A few steps recently taken by President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed once more the unwavering commitment of his administration to the welfare of Nigerian workers. First is the signing into law of the new National Minimum Wage Bill on April 19, 2019, and the commencement of payment to workers on Grade Levels 1-6 in August, three months after. Another is the successful negotiation of the consequential adjustment of the minimum wage and the swift directive of the Federal Executive Council that the payment of the new wage commence before December 2019, effective April the same year.
It is important to note at this juncture that though the process leading to the new minimum wage, especially its consequential adjustment, was long and tedious, it brought to the fore the readiness of the Federal Government for openness in finding solutions to numerous challenges that impede the progress of the nation. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, who is the Chief Labour Officer of the nation, foreshadowed this new disposition of the Federal Government, first, by his neutrality as the competent authority in Nigeria’s tripartite community, in line with the convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). He also demonstrated this through his quintessential negotiation skills, which thawed the ice of impasse that hitherto beleaguered negotiations.
The Federal Government had on his advice laid open its income and expenditure in the 2019 and 2020 budgets to the leadership of the organised labour, to appreciate its position on ability-to-pay as an essential accompaniment of collective bargaining, as provided in the ILO Convention. The minister had earlier guided government against anti-labour disposition while urging labour not to play the sword of Damocles with perennial threat of strikes.
On the other hand, the government side of the negotiation, led by the acting Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Esan, brought thoroughness and statistical finesse on the linear adjustment of figures without unbalancing the equilibrium that exists among different salary scales. The patriotism with which it approached the negotiation stands out. It is to its credit that, notwithstanding the inflexible posture, which labour leaders initially brought to discussions, the Federal Government’s resolve on give and take eventually prevailed, resulting in a win-win for both government and organised labour.
Equally, the preference for dialogue over strike and disruption of national productivity by the labour leadership, its acceptance of the critical rudiments of collective bargaining and the imperative of collective sacrifice as pushed by the minister of labour and employment must be commended. Similarly, another decision by the Buhari administration in the year worthy of mention is the setting up of a five-man Presidential Committee on Salaries and Wages and the promise of a future general wage increase. Knowing full well the implications of the astronomical rise of the Federal Government’s personnel cost from N1.88 trillion to N3.08 trillion between 2016 to date, the committee will evaluate all the earnings in the public service to ensure that work done and salary earned are synchronised in a manner that factors productivity as a denominator.
Now that the minimum wage and the consequential adjustment are fully implemented by the Federal Government and negotiations for implementation shifted to states, the ministry did not lose sight of its role in the enforcement of its enabling law. It has, therefore, put its Inspectorate Department to work and urged the labour unions to establish similar units in state chapters to join hands with the ministry to monitor implementation.
Overall, in discharging its responsibilities, the ministry has continued to develop strategies geared towards employment generation and wealth creation, which are key factors in poverty reduction envisaged in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). Hence, to open up vast avenues to tackle unemployment, the ministry is already in liaison with the organised private sector and key ministries and agencies of government with high potentials for job creation. Verily, in compliance with the decision of the Federal Executive Council, it has also commenced the tracking of direct and indirect jobs created through contracts awarded by Federal Government. In another vein, it established the Nigerian-German Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration and, through it, organised a job fair in Abuja, where a number of applicants were directly employed. Plans are under way to hold similar fairs in other states of the federation. Furthermore, the Global Youth Employment Forum, organised in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation, was held in Abuja last August, with youths from 63 countries in attendance, making it the first time the summit held outside Europe in the 100 years history of the ILO.
Tapping into the changing dynamics of the world of work and realising the elastic opportunities in blue-collar jobs, the ministry has rehabilitated vocational skills development centres in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Bauchi, Calabar and Warri, furnishing them with consumables. There is also an ongoing construction of nine specialist skills centres in Konduga, Borno State; Owowo, Kogi State; Alor and Ifite Dunu in Anambra State; Zaria, Kaduna State; Opeffia and Okpokuegbe in Ebonyi State; Enugu in Enugu State; Lafia in Nasarawa State; and Ibi in Taraba State. Four others sited in other states and billed for 2020 include Jibia, Katsina State; Ikene and Ijebu-Ode both, Ogun State; and Ondo in Ondo State. Besides, a synergy with other skills centres operated by other ministries and tiers of government to standardise their operations is being planned the ministry. It is important to state here that the National Directorate of Employment, which is under the supervision of the ministry, has churned out a total of 533,241 unemployed persons trained in various skills, including vocational, agricultural, environmental beautification, food processing and business training.
At another level, the mandate of the ministry to provide a peaceful industrial milieu for optimal national productivity received unprecedented attention as the ministry apprehended 1,425 trade disputes, with 788 completely resolved, 37 referred to the Industrial Arbitration Panel and 600 pending at various stages of mediation.
The Inclusive Services Delivery and Livelihood Enhancement Programme meant to ease a sustainable means of livelihood to the vulnerable, especially in the North-East zone, traumatized by insurgency, which the ministry developed in conjunction with the African Development Bank, is an expression of its commitment to social responsibility. It has also completed a study to enhance the integration and resettlement of internally displaced persons with the Federal Capital Territory and Nasarawa State as pilot.
In the year ahead, the ministry intends to move notches ahead in implementing the Action Plans on National Employment Policy and National Policy on Labour Migration to provide employment and labour migration services. It expects to also scale up the number of beneficiaries of skills acquisition, empowerment, poverty reduction and social protection. It has commenced the review of all labour acts and restablished the National Labour Council.
It is hoped that, with increased budgetary provision in the new year, the ministry will frontally tackle the mismatch between educational curricular and labour market requirements through collaborative curricular review. Additionally, an innovative dispute apprehension mechanism to tackle the loss in man-hours, which results from incessant strikes, is also top on the agenda. Besides, the ministry will catalyze investments in the public and private sector in multi-pronged efforts to unlock job opportunities for the people and give fillip to the promise of the President on June 12, 2019, to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
•Alo is Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment