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One nation, two minimum wages

Opposition from labour grows
We have capacity to cause damage any time, union leader warns

By Victor Ahiuma-Young

TUESDAY’s recommendation of N27,000 Minimum Wage for states and private sector workers in the country by the National Council of State, NCS, which the Federal Government sent to the National Assembly to be legislated upon,  can  best be described as the voice of Jacob  but the hands of Isaac.

Labour leaders during the rally to create awareness on the new Minimum Wage for workers organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress

In the history of minimum wages and negotiations in Nigeria, this is the first time the NCS  is coming into the picture to “approve” a National Minimum Wage after a tripartite committee constituted by government with all sectors duly represented had submitted its recommendations to government.

The NCS also approved N30,000 for the federal workers, taking the nation back to Year 2000 wage increase during President Olusegun Obasanjo-led Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, government, where the federal workers and oil producing states were paid N7,500, while other states paid their workers N5,500 minimum wage.

As expected, the three labour centres: the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, have rejected the N27,000 minimum wage approved by the NCS and insisted on the N30,000 across board recommended by the tripartite  committee.

The N30,000 minimum wage recommendation that Organised Labour is insisting on did not come easy. It was tortuous with strikes and protests, among others, that did serious damage to the nation’s fragile economy.

From the constitution of the committee and its inauguration in November 2017, and the commencement of work and submission of its report to President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2018, a lot of water has passed through the bridge.

ALSO READ: Minimum wage: Edo NLC vows to boycott 2019 election over non-implementation

Recall that the committee held public hearings in all the zones across the country  where memoranda and oral presentations were received by stakeholders and other interested parties, besides the sittings of the committee.

The economic loss to the nation during the process and what will still be lost to the issue is better imagined than quantified.

That this is being “wished away” by a single meeting of  the NCS dominated by state governors, many of whom prefer their workers receive  peanuts as salary, speaks volumes  of  the character and mindset of the nation’s past and present leaders.

As it is, the battle to actualise the N30,000 minimum wage across board has  shifted to the National Assembly.

Leaders of Organised Labour, who have appealed to the conscience of the members of the National Assembly to do the needful, have indicated that the battle for a new minimum wage has just begun.

In fact, one of the leaders told Sunday Vanguard that in a worst case scenario that the National Assembly does not approve N30,000 NMW after legislation, labour has the capacity to do damage to the system before the President assents to the bill, after assenting or during implementation.

Meanwhile, leaders of the NLC plan to storm the National Assembly tomorrow alongside workers to implore lawmakers to respect and legislate on the recommendation of the tripartite committee.

Briefing newsmen after a meeting of its Central Working Committee, CWC, on Friday, President of the  NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said: “The meeting deliberated on one item which is the issue of the transmission of the national minimum wage bill to the National Assembly. The meeting reviewed the whole situation including the fact that N30,000 was agreed at the tripartite negotiating meeting to be the minimum wage. It was out of place and procedure for that figure to be reduced to N27,000. Going by the convention of the International Labour Organisation, the figure that was agreed by the tripartite committee cannot be changed by any of the parties except through a process. Government as an employer cannot unilaterally change the figure.

ALSO READ: Minimum Wage : Organised labour insists N30,000, to storm NASS on Monday

“This is about law and procedure. Therefore, the CWC has frowned on that and rejected the issue of reducing the figure. We still maintain that we stand on the outcome of the tripartite committee. We will mobilize our members and engage the National Assembly on the issue. The negotiation must be respected and NASS should do the needful. We have put our members on the alert that if that is not done, certainly we will also mobilize to take appropriate action that is desirable to protect and ensure that the tripartite process be respected. That has been the process according to the provision of ILO convention on minimum wage mechanism.

“We have also agreed that on Monday, we will mobilise to the House of Representatives during the public hearing on the bill to make sure that the right thing is done. The NASS members represent the people and we call on them to respect the outcome of the tripartite process. Importantly, when you look at N30,000, it is a compromised position    in the context of today’s economy in Nigeria. We should be commended. As far back as 2011, the N18,000 minimum wage was equivalent to $150, today, the N30,000 is less than $100. We juxtapose this argument within the content of reality and demand that what was mutually agreed after all other factors have been put into consideration, including the ability to pay, must be respected.”

Declare 2-day strike, SPN tells labour

Throwing its weight behind the rejection of the N27,000 minimum wage, a pro-workers party, Socialist Party of Nigeria, SPN, insisted that it is not enough for the labour to reject the figure on which basis a bill has been sent to the National Assembly by the Buhari government.

In a statement by its acting National Chairperson and National Secretary, Abiodun Bamigboye and Chinedu Bosah, it said: “We call on labour to mobilize workers and the general public for active support towards an immediate declaration of a 48-hour general strike in the first instance and for the struggle to be sustained and intensified. We also call on all workers of federal, state and local governments not to fall for the divide and rule tactics of the President Buhari government which promises to pay federal workers a minimum wage of N30,000 but fixes N27,000 as the national minimum wage.

