 per cent of the nation’s wealth through looting the public treasury, excessive remuneration in public office, and engagement in speculation and dubious businesses. “
He added: “It is instructive that a federal legislator on the average earns about N289m or more than N24m a month. Given the new minimum wage of N18, 000, this amount will pay 111 workers for one year. The annual constituency allowance of a senator, which stands at about Nl.6billion, will pay 741 workers a year at N18, 000 minimum wages.
“It is obvious that corruption has increased in magnitude as our political elite conceive of public office as an opportunity to embezzle public funds for personal purposes. Over the years, the estimated stolen fund from the nation’s coffers is between $400billion and $600billion.”
New revenue formula
However, giving the indication that many state governments may not be able to pay the N18,000 minimum wage unless that there is new revenue formula that favours the state and local governments Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, said for the newly approved minimum wage policy to be effective and sustained, there must be a review of revenue formula in favour of the state and local governments
Addressing workers in Lagos at the Onikan Stadium venue of the rally, Governor Fashola who is already paying N18,750 minimum wage to Lagos State workers, said that the sustainability of the new minimum wage could only be guaranteed when the right policies were put in place.
He said: “I have been privileged to serve as Chairman of the Committee of the Nigerian Governors Forum set up to find ways to ensure that all the states are able to comply with the new minimum wage. One of the things the committee is saddled with is that as chairman and member governors from Adamawa, Enugu, Niger, Rivers and Sokoto states, we have been mandated to work out and propose a new revenue allocation formula for the country.
He added: “A situation in which the Federal Government currently takes as much as 52.68 percent of the centrally collected revenues in the Federation Account, leaving the states and local governments with 26.72 and 20.60 percent respectively is a problem. This creates a glaring and unacceptable imbalance in the financial resources of the three tiers of government, which is quite inappropriate at a time most state governments are finding it difficult to invest in capital development.”
Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who has promised to commence the implementation of the new wage next month, in a May Day message to Nigerian workers called on the Organised Labour to join the call for a review of the current revenue allocation formula to enable states meet their added responsibility brought about by the new minimum wage.
He said: “I salute workers on the occasion of another May Day today. However, workers should not keep quiet in the face of oppression by political actors. As a matter of fact, workers’ voices should be loudest in the call for the enthronement of true democracy, because when political leaders are truly elected, the interest of workers, the nation’s wealth creators, will be uppermost in their minds.”
Oshiomhole who was a former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, added: “The revenue allocation formula gives so much money to Abuja and Abuja has far more money than it needs.
For every one naira that accrues to the federation, Abuja collects 52 per cent of it, then the states, plus FCT plus the 774 local governments collect the remaining 46.4 per cent. Workers should join the clamour for the change in this anomaly so as not to give some state governments an excuse on the payment of the new minimum wage.”
Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, also called on Labour to join forces with state governors in agitating for the restructuring of the revenue allocation formula. Fayemi who spoke at the May Day Rally at Ado-Ekiti said Labour’s involvement in the campaign for a more equitable sharing formula of the nation’s wealth would enable states to meet demands for increased minimum wage across board.
Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, assured workers of a better working relationship in the years ahead, promising to always accord workers’ welfare priority. Though the governor said nothing about the implementation of the new minimum wage, he had at various fora before his re-election said it would be difficult for the state to implement the new package unless the federal revenue formula was adjusted in favor of states.
Chairman of the NLC in the state, Comrade Jibrin Bancir said that labour in the state would not accept anything less and would resist downsizing of the work force in the guise of re-organization.
Anambra sets up committee
Anambra State government was silent, yesterday, on the issue of the N18000 minimum wage for workers, although Governor Peter Obi had said earlier that a committee had been set to work out the implementation of the new minimum wage.
Deputy governor of the state, Mr. Emeka Sibeudu, who represented Obi at the May Day parade in Awka said government would continue to cater for the workers.
Though most workers who had expected to hear statement from government on the issue were disappointed, the NLC state chairman, Comrade Patrick Obianyo said the issue was non negotiable. Obi had said recently that since the law on minimum wage has been signed, it is binding on all governments, although he was not categorical that his administration would pay the new wage.
However, the governor had said that the issue of payment of salaries to workers should not be made compulsory for states since the states have different income generating capacities.
Labour laments harsh living conditions
Meanwhile, NLC and its Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, yesterday told President Goodluck Jonathan to make a commitment to the Nigerian people that he would apply objectivity, courage, political will and foresight to his policies and actions for the benefit of the people.
NLC president said: “Growing the national economy for job creation and peoples’ welfare, and appropriately addressing the nation’s monumental development challenges is in the enlightened self interest of employers, government and Labour.
The alternative is predictable; workers and the Nigerian people will be compelled by objective conditions to take their destiny in their own hands. The signals from local and international restiveness in some parts of the world, dictate that there comes a time when outlandish opulence of a few in the face of stupendous poverty of the majority becomes anachronistic and ignites a reaction.”
TUC’s President-General, Comrade Peter Esele, stressed the need to address the lingering issue of power, transportation, especially to fix the rail system, fix the national economy and the nations refineries.
President Jonathan, who was represented by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, assured workers that he had deliver on his promises to Nigerians and the workers by increasing the National Minimum Wage and overseeing the conduct of free, fair and credible polls in the country.
He said: “I made a commitment to Nigerians that our elections would be a reference point around the world. Today we can hold our heads high… we are building three new refineries so fuel importation would soon be a thing of the past.”
Minister of Labour & Productivity, Chief Chukwuemeka Wogu, in his solidarity message said the government would continue to come up with policies that would facilitate and strengthen enduring mutual trust, understanding and co-operation among all the social partners as essential instruments for industrial peace and economic growth.