Organised labour gives FG 14-day ultimatum to conclude new minimum wage
President of NLC, Ayubba Wabba
BY FRANCIS EZEM
Organised labour under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress NLC, Trade Union Congress TUC, and the United Labour Congress ULC has given the Federal Government 14-day ultimatum to conclude all discussions and consultations with relevant stakeholders and come up with an acceptable living wage for the Nigerian workers or risk an unprecedented industrial action.
This new twist is in response to a statement credited to the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, who doubles as the acting chairman of a tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee, to the effect that the committee should adjourn its sittings indefinitely to enable him hold consultations with relevant agencies of the Federal Government, which the labour unions viewed as ploy to truncate the process, which started over two years ago.
Presidents of the NLC, Ayubba Wabba, TUC, Bobboi Kaigama, and the ULC, Joe Ajaero, who addressed a joint press briefing in Lagos, Wednesday, said that the members of the organised labour who are also members of the National Minimum Wage Committee, which is charged with working out a new national minimum wage alongside other social partners and stake holders, are not comfortable with the recent statement of the minister, which indicates that he might be acting a script.
According to the unions, the pronouncement of the minister is even more worrisome, coming at a time the committee was finalising its work of arriving at a definite figure for submission to government, warning that if this demand is not met at the end of the 14 days, the unions would not guarantee continued industrial peace and harmony in the country.
“The unions said: We view his latest pronouncement with great concern, suspicion and outrage. This new antic is certainly not acceptable to Nigerian workers who had expected a new national minimum wage since 2016 but whom out of uncommon sacrifice and patriotism hearkened to government’s appeal and the process was delayed.
“You may wish to recollect that the National Minimum Wage Committee was inaugurated in November 2017 but commenced work in March 2018 with timelines to deliver on its mandate of arriving at a new national minimum wage in August/ September 2018. In the course of the work of the committee, members had ample time to consult. In any case the committee was satisfied that it received memoranda and inputs from 21 state governments, specialised agencies of the Federal Government, the Organised Private Sector, organised labour and the general public.
“We even recall that Dr. Ngige himself had assured workers during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Nigeria Labour Congress NLC in February this year that workers should expect a new national minimum wage in September this year. We wonder what has gone amiss between February 28 and now. Or do we assume that the minister is acting a script?”
The unions therefore believe that the minister’s pronouncement is capable of rubbishing the work of the committee as well as raising serious concerns about the readiness of the government to accede to the putting together of a new national minimum wage.
They also disclosed that the minister’s pronouncement has generated considerable tension among workers and provoked sharp reactions from the unions which justifiably argue that the government is only out to waste the time of workers and is not prepared to pay a new national minimum wage.
The labour unions insist that the national minimum wage was not only legally due about two years ago, adding that the increase in the pump price of petroleum products by the current administration with fundamental consequential effects on the citizenry, the increase in electricity tariff, the massive devaluation of the naira leading to a punitive exchange rate, and hyper-inflation, all of which led to a rising cost of living for workers and other Nigerians made a new national minimum wage not only necessary but urgent.
“We are even more saddened to note that the recommendations of the Technical Committee on Minimum Wage and Palliatives chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation which was mandated to fashion out strategy, policies, and programmes to cushion the vagaries of the increase in the pump price of petroleum products have not been implemented to date”, the trio also said.
They further argued that the present posture of the minister brings back painful -memories of precious time wasted, energies dissipated and hopes betrayed, insisting that the pronouncement also goes to cast further doubt on the integrity of the government as well as underscores the inherent danger in doing business with the government of the country.