By Cosmas Omegoh (Lagos), Ndubuisi Orji (Abuja), Layi Olarnewaju (Ilorin), Rose Ejembi (Makurdi), Priscilla Ediare (Ado-Ekiti), Tony John (Port Harcourt), Olanrewaju Lawal (Birnin Kebbi), Tony Osauzo, Ighomuaye Lucky (Benin), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri) and Okey Sampson (Umuahia)
There seems to be no end yet to the minimum wage narrative in the country. At a time many think it has been done and dusted, it keeps on popping up like a stubborn ailment.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had signed the 2019 Minimum Wage Repeal and Enactment Act 2019 in March. That year, state government workers had stabbed the air in wild celebration, believing that soon, they would begin to receive the N30,000 provided by the law. But more than two years down the road, it is not yet Uhuru in many of the states.
Also the Federal Government had expressed concern that some state governments might not be able to pay the new minimum wage of N30,000. This belief stemmed from when some of states went cap in hand, begging the Federal Government for bailout funds.
Now, the reality is here. Some state governments are not even unable to pay the former N18,000 wage when it falls due. Some are owing their workers months of salary arrears, often triggering face-off with the organised labour in their domain.
However, some states have started paying the N30,000 minimum wage, but there is still a snag among the states managing to do so. Labour says not all categories of its members are benefiting. In some instances, only lower cadre staff between levels 1-7 are benefiting.
Now, there appears to be a twist. While labour was struggling to straighten things with the various state governments, a certain Garba Datti Mohammed threw a spanner in the works. Mohammed, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member from Kaduna State sponsored a bill he entitled: “A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to, Among Others, Transfer the Subject Matter of Minimum Wage Prescription from the Exclusive Legislative List Set Out Under Part I of the Second Schedule to the Concurrent Legislative List Set Out Under Part II of the Second Schedule to the Constitution; and for Related Matters.”
The lawmaker is seeking to insert the payment of the minimum wage into the Concurrent List. That means when it is passed into law, state governments can also make their own laws to determine how much they would pay their workforce.
Labour unsure where Mohammed is coming from, perceived his move as “voice of Jacob and hand of Esau.”
Sensing that Mohammed is not alone, labour hit the National Assembly in protest. It is seeking to stall the bill which is believed to have passed the second reading and now with the Constitution Review Committee chaired by the deputy House speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase, who is expected to organise a public hearing on it.
But Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has assured labour that the House will not do anything to undermine the interest of workers in the country, while urging labour to take its case to the public hearing to be organised by the Constitution Review Committee.
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, while speaking during the visit to the Speaker, described the legislation as “toxic and anti-masses bill,” tending to enslave workers in the country. He said “the bill should be killed immediately.”
Assuring that labour would continue to protest against the bill, he said: “Subsequently, if our elected political leaders remain adamant about the plea of Nigerian workers to retain the National Minimum Wage in the Exclusive Legislative List, we will have no other option, but to withdraw our services.”
If the bill scales through at the committee level, it will then be subjected to a vote by the two chambers of the National Assembly, where it requires two-third majority support by members of the parliament to scale through.
Thereafter, it will be sent to the state Houses of Assembly, where it must garner support from at least 24 states to scale through, before it is eventually sent to the president for assent.
However, Mohammed told Sunday Sun that “if they are against the bill, like every other bill, there is always public hearing. They can come and state their position. If they have superior argument with facts and figures, nothing stops the House from withdrawing it. But they should not resort to insults, abuses, intimidation, smear campaign. That will not advance their case. In every democracy in the world, there is opportunity for lobbying, within the National Assembly. Why are they afraid of constructive engagement?”
Mohammed explained that he was motivated to sponsor the bill by the report of the APC Committee on True Federalism.”
When Sunday Sun went to see how the state governments have complied with the payment of the new N30,000 minimum wage, the findings were quite revealing.
In Edo State, the workers are part of the lucky ones who are currently enjoying the new minimum wage among the few states in the country that have begun its payment to their workers.
