Despite the approval of the new national minimum wage of N27,000 by the National Council of State (NCS) at its recent meeting in Abuja, the matter is not yet over. The orgainsed labour has rejected the plan and vowed to resist any minimum wage below the agreed N30,000. While the Federal Government has offered to pay its workers the N30,000 minimum wage, the states have also agreed to pay the N27,000 minimum wage approved by the NCS for states and the private sector. In fact, labour is planning to take the battle for the N30,000 minimum wage to the National Assembly. Already, President Muhammadu Buhari has transmitted the National Minimum Wage Bill to the National Assembly.
Now that the National Minimum Wage Bill is before the National Assembly, labour should take its advocacy there. It has not been easy to arrive at a new national minimum wage since it became due for a review in 2016. No serious work was done on it, despite labour’s threats to go on strike until last year when the government set up the Tripartite Committee under retired Head of Service, Amal Pepple.
At the end of protracted negotiations, the N30,000 was agreed as the new national minimum wage by the Pepple Committee. Signs that all was not well with the recommendation soon emerged when the Federal Government initially opted to pay N24,000 and the states under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors Forum came up with N22,500 as what they can afford. That is why we think the latest intervention by the NCS may be an attempt to reach a workable resolution on the matter.
It is public knowledge that every country is bound to fix a national minimum wage in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other international conventions subject to a review every five years. Even if the minimum wage is N27,000, some rich states can choose to pay their workers higher than what is approved. However, all the parties to the new minimum wage agreement must not pay below the approved threshold.
With the latest intervention by the NCS vis-a-vis what the Federal Government has announced as its own minimum wage, a dichotomy may have been introduced into the national minimum wage issue inadvertently. The difficulty in negotiating an acceptable new minimum wage for the country may have brought to the fore once more the need to urgently restructure the country in the spirit of true federalism. As far as our extant laws are concerned, the determination of a national minimum wage is on the Exclusive Legislative List with the powers vested on the Federal Government. We believe that if that function is moved to the concurrent list, the state governments would be able to legislate on it and arrive at a minimum wage each state can afford. The best way to solve the problem of a minimum wage is to allow the practice of true federalism to prevail. The Federal Government cannot fix a minimum wage for the states.
We enjoin all contending parties to sheathe their swords, and await the final resolution of the matter by the National Assembly. At the end of the day, what matters is to have a minimum wage that the stakeholders are comfortable with. This point is very crucial to the minimum wage matter because all extant conventions on the subject acknowledge it.
It is our hope that the National Assembly should work expeditiously on this matter and give the nation a new national minimum wage that is acceptable to all the parties. In this regard, labour may have to shift its present hard stance a little and accommodate the views of the other parties. In fact, the minimum wage is just the benchmark. Parties are free to go above it, as indeed some states have already indicated. The need for industrial harmony in the country, especially at a time of great economic hardship and the general election, cannot be overemphasised.