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Govs agree to pay workers before Xmas

Directs CBN gov, Udoma, Adeosun to negotiate with govs
•Govs agree, say Paris Club refunds can’t clear all arrears
•Negotiate what three tiers can afford—Buhari tells Minimum Wage C’ttee
•NLC to review N56,000 request; ULC to propose above N96,000

By Clifford Ndujihe & Johnbosco Agbakwuru

ABUJA—PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, ordered the 36 governors of the federation to pay workers their salaries before Christmas, so they could have a beautiful celebration.

President Muhammadu Buhari (r) excanging pleasantries with Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State (2r) and other Governors during the audience the President had with members of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida 27/11/2017

 

The President, therefore, directed the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, governor, Godwin Emefiele; the Minister of Economic Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, to negotiate with the governors on figures from the Paris Club refund.

These were part of the resolutions at the meeting between the President and the governors on the Paris Club refund at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Briefing State House correspondents after the meeting, Chairman of Progressives Governors Forum and Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, flanked by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, said the meeting centered on the need for workers to be paid their salaries before Christmas, adding that 50 per cent Paris Club refund was outstanding.

He said:  “It was a brief meeting between the governors of Nigeria and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The discussion centered on basically the end of the year and the President himself had expressed the need to make sure that every Nigerian, especially the workers, have a beautiful Christmas.

“The issue of the outstanding Paris Club (refund) was discussed and that was taken care of to make sure that workers in states everywhere in the country get to celebrate the Christmas.

“We also used the opportunity to review our working relationship with the President from the states and we found that we are in harmony. There is no difference between us and the President. Everybody seems to be happy working together.

“But particularly, we commended the President for the miracle of getting Nigeria out of recession within such a short time. We commended Mr. President and everybody left quite happy.

Govs’ request on Paris Club refund

“We are looking at getting the balance of Paris Club refund thrashed out once and for all. We also made a request for Mr. President’s approval that the balance should form part of our 2018 budget, because we can’t include it until we are sure that the money is coming. That was also sorted out.

“So, as it is now, the issue of workers took the centre stage because Mr. President felt much concerned about those who depend on their salaries to feed their families and pay their house rents and he had the assurance of governors that we will meet up those obligations.

“It was emphasised that states and federal government must work together to get Nigeria out of its present economic predicament to make Nigeria a better society for all of us.”

Asked if the President ordered that all salary arrears be cleared by each state before Christmas, Okorocha responded:  “Yes, with the Paris Club coming, every state must ensure that workers get their salaries to enable them enjoy the Christmas. I made it clear.”

Also asked to clarify his statement to the effect that the 50 per cent of the Paris Club refund balance will be in the 2018 budget and the resolution to use it to pay salary arrears this December, he said there was a meeting of Minimum Wage Committee and the Federal Government to address the issue of salary in line with the International Labour Organisation, ILO.

At this point, Governor El-Rufai interjected to clarify the position on the matter. He said: “Let me explain. The Paris Club refund figures need to be reconciled.

‘’While the reconciliation process was going on, the President approved that 50 per cent of the original amount be paid to states.

“The payment started from last year. We still have balance of the first 50 per cent. This is what the President said must be paid in time for the state governments to meet their obligations before Christmas because he is concerned that many families depend solely on their salaries for rent and for the festive period.

“That had been decided. The balance of the first 50 percent is what we are expecting now before Christmas. The President has approved that and said it must be paid.”

On the amount the governors were expecting from the 50 per cent balance, he said: “I don’t know the amount. I am sure that if you contact the Ministry of Finance, they can give you the total amount. I only know what my state is likely to get.

Reconciliation of Paris Club refund balance

“There is another 50 per cent that needs to be paid when the figures are reconciled. The reconciliation is going to be concluded before the end of the year. The Chief of Staff to the President has ensured that the committee working on the reconciliation will conclude its work before the end of the year.

“So, what the governors are requesting from the President is a directive – ‘go ahead to include the next 50 per cent in the 2018 budget and that is going to be looked at.’

“Every state will get its share of the Paris-Club refund; it will not get more. Every state has a specific amount that was deducted. That amount may not be enough to cover the arrears; it may not be, because you cannot get more than what you are entitled to.

