James Ojo, Abuja
Last Monday’s deadlock was another in the series of meetings between the Federal Government and the Organised Labour over the consequential adjustment of salary structures. And the meeting might spell doom for good industrial harmony, which the new minimum wage is expected to promote.
According to the labour leaders, what the government offered the workers as menu on the table of negotiations for the payment of the minimum wage to kick-start it was different from what was promised at the end of the meeting preceding that of Monday.
At the Consequential Adjustment Committee meeting with the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council with Government on September 3, it was agreed that the proposal of the workers be forwarded to the president for approval, they claimed.
Indeed, Labour had pushed for a 30 per cent increase for workers on grade level 7 to 14 and 25 per cent for those on levels 15 to 17 whereas, the government was offering a template whereby workers will enjoy an increase of between 9.5 and 11 per cent for workers on grade levels seven to 14 and 6.5 per cent from 5.3 per cent for levels 15 to 17.
But when the meeting reconvened on September 16 to give them a feedback, it was another kettle of fish as government officials brought a fresh proposal of 11 per cent pay rise for officers on Grade Levels 07 to 14 instead of the earlier position of 10 per cent and 6.5 per cent for those on Grade Levels 15 to 17 instead of the former 5.5 per cent.
This new twist angered the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council as they made no pretense about their disappointment in the government shift of the goal post few minutes to the beginning a victory dance after an energy sapping game.
Immediate past Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita who led the Federal Government team failed to convince Labour to accept the new formula leading to a deadlock.
As expected, the leader of the workers negotiating team, Comrade Simon Anchaver who is the national auditor of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) wasted no time in announcing the readiness of the unions to call out their members for an industrial action.
Hear him: “Government’s action is an open invitation for an industrial action, since workers were already engulfed in fear and agitations whether their accumulated arrears would be paid now that talks had become an endless show”.
Anchaver and his committee’s Secretary, Mr Alade Lawal, in a joint statement decried that efforts by the unions to persuade the government to implement the new minimum wage with appropriate consequential adjustment had proved abortive.
Why strike has become inevitable, they explained, was that workers had given the government enough time to come to term with a realistic demand, pointing out that it appears the only language necessary for the government to act was strike.
To force the hands of government down, they announced that the union would give no further notice to the government before public servants are called out for strike over non-implementation of the new minimum wage and appropriate consequential adjustment.
“It has become imperative to alert the general public that all efforts by the Trade Unions to persuade the government to implement the new N30,000 monthly National Minimum Wage signed into Law by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 18, 2019 with appropriate consequential adjustment, had been frustrated by government,” they said.
No one had envisaged that there would be a delay in the implementation of the minimum wage of N30,000 five months after, until consequential adjustment became a bone of contention.
Not even the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who attributed his reappointment as minister to the mileage recorded in negotiating the minimum wage to become a law had an inkling of the controversy that has become the lot of the wage increase.
Before the end of his first tenure as minister, Ngige had raised the bar of assurance of the commitments of the government to pay the minimum wage, including arrears from the day it became a law through the signature of the president.
He had led government delegation to the negotiation table of the tripartite team of Organised Labour and the Organised Sector, which eventually arrived at N30,000 as minimum wage for the lowest paid workers in the country.
As it stands, Ngige will definitely have some challenges in stopping the looming industrial crisis by the unions who have vowed to take the government unawares by not issuing any strike notice before downing tools.
Monday’s notice of strike was not the first over the minimum wage palaver, rather, the threat to call out workers to demonstrate or down tools had been constant with the day negotiations on the minimum wage commenced.
“As things are right now, I do not see or know of any labour leader who will tell workers not to go on strike over the unnecessary foot dragging over the minimum wage by the Federal Government, “ Comrade Ayodele Olorunfemi of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) said.
According to him, it has become obvious that the government is playing on the intelligence of the Nigerian workers over the new minimum wage, saying that “it is now that the deceit of government and its insincerity are in the open.
“ Look, to say that people are fed up and their patience had ran put is obvious, because this is not what we expected from this government, having employed all manners of delay at the negotiation table, now they have embarked on the same tactics.
“Government is dancing on our head, and very soon they would hear from us, you can’t fool us twice. The template they are talking about is not an issue because it has been there even before the advent of this administration.
“Why foot dragging, why is government not sincere with Nigerian workers, why is the implementation of a law signed by the president difficult, I think the answers to these questions are located in a nation wide strike, now that it is glaring that the only language this government hear is strike.”
Comrade Olorunfemi also buttressed the position of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council when it called on Nigerians to appeal to the Federal Government to implement the new minimum wage with adequate consequential adjustments to avoid looming industrial crisis.
He disclosed that the TUC and NLC had been briefed on the breakdown of negotiation in respect of consequential adjustment arising from the new N30,000 national minimum wage.
Olorunfemi assured that when the strike begins, it would be a complete lockdown because “mobilisation has commenced long before now, with the hindsight of those that can see beyond the promising notes of government to pay the minimum wage.
“All the Labour centres are ready to file out, the new leadership of the TUC are consolidating on what they inherited and we have a mobiliser in the Secretary General who has a pedigree like the new NLC General Secretary, the combination of two men would ensure effective strike, they are professionals in mobilisation.”