James Ojo, Abuja
Indications that the organised labour movement and the Federal Government might shift positions over the consequential adjustment of the new wage for workers on grade levels 07 and above, which had been a bone of contention, remained uncertain yesterday.
There were hopes that the tension generated over labour’s ultimatum to government would be doused, following a meeting convened by Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, with labour to share information on facts and figures relating to the minimum wage.
Before the meeting went into a closed-door session, Ngige signalled an amicable tone that all rough edges had been smoothened, with information on facts and figures to be shared before briefing the government team ahead of today’s final meeting between the Joint National Public Service Negotiation Council (JNPSNC) and the government side.
Negotiations were stalled last month following the inability of both parties to shift ground, which saw issuing an ultimatum to government, threatening to embark on strike without any warning as from tomorrow, October 16.
Labour had insisted on 29 per cent for workers on grade levels 07 to 14 and 24 per cent for workers on grade levels 15 to 17, while government was offering 9.5 per cent for levels 07 to 14 and 6.5 per cent for levels 15 to 17.
Ngige had urged labour to be open in the discussions so that both parties could find a way out of the minimum wage logjam.
“This is the continuation of the meeting we held on Wednesday last week and the meeting was fruitful, and I think, if we continue in that spirit, we would be able to fix the turn for tomorrow’s (Tuesday) meeting.
“This is actually an information-sharing meeting so that we can arrive at our destination together. Information is power; you know, lack of information can lead to war because there is no information or the information is incorrect.
“We want to use this meeting with you to smoothen some rough edges then in the afternoon I will also meet with the government side negotiating team and also smoothen rough edges from their own side.
“Like I kept on saying that I’m conciliating this meeting, I am neither for government or for labour, I am for everybody because I’m for all Nigerians. The workers are Nigerians and even the ones on government side too are Nigerians.
“Tomorrow’s (today) meeting can be one, two or 12 hours, depending on what we are able to achieve today. So, I appeal to everyone to show some understanding. We are going to discuss dispassionately, nothing would be hiden from anybody.
“The books of government, I have talk about it before, when I mean books, it means budget, 2019 to 2020, when do they utilise 2019 income and expenditures, the government side we met it there and I advised them to prepare to present their case meaningfully, if they come. I will stay in the middle as an arbiter.”
However, secretary of the Joint Public Negotiation Council, who is also the secretary-general of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Alade Bashir Lawal, in a telephone interview after the meeting, said the body language of government was not positive towards labour’s demand.
“The signals are not good. Though labour minister is doing his best, things are not good at all. With what we are seeing, we are not sure that tomorrow’s meeting will achieve anything at all. Strike is inevitable.
“You know elders say it is today’s event that will determine how tomorrow will be.”
Another committee members who was at the meeting said, “There was nothing concrete discussed at the meeting, it was just a preparatory meeting for tomorrow’s meeting. Unlike the first meeting, when he mentioned something like the percentage that government may be adding to its earlier proposal, there was nothing like that at the meeting.”
The labour leader said the minister only informed them that he would be meeting with the government sides at 3pm yesterday and has directed the government side to come to the meeting with their books.
He said that labour would not be distracted from its planned industrial action, irrespective of the minister’s plan to break the strike.
“(Today’s) meeting will determine our next line of action, bearing in mind that the ultimatum given to Federal Government expires on Wednesday, October 16.
“All the minister was doing at the meeting was appealing to us to take it cool when we meet with the government side (today). He told us that he would not work against us and would only remain an arbiter.”
The labour leader expressed disappointment over the role being played by the minister.
“It’s like he was trying to take us back by four months. He was not there when we started the consequential adjustment negotiation and he should know that we have moved beyond all that he was telling us. That was how government started, we know their antics, but we are ready for them,” he said.