The Acting Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Edo State chapter, Comrade Barry Osaro Imade, who spoke for the chairman of the union, Comrade Sunny Osayande, said that the state government did not waste time in implementing the new minimum wage in the state.
“Yes, the minimum wage is being paid in Edo State and as a matter of fact, we want to say our governor did so much for the workers concerning that.
“He did very well. Even before it was approved, we met with him several times and he told us not to worry that if it was approved and it became law, he would be among the first states to pay.
“He was true to his words; he kept his promise. I think after Lagos, Edo was the next state that paid and till tomorrow, we are paying and there is no problem with the payment of minimum wage here at all,” he said.
Kwara State is one of the very few states yet to implement or make allocation for the new national minimum wage.
The organised labour is worried over what it described as the insincerity of the state government on the issue of implementation of the new minimum wage for workers.
The Chairman of the NLC in the state, Aliyu Issa Ore; acting Chairman of TUC, Comrade Joseph Tunde, and Chairman of JNC, Comrade Saliu Suleiman, made the comment while speaking on “Insincerity of Government on the Issue of Minimum Wage in Kwara State.”
The labour movement said that it arrived at the conclusion after a look at the situation surrounding the non-payment of the minimum wage in the state since April 2019, after the bill was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It said that the government inaugurated the minimum wage committee on December 29, 2019, but up till the moment, the issue has remained inconclusive.
Ore said: “It is worrisome to note that in Kwara State, we are still in a merry-go-round on the issue of minimum wage, despite the current allocation of revenue and internally generated revenue in the state.
“The government has resorted to probating and reprobating on the minimum wage issue, all in the sense of denying the workers and the economy of the state a stimulus factor for growth and development of human beings in the state.
“Out of the 36 states of the federation, over 94 per cent has overcome the issue of minimum wage and even provided other welfare packages to the workers of their various states for effective and efficient service delivery.”
He also expressed worry that “the committee at the last meeting rejected attempts to smuggle into the discussion, a table that was not agreed on by the labour side on the payment of the little amount as a consequential adjustment for GL-07 and above in the state, it cannot be accepted by the movement.”
He noted that the government only agreement with the union that the state is ready to pay for civil servants in the state, but that of the local government should be negotiated by their unions in line with the principles separation of powers.
He wondered how a government that got votes from their workers now wants to separate the workforce.
“That has been our areas of disagreement and having to say the government can only pay N30,000 minimum wage to officers on Level 1-6 and Levels 7 and above will be consequential adjustment is not acceptable to the union. Our agreement was not consequential adjustment, but full minimum wage,” he said.
Although the government agreed that the minimum wage is a law the state government will obey, the challenge, however, has been how the local governments can sustain it.
State govt’s defence
But the state government in statement said: “At the moment, all the local governments combined earn an average of N2.6 billion monthly, including the 10 per cent of their share of the IGR. Remarkably, the monthly wage bill of these local governments stands at about N2.5 billion. These expenses, it must be stated, are based on the extant N18,000 minimum wage.
“When the new minimum wage is considered, including the consequential adjustments, the wage bill will shoot up to around N3 billion. Clearly, the earnings of the local governments cannot afford such at this time.
“The government is committed to paying the minimum wage, but it is pleading with the labour to accept a more reasonable scale which takes the total wage bill to less than N3 billion.
“We call for reasonable and practical steps to avoid a situation which will lead to the local government borrowing to pay salaries as was the case before this administration.”
In Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom recently directed the immediate commencement of the N30,000 minimum wage to civil servants on grade level 1 to 6.
But the workers in the state told our correspondent that the implementation was yet to commence about the time this report was filed.
However, when contacted, the state Chairman of NLC, Godwin Anya, said that he was made to understand that the delay was due to an ongoing clean up of the state workforce.
He expressed the hope that workers would begin to get the minimum wage by the end of March, 2021.
“The minimum wage negotiations was concluded only on Grade level 1-6 and government agreed to pay the N30,000 minimum wage. But because of certain issues, it was learnt that government appealed that they were cleaning up the payroll and that we would conclude the consequential adjustment after the clean up.
