Says govt negotiating team working for vested interests
FG has commenced partial payment of N30,000 minimum wage — Ngige
Laments high rate of unemployment, expresses fears of social unrest if not tackled
By Anayo Okoli & Victor Young
ENUGU—Organised Labour said, yesterday, that only the personal intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari can stop the planned nationwide strike over consequential adjustments arising from the N30,000 new minimum wage.
The warning came on a day Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, told newsmen in Enugu that the Federal Government has commenced partial implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage to its workers on salary levels one to six.
He also expressed fears about the social unrest that would result, should government fail to address the high rate of unemployment in the country.
Secretary to the Trade Union Side, TUS, of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council, JNPSNC, Alade Bashir Lawal, who stated this in an interview with Vanguard, said organs of various public sector unions were already meeting, with the leaders also reaching out to other sections of the Labour movement and civil society allies for support.
Lawal, who is also Secretary-General of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, disclosed that mobilization ahead of the strike has heightened, and that very soon, a nationwide strike will commence.
He accused some members of the government side in the JNPSNC of working for some individuals with vested interests and personal gains, and not the government or President Buhari.
Recall that last week, Organised Labour had directed civil servants to prepare for a nationwide strike, saying it had become clear that the government side was not serious about paying millions of workers a new National Minimum Wage and adequate consequential adjustment but preferred taking the trade unions for a ride.
Lawal said: “Before last meeting, our position was that from levels 7 to 14, it should be 29 per cent and then, from levels 15 to 17, 24 per cent . That was our position. The government delegation’s position before that meeting was 10 per cent for levels 7 to 14, and 5.5 per cent for levels 15 to 17.
“Then, we agreed that since the two sides were not shifting grounds, that the government side should go and present the scenario to Mr. President. It was our belief that it was possible that when Mr President sees the difference between the two sides, he will be able to appreciate what Labour was saying.
Only Buhari can stop the strike
“For us, it is Mr. President that sends you (government negotiating team) on the errand, go back and report to him. When we reconvened, we knew there was a booby trap somewhere. It was obvious that they did not report back to Mr. President.
“The next thing was that they started manipulating the minutes to reflect that such decision was not taken. It was very frightening and annoying. The former head of service was the one that chaired the meeting.
“I told her that the government side’s action is very frightening and that some of us are afraid of what will happen because they are just manipulating the system to suit the fancy of some individuals, unknown to the person that sent them.
“They just marginally touched what they presented before. They said from level 7 to 14, instead of 10 per cent, they can make it 11 per cent, and instead of 5.5 per cent for level 15 to 17, they will make it 6.5 per cent. It is like we are pricing crayfish in the market.
“It is very unfortunate. We told them that we were going back to report to those that sent us. We have reported and they said we should go on strike. We are mobilizing, we are organising the mobilization and soon, we will do what we know best to achieve result.
“For those below level 7, they were not earning up to the new minimum wage. Theirs were not so difficult. From day one, we have adjusted that. We felt that we should complete the whole process before they issue circular.
“But the former Head of Service decided on her own to issue a circular for levels 1 to 6. It was a unilateral decision which did not get the blessing of Labour. We told her that she was destroying the civil service and that this was not what she met and that history would be told of the misdemeanour some of you have done to the civil service.
“At the stage, we are saying it’s only the personal intervention of Mr. President that can stop the planned strike.”
FG has commenced payment of new minimum wage — Ngige
However, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said in Enugu weekend that the Federal Government has commenced partial implementation of the N30, 000 minimum wage to its workers on salary levels one to six.
Ngige, who disclosed that the workers in that category were paid the minimum wage in their August salary due to partial agreement reached for this cadre before the dissolution of the government, said the workers would get arrears of the increment this September, down from April 2019.
He, however, noted that workers in grade levels 7 to 17 would have to be a bit patient as negotiation on their own minimum wage would resume as soon as the Federal Government reconstitutes the negotiating committee which elapsed when the cabinet was dissolved in May 2019.
The Minister, who spoke on the sidelines of an award of good governance conferred on him and others by his alma mater, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, expressed hope that the committee would be reconstituted this week to conclude negotiation for the higher cadre.
He said: “For Grade Level 1, step 1 to Grade Level 6, there is a partial agreement already and the consequential adjustment has been worked out and the Federal Government has paid the August salary based on the minimum wage.
“August salary has been paid; that is the report Accountant-General gave us in a meeting. So, categorically, government has started partial implementation of minimum wage but if you like, they have started implementation of minimum wage; simplicita.
“They have started applying the minimum wage payment. So, they have paid in August. They are going to pay in September with arrears spanning from April to workers in this category that I have told you.
“As for workers from Grade Level 7 to 17, their negotiation with the committee of Permanent Secretaries, representing us, has hit the rocks. We, as government, are going to reconstitute the committee and engage them.
