Stories by Victor Ahiuma-Young
AS the protracted wait by workers for a new national minimum wage is becoming a frustrating experience, in the midst of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige’s recent declaration that a new minimum wage is not feasible in September, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, says organised labour has a firm commitment of members of the National Assembly on the issue.
Wabba in this piece, also spoke on Nigeria’s participation in the just-concluded 107th session of International Labour Conference, ILC, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Nigeria’s participation in ILC
In the conference, there has been a renewed commitment by the workers’ group to participate fully in all the committees. Our number has actually increased and the quality of participation also. Also Nigeria has regained her position in the leadership of the global trade union issues. At this 107th conference, we have been elected as the Vice- President of the workers’ group. The President of the NLC was elected even in absentia and I think that by that, we are members of the selection committee. That is to recognise the fact that NLC and Nigerian workers have regained their position in the scheme of affairs of workers globally.
Also, we are participating in the process of listening to the complaints we lodged in respect to violation of conventions 87 and 99, particularly the issue of non- payment of salaries in some states and non-respect for Labour laws. Of reference is the issue of Kogi and Kaduna states. The issues of the two states were reported to the Ministry of Labour back at home in line with the provisions of the relevant conventions. The Ministry made effort to intervene, including calling for meetings. But for that of Kogi, the government deliberately refused to show up and they have gone ahead trying to proscribe the education-based unions and take over their assets.
This is a clear violation of conventions 87 and 99 and by the requirement of the law, we are supposed to make a formal complaint to the ILO and since 2017, that complaint was lodged and it will be taken up at the convention by the committee on application of standard where the issues will be presented and we must be able to give voice to those workers and put into context those two state governments that are violating not only our national laws and refusing to obey court orders with impunity, but also violating our international conventions which we signed as far back as 1960. At the end of the day, it is not the states that will be held responsible, but the country.
On September timeframe for minimum wage
Certainly, if all members of the tripod are committed to doing what is right and working within the timeline that the committee has already set for itself, I am of the firm belief it is something that will be achieved because it is something that is important to the welfare of the Nigerian worker and I know that there is no system of administration that will not look at the welfare of workers and treat it as paramount.
So, clearly speaking, if we are to go by the timeline which the tripartite committee, represented by government, employers and workers, is able to work assiduously towards it, it is something that is deliverable and can be achieved. So, we are still keeping faith with the process.
I don’t want to keep repeating myself. I have told you that at the tripartite committee, we all commit to a timetable and timeline which is known and everybody is aware of it. Labour is committed to following that timetable and timeline.
We made that very clear from the beginning after the inauguration of the committee because the forts thing they did was to look at the scope of the work and the time it will take for us to deliver, to complete the tripartite negotiation and make sure that we are able to deliver a comprehensive report. Given the process of give and take, with the commitment we have also received from the National Assembly, I don’t think that the centrality of the issue require any delay.
So as Organised Labour, we are committed to the timeline that the committee has set for itself. The timeline is August/September and we have said that very clearly.
Minimum wage, a political tool
I do not believe in that. Even the one of 2011 was also done on the eve of an election. Once the minimum wage is due, it is due. So, from the agreement of 2011, it is a legitimate thing to do. That should be the context of our argument and contestations. Members of parliament have said they will not do anything outside of what the executive will send to them.
But the private sector is saying that even if the government has the money to pay, members will still have to meet to decide if they will be able to pay. We have walked on this path several times over. At the tripartite committee, once it is agreed, we also know the process. It is not about your willingness to pay, but the desirability and the fact that workers deserve decent wages.
Clearly speaking, there is no time the employers willingly as Father Christmas increase salaries of workers. It has always been through demand and contestations. So, when we reach the bridge, they will also see reason because if they want workers to be productive, they must be able to take care of their families. People seek for employment so that they will have decent living. Nobody seeks job for the sake of being Father Christmas. These are the areas of contestations. So, it is not about how you feel, but what is supposed to be done.
Once there is the will and the negotiations are concluded and a figure agreed by the tripartite committee, the entire process involved in making it a law can be concluded within a very short period. The one that we did in 2011 did not take up to one month for the entire process to be completed. We have also received firm commitment from the leadership of the National Assembly that once a law that is agreeable is transmitted to them, members will be able to facilitate the process.
So, if there is the good will, all these processes can be concluded in good time and workers will then be able to benefit from it. But if there is no good will, then the issue of delay and all manner of excuses can be given. But our faith is that we are committed to the process and workers are waiting very anxiously to benefit because it is also long overdue.