“Moreover, it is not enough to go on strike to insist on N30,000 minimum wage. The demand must also include no retrenchment of workers on account of the minimum wage, the settlement of arrears of salaries owed by many states on the basis of N18,000 minimum wage, and the government’s massive investment in social infrastructure. This also means, as shown by the experience of workers with the N18,000 minimum wage that labour leaders and workers must be prepared for a seriously conducted sustained struggle to ensure full implementation of N30,000 minimum wage at all levels of government if it is eventually won”.

How we arrived at N27,000 – FG

Meantime, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has given insight into how the N27,000 minimum wage was arrived at.

Ngige spoke in  a statement titled ‘Clarification of the 2019 National Wage Bill’.

The statement read:  “(1) A National Minimum Wage is the minimum amount of remuneration that an employer is required to pay wage earners (workers) at the lowest rung of the salary scale for the work performed during a given period.

2) At the expiration of the last National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Act, which was enacted in 2011, Mr. President constituted and inaugurated a Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage (TCNMW) in November, 2017, to consider the issue and recommend a new National Minimum Wage to the Government.

The constitution of the Tripartite Committee was in consonance with the provisions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention Nos. 26, 99, and 131, as well as the guidance provided by the accompanying Recommendations. In a bid to achieve a holistic and democratic coverage, the prescribed Tripartite structure went beyond the requirements of Tripartism (the Government and Social Partners) to extend to Tripartite – Plus in order to cover other stakeholders which included Nigeria Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN), and National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME); in addition to the recognised employers’ Federation – the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA).

3) It is very important to note that the constituted TCNMW was mandated by Mr. President to deliberate on the issue of a review of the National Minimum Wage and make recommendations for its upward review. The output from the TCNMW was therefore never meant to be sacrosanct but to provide a guide for the Competent Authority (The Government) to take a final decision. The ILO Conventions on Minimum Wage cited above succinctly stipulate that each Member State shall be free to decide the nature and form of the Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery, and methods to be followed in its operation. They further provide that before the Competent Authority takes the final decision on a National Minimum Wage, there should be full preliminary consultations with the most representative Organisations of employers and workers. This was done when Mr. President constituted and encouraged the work of the TCNMW.

4 The Report of the TCNMW asked Mr. President to note the figure of Thirty Thousand Naira (N30,000.00) recommended by the TCNMW by way of motion and not by consensus, and also to note the Federal Government figure of Twenty Four Thousand Naira (N24, 000.00). Mr. President considered the Report in full and looked at the differing statistics/figures presented by everybody before he arrived at the figure of Twenty – Seven Thousand Naira (N27, 000.00) per month. I must reiterate that the output by the TCNMW was a recommendation and is not cast in stone but advisory to Mr. President.

5) In conformity with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), three (3) Constitutional Bodies further considered the figures. They are: i. The Federal Executive Council-Section 146 – 147 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)

  1. The National Economic Council-Section 153 and Third

Schedule of same Constitution iii. The National Council of States – Section 153 and Third Schedule of same Constitution. These are all advisers of Mr. President and he is required by the Constitution to take advice and consult these three Bodies on any Political, economic, Security, and other sundry issues of the nation requiring Presidential Consultations/Advice.

These bodies are therefore qualified to further consider the recommendations by the TCNMW and advise Mr. President on the best national position that would be equitable and fair to all stakeholders on the matter of a new National Minimum wage. It is not the national council of states alone that considered these figures and the new bill. the job of these three bodies to mr. president are advisory and consultative in nature especially the national council of state.

6) The recommended new National Minimum Wage of Twenty Seven Thousand Naira (N27, 000.00) is for ALL category of workers in Nigeria whether Public or Private Sector and is so contained in the new National Minimum Wage Bill. The workers in the Public Sector are those working in the Federal, State, and Local Government tiers of Government.

The National Minimum Wage is for workers occupying the lowest rung of the remuneration ladder on Grade Level 1 step 1, and are the most vulnerable segment of Nigerian workers. It is of utmost importance to note that any Public or Private Sector employer who is capable of paying more than the statutory Twenty Seven Thousand Naira (N27,000.00) should be ready to do so even without subjecting the concerned workers to a tortuous negotiation by the applicable Negotiation Councils.

The Federal Government has taken the lead in this direction by proposing to augment the Twenty Seven Thousand Naira (N27, 000.00) National Minimum Wage of Federal workers by Three Thousand Naira (N3,000.00) per month to bring it up to Thirty Thousand Naira (30,000.00) for the least paid worker per month. The Federal Government accordingly, expects others in the Public and Private Sectors to do the same, and if the financial capacity permits, employers can pay more than Thirty Thousand Naira (N30,000.00) especially where their workers are very productive and the Private Sector is a very profitable enterprise.

7) As the matter of a National Minimum Wage is in the Exclusive Legislative List as item No. 34 of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), it is therefore the Executive arm of Government that has the responsibility to prescribe a new National Minimum Wage and send to the National Assembly (NASS) for legislative action of getting the Bill passed and/or amended and reverting same to Mr.

President for Assent like any other law of the nation. It is important therefore, to use this medium to ask the different groups who have interest agreeing or disagreeing on the contents of the 2019 National Minimum Wage Bill already transmitted to NASS, to get ready to make their views known at the Public Hearing.”

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