*blast Ngige, say shocker awaits govt after ultimatum
By Victor Ahiuma-Young
SINCE March 2015, fol-lowing the disputed Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, delegates conference that produced Ayuba Wabba as President, and December 16, 2016, when about 25 industrial unions, including some from NLC and TUC, announced the formation of a new Labour Centre; United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, the relationship between NLC and TUC on one hand; and ULC on the other hand, was everything but cordial.
In fact, many observers had argued that the crisis within the labour movement was a major factor for the inability of organised labour to force a reduction of price when President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, in May 2016, jerked up the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, otherwise known as Petrol from N86.50 to N145 per litre.
But that appears to be a thing of the past as the struggle for a new national minimum wage has brought leaders of the three labour centres together.
Consequently, they met for two days in Lagos last week and handed down a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government following perceived unwillingness of government to conclude the process of arriving at a new minimum wage Nigerian workers have been expecting since the current N18,000 minimum wage agreement elapsed since 2015.
Earlier, NLC and TUC had demanded N66,500 minimum wage while ULC demanded for N96, 000, it was, however, gathered that it has been harmonised by leaders of the centres under the aegis of organised labour.
In line with the resolve to jointly pursue the issue of the minimum wage, the leaders of the three centres, it was gathered, have decided to work in unity to ensure the government and employers do not succeed in their plan to deny Nigerian workers the much anticipated new minimum wage before the 2019 general elections.
Vanguard gathered that leaders of the three centres have vowed to use the minimum wage issue to teach employers especially the federal and state governments a bitter lesson.
States paying N25,000
Reacting to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige’s response to organised Labour’s 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government over the minimum wage, President of ULC, Joe Ajaero, said: “We think the Minister of Labour just wanted to brief the press. It was not to address the issues raised by labour. He had briefed the press, but the issue raised by labour is still pending and the ultimatum is running out. Ordinarily, it is the responsibility of the Minister of Labour when there is an ultimatum to reach out to those that issued it, find out the issues and address them to avert any impending action.
But this Minister has decided to play to the gallery when the issue raised in the ultimatum has not been addressed. From his press briefing, there were lots of contradictions. He denied ever adjourning the meeting of the negotiating committee sine-die (till further notice). He did not tell Nigerians when the negotiating committee is to be reconvened. He was also claiming that employers presented about N42, 000 and reduced it to N25,000. It is true that the employers presented a figure, but about 23 state governors made submissions and some of them mentioned figures.
The Federal Government as at today, has not made any offer. From what the Minister is saying, even if the government makes an offer, it will be only an offer. That is not the minimum wage. Whatever offer the government makes is subject to negotiation. It is not going to be a rubber stamp. The minister was so stereotyped with N25,000, saying N25, 000 may be difficult for some states to pay and things like that. The Minister has forgotten that some states are paying N25,000 today. So, mentioning that figure either by employers or whoever, is not in the interest of industrial harmony.
Unity of Labour
On this issue of new minimum wage, Labour is united. We pity the minister when he was saying registered and unregistered labour centres demanded and presented different figures as new minimum wage. What we did when we saw that discrepancy, was to harmonise the figures. It was true that NLC and TUC demanded for N66,500 and ULC demanded for N96, 000. We looked at the figures and the inflationary rate and harmonised the two figures to about N68,000 and something.
Labour has a figure but the government has no figure three years after. This is unaceeptable even after increasing the pump price of fuel that tripled inflation rate in the country on the basis of which a committee was set up to look at the issue of palliatives and the need to review workers’ salary upwards. Between then and now, the government is still dilly dallying. He is playing with the destiny of Nigerian workers.
“You know what happens at the end of an ultimatum. As we speak, various organs of the labour centres are meeting. Let me tell you, it may get to a time we will not honour the invitation from him for meetings until there is a balance of power of industrial relation.
At the expiration, definitely we will meet again and marshal out our next line of action.”