•Buhari promises to close gap between N30,000, N24,000 proposals
•Says FG, Organized Labour’s arguments on wage valid
•Adds he’s committed to new Minimum Wage Law
•Tripartite Committee produces draft law on new wage
By Victor Young & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—More facts emerged yesterday, on how the N30,000 new minimum wage sailed through at Monday’s meeting of the Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee.
This came as President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, bowed to pressure from the labour movement in the country, promising to set machinery in motion to close the gap between the N24,000 proposed by the Federal Government and the N30,000 put forward by organized labour as soon as possible.
Vanguard gathered that majority of members of the committee presented superior arguments to the dissenting governors and Federal Government representatives on why the N30, 000 must be adopted.
According to a member of the committee, because the tripartite committee is like a tripod, after organized labour and Organized Private Sector, OPS, reached understanding on N30,000, there was really nothing the other leg of the tripod could do, as majority will always have their way, while the minority will have their say.
He said: “We told the governors that they had the opportunity to canvass their position during committee sittings but failed to do so. We also asked the governors to tell us when they really met to agree on N22,500, since no fewer than five governors had told us that they will pay. We showed them the evidence.
‘’We made the governors to realize that the proposal of N22,500 was an afterthought conceived by some of them. What we did was to acknowledge the N24,000 by the Federal Government and made them to understand that the committee report is N30.000.
“Meanwhile, we gathered from some of the governors that they would go to the National Assembly to canvass their position during the public hearing that will be organized by the lawmakers.
“In fact, we are even hoping that the National Assembly will raise the figure because N30,000 is just a compromise figure. I can tell you that for the governors and the Federal Government, many of the private sector representatives actually agreed with us to raise the figure to N36,000.
“The issue is that the majority will have their way, while the minority will have their say. The committee is a tripartite one made up of three legs. When the two legs of the tripod have agreed, the third leg cannot change the decision reached. That was what happened.”
Promising to set machinery in motion to close the gap between the N24,000 minimum wage proposed by the Federal Government and the N30,000 put forward by organized labour, the President added that the arguments of government and organized labour on the two figures are valid.
The President, who made the promise while receiving report of the Tripartite Committee on Review of National Minimum Wage that recommended N30,000, also expressed his commitment to having a new National Minimum Wage Act.
President Buhari said that having seen the argument of the government team in insisting on N24,000 and that of the organized labour that proposed N30,000, he would do everything possible to close the open areas.
His words: “Our plan is to transmit the Executive Bill to the National Assembly for passage within the shortest possible time. I am fully committed to having a new National Minimum Wage Act in the very near future.
“Let me use this opportunity to recognize the leadership of organized labour and private sector as well as representatives of state and federal governments for all your hard work. The fact that we are here today is a notable achievement.”
President Buhari, who received the report from the committee’s chairman, Ama Pepple, at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, expressed delight that the committee had successfully completed its assignments in a peaceful and non-controversial manner.
Why new minimum wage is necessary — Buhari
“On November 27, 2017, I inaugurated the National Minimum Wage Committee with a mandate to recommend a new minimum wage for the workers of our country.
“This exercise became necessary for many reasons. The last review took place in 2011. We all know that since then, the prices of key consumables have increased and the most vulnerable of our workers are struggling to make ends meet.
“Since 2011, many changes have taken place. Nigeria re-based its GDP to become the largest economy in Africa. We reported very strong GDP growth rates and exceptional performance of our capital markets. However, these reported successes did not flow into the pockets and homes of majority of Nigerians.
“In the last three years, we focused on correcting this deficiency. We are working to create a diversified and inclusive economy.
“We are pushing to clear pension arrears owed our retired workers with the limited resources available to us.
“We supported state governments to pay workers salaries, and of course, we set up a committee in order to review the minimum wage of workers.
“In constituting this committee, we took into account the need for all stakeholders to be adequately represented — the government, the private sector and most importantly, the workers. Our goal was to get an outcome that was consensual.
“From the onset, we knew the committee had a difficult task ahead of it. But at the same time, we were also confident that the patriotic and professional background of its members would produce realistic, fair and implementable recommendations that will be considered by both the executive and legislative arms of government.
“I am not surprised that the committee has worked for close to one year. I am also not surprised that on a few occasions, the debates got heated and sometimes, these differences came out.
“What is truly inspiring is that in almost all instances of disagreements, the committee members always came back to the negotiating table with a common goal of improving the welfare of Nigerian workers. On behalf of all Nigerians today, I want to thank you for your commitment and sacrifice in getting us to where we are today.
