The N22, 500 proposed by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) at its extra-ordinary meeting as a new minimum wage has stalled moves by the Federal Government to abort the indefinite nationwide strike planned by Labour for November 6. TONY AKOWE, JOSEPH JIBUEZE and TOBA AGBOOLA report that the workers are threatening to resume their push for N66, 500 as the new minimum wage.
SHOULD workers stick to their guns, the row over a new minimum wage may rage for a very long time.
Labour, on Tuesday, staged a sensitisation rally to mobilise its members and warn of a nationwide strike on November 6, should the employers of labour fail to grant the workers’ request for N30, 000 minimum wage.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday threatened to revert to earlier demand for N66, 500 as the minimum wage for the least paid worker.
The new twist followed what the NLC called Federal Government intimidation of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to disown the N30, 000 agreed to by the tripartite wage negotiating committee.
Already, there is a stalemate on minimum wage as the federal and state governments could not reach a consensus with Labour on the same figure as the minimum wage.
Before the latest twist, Labour was insisting on N30, 000; the Federal Government offered to pay N24, 000 and the states, under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), have proposed N22, 500.
But, the NLC, through its President Ayuba Wabba, berated the governors, accusing them of speaking from the two sides of their mouth.
Wabba described as double speak for the governors as NGF to propose N22, 500 after they had individually promised to implement whatever the tripartite committee recommended as the new minimum wage. He challenged them to return to their respective domains and feel the pulse of their workers on their reluctance to pay N30, 000 as minimum wage.
The NLC boss accused the Federal Government of threatening OPS members to back out of the agreement on the N30,000 figure to at the concluding meeting of the tripartite committee on New National minimum Wage.
Speaking at a news conference in Abuja, Wabba denounced NGF position. He challenged them to go back to their various states, gather the workers and tell them that they cannot pay the new minimum wage and how much they can pay and see the reactions.
According to him, the current grandstanding by the governors was to seek more money from the Federal Government and a subtle blackmail against the Federal Government by returning to their states to tell the workers “that it is the federal government that is not willing to pay the new figure”.
He recalled that the governors had individually showed willingness to pay whatever is agreed upon by the tripartite committee, stressing that throughout the process of negotiation, the governors were fully represented by six governors.
He reminded the governors that the NGF remained unknown to law and the process of collective bargaining, adding that what is known to law is the individual states, pointing out that the offer of N22, 500 by the NGF “is not accepted to Organised Labour”.
He said that since the federal and state governments are presenting fresh figures, Labour may also be forced to revert to the old figures it presented before N30, 000 was agreed upon through a process of collective bargaining.
Wabba said: “We wish to state that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum is not a negotiating body but merely a political organisation for the convenience of state governors.
“The tripartite committee from inception sent letters to each state government to send in their memoranda as their contributions to the new national minimum wage negotiating process. Twenty-one states sent in their memorandum quoting figures.
“Second, the demand of Labour is not N30, 000. Our demand is N66, 500. The N30, 000 is the compromised figure arrived at the end of negotiations by the tripartite partners – government, employers and Labour. The new minimum wage was a product of intense negotiations that lasted for almost one year.
“It was mutually agreed at the concluding meeting of the negotiating committee on the 5th of October, this year. So, this is the stand of Organised Labour. Minimum wage is not an allocation or an award. It is negotiated. So, the long process of arriving at a figure is a tripartite process.
“The figure that has come out of the NGF is a mere pronouncement and has no place in collective bargaining machinery provided by the various ILO (International Labour Organisation) Conventions and our national laws. What the law recognises is a tripartite negotiation. Six governors represented the governors and so, they have been part of the process where decision was made.
“At this point, Labour wants to reiterate that the figure that has been allocated by the governors is hereby rejected because it has no place in collective bargaining process.
“One more thing we need put in proper perspective is the claim by the governors that workers in Nigeria are merely five per cent. But, the question is: what is the population of the political class compared to the population of Nigeria? These five per cent workers constitute the workforce and therefore you cannot overlook their contribution to national development.
“The health workers take care of the entire population. Therefore, it is about human beings and not only about building infrastructure. You build infrastructure so that human beings can use it. You cannot undermine the contribution of Nigerian workers who create the wealth.
“It is very petty to say that the working class is merely five per cent. Let them tell us the number that they (political class) constitute in the context of the workforce. Globally, it is the workers that service the economy.
“For example, you cannot advance issues of education without looking at the centrality of the teacher. It is crude to now denigrate and undermine workers and call the, merely five per cent of the population. This is unfortunate and therefore, we stand by our earlier position that on what was agreed we stand. Outside that, we will revert to our earlier demand of N66500.
“We are also aware that intense pressure is being mounted on some OPS members, especially NACCIMA, who were forced to issue a statement under duress. I spoke to the lady, Dr. Maheeba Dankaba, who disputed what was published today (yesterday) in many newspapers as her position.
“I am aware that NECA, the OPS umbrella body will issue an official statement. Nobody can go out of a collective bargaining process and begin to advance falsehood or bend the truth.
“We stand by that and all of us must be careful the way we report information. She told me that somebody (highly-placed in government) called her to do a statement.
“I am sure NECA will make a formal statement to confirm whether there was a conclusion of the meeting and an agreement reached. I want to say that just as the NLC has pronounced that without making sure the issue of N30, 000 which was mutually agreed through a well-known process is accepted and signed into law, the action that has been proposed from November 6 will take effect.
