The 14-day ultimatum issued by organised labour to the Federal Government on the review of the minimum wage elapsed last week and the prospects of a general strike loomed large in the horizon at a time the nation is on a very slippery economic situation.
Indeed, on Thursday the labour unions mobilised their members for what they described as a warning strike and reports of the strike show its success in several states. The action was called off on Sunday. We appeal to both labour and the Federal Government to avoid plunging the country into another economic turmoil, barely a year after it exited a recession.
From labour’s point of view, the Federal Government is exhibiting traits of bad faith such as have undermined labour’s trust that the government is still serious about reaching an agreement with labour. The source of this distrust emanates from a statement credited to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who, in what labour described as the “latest provocative statement” said the Committee on Minimum Wage “should adjourn indefinitely” to enable him (Minister) do further consultations with the government.
The three labour unions and their leaders are on the same page: President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba; Comrade Joe Ajaero of the United Labour Congress (ULC); Bobboi Bala Kaigama of the Trade Union Congress. It was a most unexpected development in a negotiation which everyone had thought was proceeding smoothly and was nearing a conclusion. Indeed, since November 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the committee, no discordant tunes had been received about its deliberations.
This is not to say that anyone imagined that the job of the committee was easy. But irrespective of the intrinsic difficulties of reviewing a national minimum wage, there is unanimity that the exercise was overdue. Secondly, the tripartite committee comprised all the essential stakeholders – labour, government, organised private sector – which freely contributed ideas and suggestions. For instance, labour first submitted a demand for a national minimum wage of N56,000 a month, and later adjusted it to N65,000. The organised private sector proposed N42,000 and later reduced it to N25,000. The committee received proposals from 21 state governors who proposed different amounts ranging from N28,000, N31,000 and N41,000.
Thus there are enough suggestions and ideas to work on, the crunch being how to hammer out a consensus and a figure that would be acceptable to a majority of members of the committee, the Nigerian workers and the public. Last week, Labour Minister, Ngige, held a consultative meeting with labour leaders as he tried to avert the strike and to reassure them of Federal Government’s cooperation scheduling the Tripartite Committee Meeting to resume on October 4. He hinted that the speed of the government reaching a decision must be viewed from the need to accommodate the inputs of vital organizations like the National Salaries and Wages Commission and the government’s Economic Management Team.
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We urge the Federal Government to move expeditiously to wrap up the negotiations for the new minimum wage. There is unanimity that the current wage is no longer a living wage. Indeed, the contrast of N18,000 a month paid to minimum wage earners and about N29 million claimed monthly by senators, to take one example, has become an embarrassment and the most eloquent testimony of the inequity and income disparity which is becoming a threat to the peace of the society. At the time N18,000 was set, it was then the equivalent of US$125.00, at today’s rate it has diminished to less than US$50.00. The price of petrol and other fuels has quintupled. The rate of price increases in the last 13 years has been over 1,000 per cent. The minimum wage was to be reviewed every five years. The review is eight years overdue.