DESPITE frosty relationships between the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, towards the end of the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the Congress on Thursday conferred on the Minister honorary membership of the NLC.
The conferment which signifies friendship and desire to work together was carried out by the President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, when the congress paid a congratulatory message to the Minister at the ministry.
Welcoming the labour leaders, Senator Ngige assured the NLC that the deadlock in the consequential adjustment of the N30, 000 Minimum Wage for Grade Levels 7-17 would soon be over.
He said, “Government is not averse to consequential adjustment because a workman is due his wages. If you work in a vineyard, you must reap from that vineyard. So the issue of the National Minimum Wage must be sorted out for those other cadres and I am very hopeful it will be done as soon as possible.”
“It is unfortunate that the negotiation was deadlocked on levels 7-17. The important thing is that we are going to negotiate it. It is a Collective Bargaining Agreement because if you talk about the minimum wage in the strict sense of it, it is already being implemented as it is the wage for the person at the lowest rung of the ladder; but the consequential adjustment following it must be implemented because you have already impinged on other people’s scale.”
He observed that the economy was in the doldrums hence the need for the Federal Government to engage in a balancing act so as not to run afoul of the Fiscal Responsibility Act or run the economy aground.
“What we are saying is that all parties have to agree that the economy is in bad shape and therefore we have to cut our coat according to our cloth. There are so many things about the salaries of workers which we cannot even say as a government because some of them can impinge on the Fiscal Responsibility law. There are critical issues we must balance to achieve socio-economic equilibrium.”
Responding to other issues raised by the NLC, the Minister urged labour to move from the conventional union agitations to liaising with the organized private sector as the engine of economic growth, to galvanize job creation in the country, insisting that government alone could not do all. He noted that the Ministry would continue to fight for the rights of workers for commensurate remuneration and ensure an equable environment for decent jobs as well as enthrone best labour practices.
Senator Ngige in a statement by the Deputy Director, (Press) in the ministry further assured that social dialogue would continue to guide relations with the tripartite community, saying that conflict was not the right way to go.
He, therefore, promised that National Labour Advisory Council set up by Convention144 of the ILO would soon come alive again as provision had been made for it in the 2019 budget.
He regretted that the Council had not met for nearly five years due to budgetary constraint and revealed that its first national convention in over five years would be held in Abuja before the end of the year.
He further promised that the National Public Service Joint Negotiating Council would be expanded to accommodate the new unions.
He also stressed the constitutional right of the Ministry to register unions, saying it was within its powers to stretch the elasticity of this right to accommodate and register new unions.
He said the Ministry had in the past few years expanded its capacity for inspection as it engaged through the Federal Civil Service Commission about one thousand qualified persons already deployed to the national and states offices, noting that the personnel were meant to strengthen the Occupational, Skills, Cooperative and Inspectorate Divisions of the Ministry.
He described his stewardship as labour-friendly, recalling that as Governor of Anambra State between 2003 and 2006, he was the first to move pensioners to an unprecedented 142% rise, as well as brought back to life, the State Chapters of the Nigerian Union Teachers (NUT) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) then in coma as result of serial unrests and abhorring working conditions under predecessor governments. He also recounted how as a member of the Seventh Senate, he led other senators to stop a bill seeking to abridge the rights of unions to protest.
In his address, NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said the union had a mandate of tripartism to defend, promote and protect the rights of workers.
According to him, the union has learnt lessons from its past and would work to ensure thriving democratic institutions thrive as well as promote industrial peace and harmony.
He listed concerns of casualisation of workers, outsourcing of jobs, and expressed fears that the future of work was under threat by technology.
Wabba stressed the need to institutionalise social dialogue in conformity with the ILO Conventions, adding that this would help promote industrial harmony and peace.