“So, they should not be issuing threats of strike because they know that government has not settled down; they know it. They have not seen my face in any of their negotiations because I have not got any briefing from those who were in the committee before us.
“They have to give us a handover note of where they stopped in the negotiation. That is how government functions and then, we take it from there. They have not done a formal handover.
“We are going to reconstitute a committee next week and the old committee will do a handover. I can assure you that we will speedily negotiate with labour, the JNC.
“So, it is not good for them to say government is dragging its feet. They know the problem. They know government has not settled down. So, that is the situation. But for those on Grade Level 1 to Grade Level 6, they will get the consequential adjustment and arrears with their main salary for September by the end of this month.”
The minister said the Federal Government has crossed the major hurdle in the minimum wage issue, which was getting a new rate for the minimum wage.
“To me, that was the major crossing of the Rubicon; when you do that, there is what is called consequential adjustment because you have, by moving from N18,000 to N30,000, crossed some salary grade levels and surpassed them.
“Therefore, you must get those people that you have crossed and passed to a higher level than N30, 000, which the lowest person is now earning. So, that is the history of the consequential adjustment.
“When you do that for the lower level, grade level 1 to grade level 6, for the executive cadre which starts from grade level 7 to 17, you must also give them a consequential movement so they will not have a feeling that their subordinates have moved up to meet them.
“This is because some people now in level 6 have moved into old level 10 salary structure by the new minimum wage adjustment. So, you see now that this is something you must do across board, consequentially.
“But will the rates be the same? No. From grade level 1, anything you are doing there is consequential and must be done through negotiation or what we call in Labour parlance, collective bargaining.
“Once you do collective bargaining and agree on something, it is what you call Collective Bargaining Agreement, CBA. So, it is the collective bargaining that is now done for consequential adjustment.
“Labour knows that in consequential adjustments and even in collective bargaining, there are cardinal principles guiding CBA and part of the principles guiding CBA is ability of employers to pay, because there is no need for an employer to agree on something he cannot pay and tomorrow, you are back to the negotiating table.
“Unfortunately for government, after the agreement was signed into law by the President on April 18, the cabinet was dissolved by May 29. So, the committee of government side of the negotiation, was canceled,” Ngige added.
The dangers of high unemployment level
He also lamented the high level of unemployment in the country, saying it could lead to a major social unrest, if not urgently tackled.
According to him, the signs are already manifesting and government is seriously worried and trying to fashion out a solution to the problem.
Ngige said: “Unemployment is growing into a big cankerworm. It is growing into a very vicious disease condition that has given rise to a lot of anti-social behaviour. Government is seriously worried because if we don’t confront unemployment head-on with many measures which we are fashioning now, then the whole country will be consumed with social unrest.
“It is already showing, when you are in traffic, people knock on your car window to ask you to give them your phone. If you don’t give them, they will attack you. That is the big malaise. One day, they will stop people from eating in their houses. They will knock and say, bring your food and let us share it.
“The symptoms are there. Boko Haram is a symptom of unemployment in Nigeria. IPOB is a symptom of unemployment. There is desperation and people are getting frustrated. Same goes for banditry in the North-West.
“Same goes for kidnapping all over the country — North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-East, South-South and South- West; Avengers, the destruction of pipelines, OPC, are all symptoms of very serious underlying disease condition called unemployment.
“We don’t want it to get to that. We have tried as a country. We were on the same pedestal with Venezuela. We were lucky President Muhammadu Buhari came in; if not, we will be on the same scale with Venezuela.
“We would have all dispersed into neighbouring countries. We would have had social unrest that would be internecine and by now, we would not have solved it. So, we are on with our thinking caps. We are bringing everything we have on the table to see how we can check it.
“So, government for the next level will fashion out ways and means to deal with unemployment. We are doing something but I think what we are doing is not enough. Government has used diversification into agriculture to fight unemployment. Yes, it was successful.
“We have also used ad-hoc procedures like empowerment programmes. It is like a drop of water in the ocean. We have employed through that process 500,000 people, about half a million. But we have those searching for white collar jobs in the neighbourhood of about 15 million.
“So, we have to do something to teach people new vocations, new skills, to ensure that everybody is not going for white collar jobs. Even if you have a university degree, you can be taught some skills so that you employ yourself or even get employed somehow.
“So, we are going to do that; it is on the table. All arsenals, everything will be put into place, so that we can fight unemployment. Otherwise, it will consume everybody. It will consume me and you, pressmen.
“Even FEC in the last council, reiterated that any contract for construction, infrastructure development will have to indicate the quantum of new jobs to be created by doing so. There are other things we are doing as government to see how we can ameliorate the situation.”