“In the past few days, I have been receiving regular updates on your deliberations. And today, I am pleased that you have completed your work in a peaceful and non-confrontational manner. The entire nation is grateful to you all.
“The committee chairman highlighted some of the challenges encountered during your deliberations, especially as it relates to having a consensus position acceptable by all parties.
“I understand, on the government side, the concerns raised were around affordability, that today, many states struggle to meet their existing salary requirements.
“On the side of labour, the points raised focused on the need for any increase to be meaningful. In a way, both arguments are valid.
“As the Executive Arm commences its review of your submission, we will continue to engage you all in closing any open areas presented in this report. I, therefore, would like to ask for your patience and understanding in the coming weeks.
“May I, therefore, implore workers and their leaders not to allow themselves to be used as political weapons.”
Why we recommended N30,000 — Pepple
In her address, Chairman of the Tripartite Committee, Ama Pepple said: “To arrive at our recommendation, the committee carefully weighed the demand of Nigerian workers which was predicated on the high cost of living, occasioned by unfavourable exchange rate and rising inflation over the past few years, among other factors.
“The committee also considered the overall macro-economic indicators, including the revenue and expenditure profile of government as provided by the Ministers of Budget and National Planning and Finance as well as the Minimum Wage proposed by some state governments in their memoranda submitted to the committee.
“Consideration was also given to the critical role of the informal sector in employment generation and the need for a realistic minimum wage that will not stifle the growth of the sector and the overall economy.
“After carefully weighing these critical factors and bearing in the mind the overriding interest of the economy, the committee, while noting the offer of N24,000 by the Federal Government, is recommending an increase in the existing minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000.
‘’We believe that the implementation of the recommended minimum wage will, no doubt, boost the purchasing power of workers, increase consumption expenditure and ultimately stimulate business and overall economic growth.
“The committee has also produced a draft National Minimum Wage Bill 2018 . We strongly believe that the enactment of the draft bill into law is very critical to the operation and future reviews of the National Minimum Wage.”
Every committee member signed report — Wabba
National President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, while briefing State House correspondents, said: “I think all of you here have heard from the horse’s mouth.
“Every member of the committee signed the report. Our recommendation is N30,000 and I think it is not hidden. It has been made public today and that is the recommendation the committee has made to the President.
“When N18,000 was actually implemented in 2011, most of the states emptied their treasuries towards 2015 and, therefore, had difficulty. If there is the will, we are certain that there will be a way out.
“All of us know that a number of factors have affected the purchasing power of Nigerian workers, The value of N18,000 then was almost N140 to the US dollar. So, the economic factor is very germane.”
Present at the meeting were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, and the Director General of NECA, among others.
Tough battle ahead, says NLC
Meanwhile, Organised Labour yesterday told workers to prepare for tougher battles to realise the N30,000 new national minimum wage, warning that the recommendation by the Tripartite Committee on the National Minimum Wage was just the first phase of the struggle.
Recall that leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, late Monday night, suspended the planned nationwide indefinite strike slated to begin yesterday.
But in a circular to their affiliates and state councils announcing the suspension of the planned strike, the Labour centres, while commending workers and other Nigerians for their support so far, insisted that it was not yet Uhuru as there were more battles ahead for the N30,000 new wage to become a reality.
The NLC in the circular issued by its General Secretary, Dr. Peter Ezo-Eson, said: “Comrades, please note that there are still several bridges to cross before the new minimum wage becomes law. It is our collective commitment and dedication that have made progress achieved so far possible.
“We all need to remain mobilised to push the timely enactment and implementation of the new Minimum Wage law.”
Similarly, ULC in its circular issued by the Acting General Secretary, Onyeka Chris, said: “We salute you all for your cooperation, doggedness and determination in successfully mobilising the masses and workers towards the planned nationwide strike.
“We urge you all to remain vigilant as we pursue a successful completion of the process leading to a new national minimum wage. Our loins must be girded to overcome other hurdles that may confront us as we move to other phases of this process.”
Minimum wage war not over — JAF
In a similar vein, the umbrella body of pro-Labour civil society groups, the Joint Action Front, JAF, in a statement by its chairman and secretary, Dr. Dipo Fashina and Abiodun Aremu, said: “We wish to restate our conviction that the minimum wage battle for N30,000 is far from being over because it took us (NLC, TUC and JAF) a long drawn struggle of street rallies and strike for two and half years (from May 13, 2009 to August 2011) to defeat the then Federal Government and state governors and compelled the implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage.
“The situation has not changed because the ruling cabals are not committed to pay any increase in wage or improve the living conditions of the working people and poor masses without a serious struggle that would compel them to do so.”