“It varies from state to state. My state (Kaduna) has no salary arrears at all. So, it is a mute issue. Kano doesn’t have salary arrears. Whatever we are getting, we just continue with our development projects.

“Some states have salary arrears that are bigger than what they are getting from the Paris Club refund. Even when they get it, they will not be able to clear the salary arrears. But it is better to reduce it so that people will have happier Christmas than nothing at all.”

Buhari inaugurates Minimum Wage C’ttee

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has inaugurated the National Minimum Wage Committee and urged it to work towards coming up with a wage that will be based on the ability of each tier of government to pay.

While inaugurating the committee at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Buhari noted that the issue of minimum wage was under the exclusive legislative list of the constitution (as amended).

He said: “The subject of a National Minimum Wage for the Federation is within the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). ‘’Accordingly, we should aim to go above the basic Social Protection Floor for all Nigerian workers based on the ability of each tier of government to pay.

“I say this because minimum wage is the minimum amount of compensation an employee must receive for putting in his or her labour and, as such, should be anchored on Social Justice and Equity.

“Government’s decision after considering your final recommendation will be sent as an Executive Bill to the National Assembly for it to undergo appropriate legislative scrutiny before passage into law.”

He said the gathering was to address issues concerning the welfare of the people, adding that like their counterparts all over the world, Nigerian workers were vital element in the growth and development of modern nations.

He said: “I, therefore, welcome the nominees of the Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee who have been selected for the very important task of renegotiating the National Minimum Wage for our workers.

The last Minimum Wage Instrument has expired — Buhari

“We all know that the last Minimum Wage Instrument has expired, and it is in recognition of the need to ensure a fair and decent living wage that the Federal Government put in motion necessary mechanism so that we can today inaugurate this large committee with a big task ahead of you.

“You are all aware that during the period following the increase in petrol pump price in May 2016, a Technical Committee was established to examine and make recommendations to government on the measures to be adopted to cushion the envisaged painful effects of the increase on workers and the Nigerian populace at large.

“During the deliberations of the Technical Committee which comprised Government and Organized Labour, the need for the review of the National Minimum Wage was highlighted and recommendation to set up a committee to look into the level of minimum wage was made accordingly.

‘’I am glad that the recommendation is being acted upon today and we can all acknowledge that this is in line with our democratic process. I wish to thank all those who participated in that exercise.

“Considering the scope of the membership of this new National Minimum Wage Committee, we can see that it is encompassing all stakeholders. My hope is that, the outcome of the deliberations of the Committee would be consensual and generally acceptable. I, therefore, urge you to amicably consider the issue of a National Minimum Wage and all matters that are ancillary to it with thoroughness and concern not only for the welfare of our work-force but the effect on the country’s economy.

Private sector employers part of the process

“As is evident by the membership of the committee, state governors and private sector employers are part of this process. This will ensure ease of implementation of a new Minimum Wage nationwide.

“I am hopeful that the principles of full consultation with Social Partners and their direct participation would be utilized by the committee, bearing in mind the core provisions of the International Labour Organisation Minimum Wage Fixing Convention No. 131 and Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention No.26 (ratified by Nigeria).

“Accordingly, conditions of genuine Social Dialogue should prevail in the spirit of Tripartism and Collective Bargaining Agreements. I, therefore, enjoin you all to collectively bargain in good faith, have mutual recognition for each other and always in a spirit of give and take.

“The committee is expected to complete its deliberations and submit its report and recommendations as soon as possible to enable other requisite machinery to be set in motion for implementation of a new National Minimum Wage.”

Ngige on minimum wage

In his remarks, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, said after increment of the pump price of petroleum products, government set up a technical committee on how the effects of that pump price increase will be cushioned.

Ngige said:  “Today is a remarkable day because this is a journey we started in May 2016. In May 2016, the Federal Government of Nigeria decided to do appropriate pricing for petroleum products and because of that, the pump price of petrol, kerosene and others had to take their real pricing.

