James Ojo, Abuja
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has warned governors unwilling to pay the N30,000 new minimum wage to prepare for serious confrontation with workers.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba,reminded governors that they swore an oath to abide by the laws of the land, adding that the national minimum wage issue is a law, which they must implement.
“We are going to fight them tooth and nail. It is already a law and they have sworn to uphold the sanctity of our laws. We have enough in this country, especially when there is prudence,” he said.
This is even as President Muhammadu Buhari assured that the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage was ongoing and tasked governors and the private sector to pay their workers a decent living wage.
They both spoke at the 11th Triennial Delegate Conference of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Abuja.
Welcoming delegates, outgoing TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama called for quick implementation of the minimum wage because workers were hungry.
He warned state governments who are reluctant to pay to rescind their decision, saying that the law prescribing minimum wage is a law of the federation that must be obeyed.
Wabba reminded workers that they were coming from a rich tradition “where our forbearers fought for the independence of our country and democracy. There is nothing we have gotten on a platter of gold.
“Democracy itself as not given to us. We have seen democracy around the world being captured by economic powers. We have seen how economic power is undermining democracy and therefore, workers around the world, including Nigeria, must stand firm to defend our democratic gain.
“Our leaders need our engagement in other not to be captured by economic powers. This conference provide us an opportunity to interrogate where we are coming from and what we need to do to change the rules. The rules cannot be changed through wishful thinking.
“Our leaders must be instigated to change the rules. When you hear the language of capital, you will know that workers are in trouble because the language of capital is profit and more profit. That is why the issue of the use of automation and technology is coming in and not because they cannot employ more workers.
“It is only because they want to maximise profit. We must continue to work together because the issues of workers are the same. We should resist attempt to divide us along any line. Note that minimum wage has never been given to workers on a platter of gold, hence the need for union leaders to always speak to power.
“If we cannot speak to power, certainly, we cannot be labour leaders. Therefore, I challenge all of us to back and collaborate because the issues affecting our members and Nigerians need urgent attention.
“It is not about resources because we have enormous resources that has not been tapped. There are less than 300 people that has borrowed about N5.5 trillion from the banks and the money has not been returned, yet we are crying that there is no money,” he observed.
Meanwhile, President Buhari has said his administration is committed to having a smooth and good working relationship with Labour unions.
“My administration believes in the welfare of workers and that is why we have signed the minimum wage bill into law and implementation is underway.
“I imploy both the state governments wage to encourage workers to contribute more to the economy,” he said.
Buhari, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, commended TUC for participating actively in the drafting of document which led to the development of roadmap for the growth of the economy.
He called on workers to join his government in fighting corruption and the building of institutions.
However, Kaigama expressed worry over increasing rate of inflation and the country’s debt profile.
He said it was a matter for regret that little effort was being made to solve the issue.
He said with the country’s current debt profile still at N24.3 trillion, efforts must be geared towards ending borrowing, and looking inwards for self-sufficiency.
“Borrowing in itself is not a bad thing, the issue is what do you borrow for. Countries borrow for capital projects, and not to pay salaries, if we cannot bequeath wealth to our children, why burden them with debts?’’
He said with revenues generated from the Federal Inland Revenue service, NIPOST, NNPC, NIMASA, and those recovered by the EFCC and the ICPC, the country has no business borrowing.
Chairman of the occasion and Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, urged workers at state level to use all legitimate means including strike to force the payment of the minimum wage.
He said the way governors fly chartered flights all over the country showed they could pay the minimum wage.
Falana charged Labour to collaborate with the Federal Government to collect billions of Dollars withheld by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and oil companies that were due for the federation account, so that it could be shared among the tiers of government.
At the end of the delegates conference, a new national officers are expected to emerge as the tenure of the present leadership expired yesterday.
TUC presently has over 2.5 million members spread across its 29 affiliates unions nationwide.