Labour and Employment Minister Chris Ngige’s remarks on the deadline for the national minimum wage negotiating committee may have stirred the hornets’ nest. TOBA AGBOOLA reports that labour leaders are anxious to smile earlier than the third quarter when the minister says the panel will turn in its recommendations.
A NEW national minimum wage will be announced before the end of the year, if the word of the Minister Labour & Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, is anything to go by.
The 30-member tripartite committee chaired by former Head of Service of the Federation Ms. Amal Pepple is billed to conclude its assignment by the third quarter and submit its report to President Muhammadu Buhari.
But the organised labour would rather want all wage-related issues resolved not later than the third quarter, when the wage negotiating committee is expected to conclude its work.
“The delivery and the adoption of the new minimum wage is expected to take effect before the third quarter,” labour leaders said yesterday.
They were reacting to the minister’s remarks on the ongoing negotiation for a national minimum wage.
The union leaders are NLC President Ayuba Wabba, his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart Bobboi Kaigama and Medical & Health Workers Union (MHWU) President Biobelemoye Joshua.
Wabba said the union will reject any attempt to delay the adoption of a new wage for workers, adding that the prevailing minimum wage of N18, 000 (about $46) per month can no longer sustain the Nigerian worker.
Reacting to the Minister’s comments that workers will soon smile, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba said labour will reject any delay or extention on the new minimum wage.
The labour leader said yesterday: “It is our expectation that all issues pertaining to the new minimum wage will be concluded before the end of third quarter of 2018 to give Nigerian workers a new hope that the government and other employers of labour have not totally abandoned them.
He stressed the need for the committee to consider the plight of workers and pensioners during its deliberations and initiate decisions that will improve the lives of the generality of Nigerians.
According to him, the inauguration of the wage negotiating panel, which was done by the President on November 27, was long overdue.
“This is something that workers have long anticipated and our expectation is that we want a speedy process now that the facts of the issues are very obvious,” Wabba said.
He said the purchasing power of the N18, 000 wage minimum, which was approved in 2011, has waned over the years.
“If you look at the exchange rate”, Wabba said, “the N18, 000 minimum wage of 2011 when we signed the agreement, it was almost equivalent to N110 dollars. Today, the N18, 000 is less than 46 dollars.
“So, this is the reality and with the purchasing power of the ordinary worker, with the high cost of transaction, our expectation is that the committee should look at the conditions of workers and pensioners.’’
He explained such considerations were imperative to address the issue of social imbalance, inequality and the wide gap of poverty in the country.
In his reaction, the TUC President said they (labour) expect everything to be concluded before the end of the quarter.
Kaigama said “it’s a welcome development and good news to the organised labour if the minister is saying indirectly that the new minimum wage will come earlier than envisaged.
The TUC chief said the initial attempt by the Federal Government to extend the committee work till 2019 was short down by labour from the outset.
He said: “We have just set the ball rolling. We will be very happy if everything can be concluded before the third quarter. Initially, they wanted to extend it till 2019, but we rejected this.
“We said if this thing is for this administration, then it must happen before the third quarter.”
Kaigama informed that the committee will be meeting before the end of the month.
The MHWU President said that any attempt by the government to score political point with the minimum wage issue will be rejected by organised labour.
“We are certain that if the government employs delay tactics for any reason, labour will react,’’ Joshua said.
Although the committee was yet to sit since its inauguration last year, stakeholders are optimistic that its members will come up with favourable decisions at the end of the panel’s assignment this year.
The committee report, Dr. Ngige said, will guide the Federal Government on the issuance of a white paper and subsequently transmit the content to the National Assembly for approval.
Speaking at the weekend after flagging off the proposed skills acquisition center at Ifitedunu in Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State, the minister told reporters that the minimum wage, when endorsed by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President, will be binding on state governments.
Many of states have been demanding that they be allowed to negotiate with the workers on their payroll to enable them come up with what could afford to pay.
With the dwindling allocations from the Federation Accounts, not a few states find it hard to meet their monthly obligations to workers on salaries and allowances to retirees.
Ngige described minimum wage as a national matter on which the constitution allows only the Federal Government to legislate on, being on the exclusive legislative list.
The minister, who doubles as the deputy chairman, said committee had swung into action after its inaugural meeting on December 14, last year.
He said: “The committee, which had brought out a framework to guide it, will conclude its work by the third quarter of 2018 and then submit its report to enable the Federal Government issue a white paper and subsequently transmit the content to the National Assembly.
“That is why the President is not over flogging the issue, but he is monitoring the work of the committee. One thing that is clear is that the states will abide by whatever will be the outcome of the work of the committee because they (governors) have nominees there.
“The Governors’ Forum is represented in the committee and the Federal Government component is represented by five ministers and the Head of Service of the Federation. It will therefore be against the spirit of the constitution for the states to have their own minimum wage.”
Insisting that the national minimum wage would be the baseline, the minister, however added that states with capability to pay above the approved wage could do so, “but not below the national minimum wage”, he said.
The minister explained said that whatever minimum wage that would be proposed would be backed up with productivity indices, noting that was why the National Employers Consultative Assembly (NECA) has representative in the committee to protect their workers’ interest.
By its tripartite nature, the committee, which was inaugurated at the Council Chambers, State House in Abuja has its membership drawn from the public sector, (federal and state governments) and the private sector, made up of the largest private employer group and NECA.
It other members include: the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME).
In a statement, the Deputy Director in charge of Press, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Samuel Olowookere, named Ms. Pepple (Chairman); Ngige (Deputy Chairman) and the Chairman of the National Salaries, Income & Wages Commission Richard Egbule, as Secretary.
Other Federal Government representatives are: Udo Udo Udoma (Minister of Budget & Economic Planning); Mrs. Kemi Adeosun (Finance); Mrs. Winifred E. Oyo-Ita (Head of Civil Service of the Federation), and Permanent Secretary, General Services Office, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr. Roy Ugo.
Governors Rauf Aregbesola (Osun, Southwest); Rochas Okorocha (Imo, Southeast) Hassan Dankwambo (Gombe, Northeast); Nyesom Wike (Rivers, Southsouth); Simon Lalong (Plateau, Northcentral) and Abubakar Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi, Northwest) are representing the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
The Forum’s Director-General, Asishana Okauru, was nominated as an observer.
Accompanying Wabba in the NLC team are Peters Adeyemi, Kiri Mohammed, Amechi Asugwuni and Peter Ozo-Eson. Besides Kaigama, the TUC delegation has Sunday Olusoji Salake, Alade Bashir Lawa, Igwe Achese and President, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG).
From the employers’ side are NECA’s Director-General Olusegun Oshinowo, Timothy Olawale, Chuma Nwankwo, Mrs. Olubunmi Adekoje, the Director-General, Federation of Construction Industry (FOCI), Ahmed Ladan Gobi, Kaduna East Branch Chairman of the Manufacturers’ Association (MAN), Otunba Francis Oluwagbenre, Hajia Muheeba Dankaka, Kano Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) President Prince Degun Agboade and President, Nigeria Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME).
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