“Coincidentally, some weeks before then, the Trade Union Congress and National Labour Congress (NLC) served the government a notice that the minimum wage would lapse in the next one month.

“They made a proposal to Mr. President on what they think will be the realistic national minimum wage. At the time the fuel price was increased, there was disquiet, resulting in industrial dispute between the labour unions on one side and the government on the other side.

“Government, therefore, decided to set up a committee to look into how the effect of that pump price increase will be cushioned with the result that a technical committee was set up. The technical committee among other recommendations for palliatives also recommended that the national minimum wage be reviewed in consonance with the earlier demand of the labour unions.

“Those recommendations came to council and council approved them and set up a 30-man minimum wage committee.

“Mr. President, it’s important for us to know that the minimum wage is the lowest wage any employer is allowed to pay in any country because the issue of minimum wage is on the exclusive federal government list. Item 34 on that list is the issue of exclusion, giving the federal government through executive and the National Assembly the right to fix the minimum wage for the country.

“The minimum wage is a wage that is aimed at removing the problem of what the International Labour Organisation (ILO) calls poverty pain which is a pain that exists when earnings from paid work do not result in a living wage and thereafter fail to push people out of poverty and this concurrently will result in decent work deficit.”

Ngige said that committee has been constituted and government was playing a double role in this instance.’

Current minimum wage  poor — NLC

Speaking in an interview with State House correspondents, the President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said what workers were paid at present was not enough to take care of their needs.

Wabba said:  “The event of today is a welcome development. As we are aware, the issue of reviewing minimum wage has been central in the issues that the organized labour has been trying to canvas because of the fact that a lot of issues have happened with the economy and also about the value of the naira but importantly, the purchasing power of ordinary Nigerians and pensioners.

“I think this is actually the beginning of the process and the process is that negotiations will commence where all the facts and all the issues will be discussed with open mind. Our hope is that we should be able to have a minimum wage in no distant time that can be able to address many of the challenges of workers because of the fact that the purchasing power certainly has gone down.

“When we signed the N18,000 minimum wage in 2010, it was almost equivalent to about $110, but today it is less than $46. Therefore, we looked at the variables and the variables are something we need to consider and side by side other variables that can enable workers take care of their families.’’

ULC goes beyond N96,000

Also speaking in an interview, the National President of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union, NUPENG, Comrade Igwe Achese, said the committee would take a holistic view of all the economic indices in arriving at an acceptable wage.

Achese, who introduced himself at the inauguration as the Deputy President of United Labour Congress, ULC, said even the N96,000 proposed before now had been overtaken by event, considering  the present economic realities in the country.

He said:  “What I am taking away from this committee is the commitment mentioned by Mr. President. It is not issue of inauguration but issue of end result of this committed inauguration by Mr. President.”

On whether he still maintained the N96,000 proposal ULC had earlier made, he said:  “For me, we have even gone beyond that. At the time all these proposals were being made was when the exchange rate and inflation rate were a bit down.

‘’Today, the exchange is very high, at N305 or N306 or N365 as the case maybe. You will agree with me that what we proposed at that time is immaterial for now.

“So we think when we get to the table, we look at the various indices from the global environment, not just talking about Nigeria environment.

“I just hope at the end, the governors who are very much involved, who are the pay masters, will be able to play the roles as expected to get us into where we are expected to be.’’

What states owe workers, pensioners

In spite of massive support from the Federal Government in the form of bailouts, most states of the country are owing their workers and retirees several months arrears of salaries and pensions. And workers in the local councils in a couple of states are worse off. States like Zamfara do not pay minimum wage, while Osun has been paying half salary for about two years.

Indeed, penultimate week, three groups, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, Federal Civil Service Pensioners Association, and Association of Retired Local Government Staff and Primary School Teachers in Delta reportedly approached the ECOWAS court, praying that the federal government be ordered to deduct pensions, salaries and gratuities from allocations of indebted state governments to pay pensioners and workers, monthly.

According to the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, 23 states of the federation currently owed workers arrears of salaries ranging from one to 24 months.

Only states like Lagos, Anambra, Enugu, Bauchi among others are said to be up-to-date in payment of salaries and pensions.


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