“However, we are monitoring the implementation for this month and we are hoping that the implementation will be as from the end of this month (March).”
Anya said that if the government fails to comply with the payment of the minimum wage by the end of March, the state NLC would have no option than to join the nationwide strike declared by its national body.
Speaking about workers on Grade level 07 and above, Anya said that the union and the state government were yet to arrive at any approved adjustment.
“As for Grade level 07 and above, the state government is talking of consequential adjustment of N500:00 across board, but we are telling them that workers on Levels 07 and above should also have the effects of the minimum wage.
“We have not arrived at a conclusion on that. Government believes that despite the implementation of the new minimum wage in some states, their salary is still below what Benue workers have been receiving over the years,” Anya said.
In Ekiti State, the Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Ekiti State chapter, Comrade Sola Adigun, said: “The minimum wage has been paid, but the consequential adjustment on officers from Grade Level 13 and above has not been implemented. The minimum wage in Ekiti was implemented in October, 2019 from Grade levels1 to 6.”
He told our reporter that “in the course of our negotiation, the government started implementation in January for officers on Grade levels 7 to 12 and we are hoping that Grade levels 13 to 17 will be implemented very soon.
“In the course of our negotiation, in the agreement we signed January 5 this year, we agreed that there was going to be a team that will monitor the economic index in Ekiti, to be able to know when officers from Grade levels 13 to 17 will start enjoying the implementation of the consequential adjustment on their salaries.”
The Chairman of Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), Ekiti State chapter, Comrade Fatomiluyi Olukayode, noted that “it has been paid to a level – at least they have paid up to Grade level 12. What we agreed on was that level 7 to 12 be paid immediately, then a committee was set up to look into the cash inflow in the state, I mean the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) cum allocation. We agreed that as soon as the allocation improves that levels 13 to 17 be paid and we are actually projecting that between now and possibly May this year, everybody would have been paid by God’s grace.
“As we speak, the N30,000 minimum wage has been paid up to Grade level 12, but from Grade levels 13 to 17, it has not been implemented, but we are hoping that they will be paid.”
The Chairman of NLC, Ekiti State chapter, Comrade Kolapo Olatunde admitted that “it has been approved by the state. Last year, levels one to six were paid and we entered into negotiation with the government; now Grade levels one to 12 have been paid and we are expecting that levels 13 to 17 will be added soon.
“The agreement for levels one to 17 has been signed; then implementation from levels one to 12 has been carried out, remaining that of 13 to 17, the reason being that the governor was complaining about federal allocation and a committee to look into the economic issue was put in place so that immediately that improves, the implementation will commence. But the position of labour is that the governor should do the needful before May 1, 2021.”
Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Rivers State chapter, said that it had concluded agreement with the state government on the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage.
The state Chairman of NLC, Beatrice Itubo, who disclosed this to Sunday Sun, said that the Rivers State government said it started implementation in 2020.
Itubo also said that labour had directed Rivers workers (civil servants) to cross-check their records to know if the minimum wage had been effected, especially as it affects promotion.
Some state civil servants, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that it was since 2020 they started hearing that the N30,000 minimum wage had been implemented.
They said no authority would confirm that the minimum wage had been implemented, until workers started receiving bank alerts with the salary increment reflected.
They also urged NLC and government to cement their agreements, as it affects the minimum wage, saying that Rivers workers want workable agreements.
In Kebbi State, the state chairman of NLC, Comrade Alhassan Umar Halidu told Sunday Sun that the state government was the first state to pay the N30,000 new minimum wage in the country.
He explained that the only issue the labour has with the government is the consequential adjustment which did not capture the local government workers, health workers and journalists working with the state government-owned media organisations.
According to him, “I think here in Kebbi State, I can say we are the first in Nigeria to implement N30,000 new minimum wage.
“Kebbi State was the first to implement it. The only issue is the consequential adjustment. The consequential adjustment does not capture the judiciary workers, health workers and journalists also. I can say that Kebbi State is paying N30,000 new minimum wage.
