The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said that its members would begin a nationwide strike alongside civil society organizations on September 26
Baring any last minute intervention by the Federal Government, the Organised Labour will begin an indefinite strike on Wednesday, when the 14-day ultimatum it issued on September 12 will expire.
All the three labour centres at their September 12 press briefing canvassed mobilisation for the nationwide industrial action in protest of the Federal Government’s foot dragging on the review of the minimum wage paid to Nigerian workers.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said that its members would begin a nationwide strike alongside civil society organizations on September 26, unless the committee completes its assignment on the new minimum wage.
NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who made the statement after the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Congress lamented that the Federal Government had failed to show seriousness in implementing a new wage.
“NEC noted that this is against the principle of collective bargaining as provided in ILO conventions 98 and 131 on minimum wage setting process, which Nigeria had domesticated,” he fumed.
He said that NEC which is the highest decision-making organ of the Congress has, “resolved that at the expiration of the 14 days industrial action notice issued to the Federal Government over the new minimum wage issue, and the demand of the organised labour was not met, the National Administrative Council (NAC), which is the leadership of the Congress has the power to declare appropriate industrial action or any action it deems necessary.
“NEC in session accordingly approved and applauded the organised labour for taking a proactive step by issuing a statutory 14 days industrial action notice to preserve the sanctity of the collective bargaining process, and the demand for the tripartite committee to reconvene within a set period to finalize its report in line with the principle of collective bargaining.
“NEC resolves that all its affiliates unions and the 36 state councils of Congress and the FCT and joint action front communicate the decision of NEC to their members and all workers.”
In the same vein, the NLC has scheduled a press briefing for Monday to intimate Nigerians on its position, which may likely ratify the industrial action.
Until September 4 and 5, when the Organized Labour held its last meeting with the National Minimum Wage Committee, the optimism of the Nigerian workers earning a new minimum wage this year was still very high. But now, the leadership of labour says the sincerity of the Federal Government in making this a reality is questionable.
This fear was further heightened on September 12, in Lagos, when Labour alongside other stakeholders issued a 14-day ultimatum to the government to conclude the negotiation, threatening that the patience of Labour is waning.
The leaders in the three labour centres, including the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, United Labour Congress (ULC), Comrade Joe Ajaero and President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobboi Bala Kaigama, had said the ultimatum became necessary due to the latest provocative statement credited to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who said that the Committee should adjourn indefinitely to enable him do further consultations with the government.
Wabba said labour viewed Ngige’s latest pronouncement with great concern, suspicion and outrage.
“This new antic certainly is not acceptable to Nigerian workers who had expected a new national minimum wage since 2016 but who out of uncommon sacrifice and patriotism hearkened to government’s appeal and the process was delayed,” he said.
Recall that the National Minimum Wage Committee was inaugurated in November 2017, but commenced work in March 2018 with timelines to deliver on its mandate of arriving at a new national minimum wage in August or September 2018.
The committee was expected to have rounded off on August 21, but suspended until September due to the celebration of Eid el-Kabir, a major Muslims festival.
The NLC president said in the course of the work of the committee, members had ample time to consult. He said the NLC was satisfied that the committee received memoranda and inputs from 21 state governments, specialized agencies of the Federal Government, the Organized Private Sector, Organised Labour and the general public.
“We even recall that Ngige himself had assured workers during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in February this year that workers should expect a new national minimum wage in September this year. We wonder what has gone amiss between February 28 and now. Or do we assume that the Honourable Minister is acting out a script?”
READ ALSO: Ngige again?
He stated that the minister’s pronouncement is capable of rubbishing the work of the committee as well as raising serious concerns about the readiness of the government to accede to the putting together of a new national minimum wage.
He added: “Beyond this, the minister’s pronouncement has generated considerable tension among workers and provoked sharp reactions from the unions which justifiably argue that the government is only out to waste the time of workers and is not prepared to pay a new national minimum wage.
“For the sake of emphasis, the national minimum wage was not only legally due about two years ago, the increase in the pump price of petroleum products by this administration with fundamental consequential effects on the citizenry, the increase in electricity tariff, the massive devaluation of the naira leading to a punitive exchange rate, and hyperinflation, all of which led to rising cost of living for workers and other Nigerians made a new national minimum wage not only necessary but urgent.
“Similarly, we are saddened to note that the recommendations of the Technical Committee on Minimum Wage and Palliatives chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which was mandated to fashion out mitigatory strategy, policies, and programmes to cushion the vagaries of the increase in the pump price of petroleum products have not been implemented to date.”
The organised labour added that the present position of who functioned as the Vice Chairman of that committee brings back painful memories of precious time wasted, energies dissipated and hopes betrayed.
“Coupled with this, the minister’s latest pronouncement goes to cast further doubt on the integrity of the government as well as underscores the inherent danger in doing business with government” Wabba said.
The minister was alleged to have disappeared from the last meeting of the committee, which would have made whatever decision the committee arrived at unacceptable to the Federal Government as he was its representative.
Before the inauguration of the committee by President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2017, the organised labour had in May 2016 demanded a pay rise from the current N18,000 national minimum wage to N56,000, and later adjusted it to N65,000.
The organised private sector likewise had initially proposed a figure of N42,000, but later brought it down to N25,000, taking into account the current economic situation, ability to pay and ability to enhance and create new jobs.
