By Funmi Komolafe
THE last few months, the media has been awash with reports about the negotiation of a new national minimum wage .
The Nigeria Labour Congress at the conclusion of negotiation announced that it had agreed with other social partners; private employers under the auspices of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association and Government .Organized labour represented by the labour centres, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress agitated for the negotiation of a new minimum wage which in any case is long over due. Labour made a demand for N66,500.
Hardly had labour announced the agreement of N30,000 national minimum wage than the Governors’ Forum made a statement denouncing it saying, its members are only in a position to pay N22,500.
NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba while making the announcement said, “ N30,000 is the compromise figure arrived at the end of negotiations by the tripartite partners- Government, Employers and Organized Labour . The minimum wage was a product of intense negotiations that lasted for almost one year”.
Though the Governors may have made representations during the negotiation in their capacity as employers of labour, in the tripartite setting, they are part of Government.
Governors Forum is not a negotiating partner. It is not even known in the labour laws of Nigeria.
It is therefore not surprising that the NLC president wrote that “ the unilateral pronouncement by governors of N22,500 minimum wage is an abuse of every known principle of industrial relations, labour laws, processes and international best practices”.
The position of the NGF that workers represent only about five percent of the population, does not hold water. Responsible leadership must make provisions for all citizens including those who represent 00.00% of the population.
With recent statements credited to some governors especially the chairman of the Governors Forum that the states are unable to pay , it is clear that the Governors are either ignorant of the law or are simply playing politics with the lives of the people.
It is also significant that the governors opposed to legal backing for the national minimum wage cut across party lines.
It appears that many of the governors are ignorant about the procedure for arriving at a national minimum wage.
At the stage it is now, President Buhari has no option but to present the bill to the National Assembly. There cannot be further negotiation at this stage.
The president or the presidency or even NGF have no powers to renegotiate a done deal.
Perhaps, the governors are unaware that the private sector has in place a sustained negotiating system that has stood the test of time. Not many workers in the private sector earn below N30,000 because they have benefitted from periodic negotiation that often times result in pay raise however minimal.
The Joint Public Sector Negotiating Council that should have been engaged in periodic negotiation for workers in the public sector has been moribund for years due to that attitude of politicians.
However, former NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole as Governor of Edo state made history when he increased the minimum pay of Edo state employees to N25,000 per month .
Benefit from history
Let’s benefit from history. In 1991, the Nigeria Labour Congress under the leadership of Paschal Bafyau got the minimum wage raised from N125 per month to N250,00 per month.
This was a military regime and workers didn’t have to go on strike to earn the new pay.
In 2000, following negotiations with the Nigeria Labour Congress led by its president, Adams Oshiomhole and general secretary, Comrade John Odah, NLC won the N18,000 minimum wage for workers .
Once negotiation was concluded, then President Olusegun Obasanjo presented the bill to the national assembly and within a short time, it was passed into law.
For this singular act, the International Labour Organization, not only commended Nigeria , Nigeria was cited as a country with the best practice of labour relations. It earned President Obasanjo the privilege to address the International Labour Congress of 2001 in Geneva, Switzerland.
There is a limit to playing politics with the lives of people. Even the Central Bank of Nigeria has stated that the implementation of the new minimum wage will boost the economy.
So, whose interest are the governors opposed to the minimum wage serving?
Enough of politicking.
Muhammadu Buhari has no option but to pass the bill to the national assembly. Governors who cannot pay, have no business seeking re-election.
It simply means that they are incapable of managing a state.