“This payment is only for those who are working for the state government; local government workers are not part of those that are benefitting from the N30,000.
“The, issue is that, after agreeing to the N30,000 new minimum wage, we were not satisfied with the manner with which it was implemented and we were preparing for a strike to make sure that the state government set up the committee on the bargaining. At that time, the government set up the committee which showed seriousness. The committee did not sit and that was the reason we went on strike about two months ago. When they realised that we are very serious about it, the committee was put in place and we submitted our requests to the government.
“Presently, the committee is on ground and we have called for the meeting for two times now, and we have reached a level where the health workers have been captured and have been paid their N30,000 minimum wage which is consequential adjustment. With this committee on ground now, all those who have not benefitted will be benefitting. There is hope for them now.”
Meanwhile, labour in Kogi State has given the state government up to March 22, 2021 to immediately reopen discussion on the implementation of the minimum wage in the state or face industrial action.
In a chat with our reporter, the state Chairman of NLC, Comrade Onuh Edoka flanked by the state Chairman of the TUC, Comrade Ranti Ojo, said that the workers are tired of the nonchallant attitude of the state government to the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage.
Labour said that it was so sad that while workers in some states were already enjoying the minimum wage, those in Kogi are yet to know their fate even with the “biting economic realities that has brought galloping inflation of goods and services which has terribly affected the purchasing power of workers.”
Labour also urged the state government to stop “percentage payment” of salaries to workers in the state especially to local government workers and primary school teachers whom, it said, received between 20- 39 per cent of their salary every month.
The NLC boss expressed anger that the state government had been using all manner of tactics to arm twist labour, adding that “enough is enough.”
The labour leader who specifically lambasted the State Secretary to the Government, Mrs Folasade Arike, who is the chairman of the committee charged with liaising with labour on the implementation of the minimum wage, accusing her to have been hiding under COVID-19 to frustrate the workers in the state.
Edoka who gave a 12-day ultimatum starting from March 10 to the state government to resume talks or face the workers’ wrath also urged the government to call back all promotions made since 2012.
In Imo State, while the workers claim that they are yet to be paid their minimum wage, the state government is insisting that it has since commenced the payment.
One of the workers in the health department on level 16 who pleaded that her name not be mentioned told our correspondent that the state government only promised to pay the wage, but it’s yet to redeem its promise.
“They told us that they will start paying us the minimum wage last year, but till now we have not received it, we even have to go on strike because of it recently,” She said.
But on the other hand, the state government has insisted that it has commenced the payment of the minimum wage since January, 2021.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba disclosed this to Sunday Sun.
According to him, those claiming that they have not been paid are not genuine workers from the state.
He said: “No worker in Imo State would say that he or she has not received minimum wage, we started paying it since January, ask those who said they have not been paid to produce their ID cards to prove that they are workers from the state.”
Abia State government is said to be among the first states that commenced the payment of the new minimum wage of N30, 000.
However, this payment some workers said are limited to those that are referred to as core workers (ministries staff), while the non-core workers, including the local government staffers are still hoping to get the new wage.
It was gathered that an agreement was reached between the government and labour union in the state whereby a certain amount was added to workers salaries across board.
This arrangement, according to government sources, made the least paid worker in the state to receive more than the N30, 000 minimum wage monthly.
In a recent statement, the Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu, said that Abia State was the first in the Southeast region to have commenced payment of the new minimum wage to workers.
However, while workers in the ministries enjoy the new minimum wage in Abia, the same could not be said of their counterparts in the Local Government Area.
A staff of one of the urban local governments who would not want his name in print said that they were yet to be paid the new minimum wage.
“It is only those in the ministries that we hear enjoy the new minimum wage, we in the local governments are yet to receive it.”
However, an official of the National Union of Local Government Employee (NULGE) in the state who spoke to Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity said that the union had been unable to dialogue with the management of the various local governments in the state because the councils had for sometime been administered by appointed chairmen.
He said now that the councils have elected officials, the union would dialogue with them on the way forward and hopefully start to enjoy the new minimum wage.