On the other hand, the committee equally got proposals from 21 governors ranging from N28,000, N31,000 and N41,000.
A member of the Organised Labour in the committee, who is also the Secretary General of the Association of Senior Civil Servants (ASCSN), Comrade Alade Bashir Lawal, said the deadlock was not because the Labour was not accepting the offer presented, but the refusal of the government to allow several figures presented by stakeholders to be harmonised.
He explained that there had never been a time since the history of minimum wage negotiation that Federal Government came up with a figure.
He reasoned that Labour is satisfied that 21 governors had come out with proposals, which formed the majority and could be worked with rather than waiting for the Nigerian Governors Forum.
He said: “On the strength of all we have gotten from the Organised Private Sector and the governors, we believe that we have good figures to work with. As far as we are concerned we are not rigid to the figure presented, we have always said that we are open to negotiation.
“But it seems government is not serious and just taking us for a ride. Wonder why when it is the time to finalise that we now start hearing discordant tunes from the Federal Government. If we now say this is an acceptable figure and government is not there, who will sign for government.”
He said the body language and reactions Labour is getting now call for more urgent action for the leadership to be able to deliver on the promises made to their members.
“Now the body language of the government is that all they are interested in is the election and after that continue with the rhetoric, but we are serious about the ultimatum, we will not be taken for a ride.
“Anytime from now we will be giving instructions to our organs if the government fails to reach out to us between today and tomorrow,” he said.
Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Peter Adeyemi, who is also a member of the committee has, however, warned that the fate of most of the governors would be determined by the ongoing negotiation on the new minimum wage
He said, “This new minimum wage will determine who gets elected and re-elected again. The time of reckoning is drawing nearer. We all know that another round of campaign and promises have begun. But Nigerian workers will not fold their arms and go and vote again for people who don’t put their interest at heart. It will not be possible.
“Nigerian workers will take their destiny into their hands. And we are going to use these statements they are making now to determine their fate. Any governor who says the new minimum wage is not payable and he cannot pay salaries is hanging his own neck and the neck of the candidate his political party will present because Nigerian workers will vote against anti-progressives elements who want to go back to government house. Those who do not have the interest of Nigerian workers at heart, who want to enslave Nigerian workers, will not get to the government house.”
Adeyemi noted that those governors owing salaries are doing so not because they do not have, but lack the will to pay even after several bailouts from the Federal Government.
“It is about how these states consider what their priority is. As we speak, there are states that do not owe salaries. And it is not as if they are wallowing in excess of resources. It is about commitment,” he said.
He stated that while the government complains about inability to pay workers, it squanders funds on other irrelevancies.
He explained further: “First, the government must trim down the number of political appointees. What we had before was an insane arrangement; we had lots of duplications of duties. Are you not surprised that you have a ministry that has a minister, minister of state, permanent secretary and a retinue of advisers. If you go to the presidency and see the number of offices there, you will shiver.
“Secondly, the salaries of the members of the National Assembly must necessarily be reduced. They are the highest paid in the world. Some of their allowances are not known to anybody. The question is: will this government be able to curtail the excesses of the National Assembly? Everybody must be accountable. If we say that the resources are not there, everybody will have to make sacrifice. And when I talk of lean government, I am not talking about the federal alone; I am also talking about the states. There was a time the number of the political aids in Bauchi State was running in thousands. We cannot afford that because that is a state also that cannot even pay salaries. And when they quote these over bloated figures as what they spend on recurrent expenditure, you ask yourself, what is the percentage of that figure, that they are parading that is paid to the ordinary workers? “The biggest chunk of the money that they claim spent on recurrent is expended on political appointees. Beyond that, we have too much deceit. Why must our political office holders sleep abroad everyday? When one government functionary is going on chartered plane, the whole place is filled up with a retinue of other government officials.”
In response to the ultimatum of the Organised Labour that the Tripartite Committee should be allowed to conclude its work within 14 days, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, on Tuesday presided over the Economic Management Team meeting, specially convened to resolve the contentious minimum wage issue.
Earlier, the Minister of Labour and Employment had described the 14-day ultimatum as blackmail and an attempt to intimidate the Federal Government.
The Minister said labour leaders were unnecessarily browbeating the government to pass a new minimum wage that it may end up reneging on. He blamed certain factors including the inability of governors to provide their figures to be debated by the committee negotiating the new minimum wage as one of the reasons for the delay, just as he assured that the government was still within the time frame it promised to deliver on a new minimum wage and was not stalling the process as alleged by labour. The chairman of the Negotiation Committee, Ms Amma Pepple, a former Head of Service of the Federation, has also assured that the committee would submit its report before month end, adding, however, that they need a definite figure from both the federal and state governments to conclude their report.
Organised Private Sector speaks
Meanwhile, the Organised Private Sector (OPS) has advised that Federal Government should not see the ultimatum by Labour as an empty threat.
The President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Frank Jacobs, who addressed the media on the forthcoming 46th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the association, said there is need for urgent harmonisation and conclusion of the process.
He said that though the OPS had come up with a figure, there was actually no need to force the private sector to any figure, stating that OPS should be able to negotiate with their workers.
He stated, “I believe that government cannot impose figures on OPS. Although some OPS pay more, but how about small and micro enterprises?
Relatively, members of the Organised Labour should be a little bit more reasonable. Although they may be comparing to what National Assembly is earning, which no doubt is not fair.”