…To know fate in June 2018
By Bimbola Oyesola
at last the committee for the negotiation for the review of the National Minimum Wage has finally been inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 27, 2017, after over two years that current N18,000 take home ought to have been reviewed.
But despite this, Nigerian workers may have to wait until the second quarter of 2018 for the new wage, that is if they would eventually get the N56,000 proposed to the Federal Government, though stakeholders believe it is better late than never.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, had explained that by the tripartite nature of the 30-man committee, it is made up of persons from the public sector (federal and state governments); the private sector comprising the largest private employer group, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME); as well as representatives of the organised labour, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
The five-year cycle of the current Minimum Wage Act legally backing the subsisting negotiated minimum wage of N18,000 signed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 was due for negotiation in 2015, two years ago.
It was the expectation of the organised labour that the negotiation would be wrapped up before the end of the year, but this was not to be as the committee had only met once after the inauguration and the meeting then, according to our investigation, only deliberated on the work plan.
The present wage made Nigerian workers one of the worst paid among the United Nations’ (UN) member countries. The Nigeria national minimum wage of N18,000, according to the UN, is equivalent to $115, but with the devaluation, the national wage has drastically fallen to $58 or $38 per month using the parallel market.
Other African countries and even countries in the West African sub-region where Nigeria is seen as a big brother pay better wages. Countries like Angola pay $170, Republic of Congo, $170, Ghana, about $200, South Africa, $155, Tunisia, $140 and Mauritius, which is one of the least paid, recently increased its wage from $26 to $257, about N92,520 per month.
Background to the struggle
With the biting economic recession, which rendered the purchasing power of Nigerian workers almost useless, the two labour centres comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had in early 2017 submitted a proposal of N56,000 as new minimum wage for the country.
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, had said then that the proposal was achievable bearing in mind the reality of today’s socio-economic indices, which has made nonsense of N18,000 minimum wage.
Wabba had maintained that both private and public employers in the country were convinced that the N18,000 national minimum wage was no longer realistic judging from the socio-economic indices on ground today, few days after the Labour Technical Committee on Minimum Wage submitted its report to the Federal Government.
The NLC president insisted that N56,000 being demanded by Congress was not out of place because of the prevailing high cost of living and that was despite apparent opposition by private employers represented by NECA and the governors who owe workers backlog of salaries running into several months.
The NLC was sure that stakeholders, during negotiations after the inauguration of the National Minimum Wage Committee, would all support new wage for workers, contending that workers would no longer tolerate being treated as slaves.
According to him, “we need to be very forthcoming in doing what is right. In other quarters, if you listen very carefully, they are talking about ability to pay. I thought what labour did was to be very calculative. Not only that, but also to look at the feasibility because it doesn’t make sense that at the end of the day, we will have difficulties. So, we have looked at the totality of the issues, including the challenges we are going through at the moment and we thought that what we have done is reasonable. What we have done is to look at the value of N18,000 when it was signed looking at the inflation, looking at the purchasing power and looking at the ability to pay. So, I think we have been reasonable in making such demand and we hope also that other social partners will look at it from the perspective of us being very nationalistic in putting up those demands.
“I still want Nigerians to understand that workers presently cannot feed themselves because of the high cost of goods and services. Everybody has the right to his or her opinion but the opinion of the workers is that it is legitimate both by law and practice. Five years cycle is legitimate. Our opinion is also that workers have been pushed to the wall so, it’s time for the minimum wage to be reviewed both in law and practice because the cycle is due and inflation is biting very hard; high cost of goods and services is affecting workers seriously.
“Many workers cannot send their children to school, many cannot pay their rent, and many cannot even go to work regularly. Side by side with fighting corruption, if you don’t pay me to meet up with my bills, we can’t fight corruption. What is the cost of living that will make me comfortable as a worker for 30 days with my family? All of us can reason and calculate all of that.”
Issa Aremu, a member of the Salary and Wages Commission, who is also the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers Union (NUTGTWN) also said minimum wage and pension had been eroded as a result of high inflation and naira devaluation due to fallen crude oil prices.
“At the time we submitted our proposal a year ago, at N160 to one dollar, the national minimum wage was about $80 per month. Today, with naira devaluation, national minimum wage is around $40. The paid salaries can hardly take working men and women home with all the attendant negative implications on income poverty and low productivity. We, therefore, look forward to a mutually speedy rewarding negotiation on a new minimum wage.”
He said that improved wage is good economics for a developing nation like Nigeria. According to him, the low capacity utilisation of the remaining functioning manufacturing industries is due to weak domestic demand. He added that improved pay to workers will positively re-inflate the economy.
He stated that, “only Nigerian workers pay tax 100 per cent deducted at source (PAYE). This means improved workers’ pay will definitely enhance the nation’s revenue.”
The 30 members of the committee may have been inaugurated on November 27, 2017, but it took over a year to get the governors to agree to the formation of the committee. At a stage, the NLC President had cried out that it was the governors stalling the long overdue negotiation. Even the governors’ forum had owned up when it confessed that it cannot afford to pay the new wage.
Stakeholders, however, believed that this may not be unexpected with a total of 27 states presently owing their workers across state and local government monthly salaries ranging between one and 16 months.
According to the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), the most affected states are Bayelsa owing between 10 and 16 months; Kogi between seven and 15 months; Delta State, eight to 14 months; Kaduna, 12 months; Oyo, three to 11 months; Edo, 10 months; Abia, five to nine months; Kwara, two to nine months; Benue, nine months and Nasarawa, seven months.
Others are Ondo, Ekiti, Imo, with six months; Zamfara (not implementing the existing minimum wage at all); Adamawa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Plateau, four months; Taraba and FCT, three months; while Osun State has been paying half salaries for 24 months and few staff were owed few months in Enugu. The Osun State workers, only last week, embarked on an indefinite strike to protest the half salary and force the state government to pay their backlog of arrears.
Ekiti State has refused to remit union deduction for several months, while Ogun State only last week remitted 10 months out of the backlog of deduction owed and about 700 staff are owed between one and three months in Cross River State.
Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Cross River, Niger and Anambra are the 15 states that are not owing their local government workers.
This is depite the bail out and three Paris Fund remittances to the states by the Presidency since this administration came on board.
President Buhari who had expressed dismay on how some governors could go to bed when their workers had not been paid had released the balance of the Paris Club refund to the s¡tates in December with the additional support of N800 million to enable the state governments pay workers’ salaries and arrears before Christmas.
Deputy President of the NLC, Peter Adeyemi, who noted that President Buhari met the governors on November 27, the same date the Minimum Wage Committee was inaugurated, said Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo confirmed that the President instructed the governors to use the fund to settle the outstanding to their workers. He wondered how some of the governors could turn around and say the money was not meant for the payment of salary arrears and how they could sleep when workers are celebrating Christmas in pain and penury.