“We are in a society where people use every opportunity to extort money and I think that is what the governors have tried to do. They want to explore the demand for a new minimum wage to see if they can get more money from the federal government.
“The current minimum wage of N18000 has expired since 2016 and workers have been patient and unions have played their role. So, workers should not be taken for granted for being patient.
“Therefore, we want to say clearly now that every governor should go back to their state which is he entity recognised by law, gather their workers and say they cannot pay N30, 000 and not come to Abuja hide under a forum that is not recognised by law and say they cannot pay N30, 000.
“Interestingly, individual governors have gone back to answer their names by saying whatever is agreed, they are ready to pay. I want to call on Mr. President to be aware of this mischief. They want to go back to their states and tell their workers that it is the Presidency that is not willing to pay, but that they will be willing to pay whatever is accepted.
“Let there be this understanding that this forum has no legitimacy whatsoever in the context of collective bargaining process. What is recognised by law is individual state. So, let them go back and tell their workers what they will be willing to pay and see the reaction. This will put the whole argument into contest and everybody will know where things are.
“We will continue to respect collective bargaining process and whatever has been agreed through that process will be respected. Aside that, if they are not willing to respect that, labour is willing to revert back to our initial demand of N66, 500. We want to tell Nigerians that workers have been very patient despite the difficult challenges.
“In the entire West Africa today, despite being the best economy, our minimum wage is the least, yet, our political elite, including the governors, receive the highest salary in Africa. Where is the justice and fairness?
“Where is also the issue of ability to pay if state governors and other political office holders across the county earn the same salary? Who is more important? We are resolute that there must be fairness and justice and there must be respect for the rule of law.
“Let me say that if this minimum wage is not reviewed within the context of collective bargaining, the law has been violated because we are already two years in arrears. Even if we are to pay interest on the new figure, what will that be? We should put the facts before the public.
“What is going on is an attack on workers’ rights and trade unions’ rights and this is unprecedented because such has never happened before. Collective bargaining agreements are usually respected in other to have industrial peace and development.
“Like I say, we stand by the figures that has been agreed upon, but if everyone is reverting to a figure prior to when we agreed on 30, 000, then Labour will have no choice than to revert to our earlier demand.
If governors will now start advancing new figures and then federal government doing same, nothing stops organised labour from doing same.”
TUC faults Fed Govt
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) said the Federal Government was economical with the truth. It said the government lied to Nigerians about the minimum wage agreement reached at the tripartite meeting.
Refuting the statement that tripartite committee on minimum wage did not agree on N30, 000, TUC stated that the NGF has power under the law to negotiate minimum wage on behalf of the union.
Speaking yesterday at a press conference at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja, TUC President Bobboi Kaigama said: “The committee has concluded its job and has come up with N30, 000 and ‘TUC stands by this decision’.
“We condemned in totality the statement credited to some quarters that the tripartite committee on minimum wage did not agree on N30, 000. This is a travesty of history.”
According to Kaigama, Labour will not be intimidated by the ‘No-work, No-pay’ slogan by the government, instead Labour will emphasise on ‘No-N30, 000 minimum wage, No-vote’.
He said the union aligned itself with the position of the organised labour to commence a nationwide strike on the November 6, should the government fail to implement the National Minimum Wage of N30, 000.
ULC: no going back on strike
The NLC position was echoed by the United Labour Congress (ULC), which rejected the N22, 500 NGF’s proposal, describing it as “contemptuous”.
ULC said the proposal negated the principles and spirit of social dialogue as envisioned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions.
Threatening to embark on the strike slated for November 6, the labour group said it was withdrawing from the agreed N30, 000 compromise figure and reverting to its initial N65, 000 demand.
ULC President Joe Ajaero said the governors’ offer was unacceptable and disdainful of the vast majority that make up the nation’s workforce and the masses that create the nation’s wealth.
He said the “paltry” offer makes the N30, 000 compromise figure “an orphan”.
Ajaero said: “Since the government which is a major stakeholder in the Tripartite Committee has reneged on the agreement repudiating its earlier documented offer, ULC in conjunction with other labour centres, rejects the N30,000 compromise figure of the Tripartite Committee and now insists on our original collective demand of N65,000 as an irreducible minimum.
“The only figure that we now recognise is N65,000 or nothing else. This shall be the focus of our demand as we move into the nation-wide strike come Tuesday, the 6th day of November, 2018.”
Accusing the Federal Government of frustrating and sabotaging workers’ desire for a decent wage via a new minimum wage, Ajaero said: “The deployment of the subterfuge called the NGF to disrupt and hijack the due processes known to the nation’s industrial relations space in reaching a new minimum wage for workers”.
The ULC chief said this was despite the fact that the NGF was represented by six governors in the tripartite committee.
He said: “Going outside the known framework to seek the resolution of the contrived Minimum Wage impasse is devious.
“It undermines tripartism and the various traditions that govern responsible and equitable engagement of the social partners – workers, employers and government.
“A sensitive government is not expected to reject tested and proven frameworks and processes for civil engagement but this is what this government has chosen to do.
“It is unfortunate that this government would rather seek ways of keeping workers at the periphery of the nation’s economy.
“Drafting in that inglorious political forum at this time is a clear sign that government is prepared to continue politicising the right of workers to an acceptable wage floor thus exacerbate the marginalisation and exploitation of Nigerian workers and masses. This is deplorable.
“Once again, we reassure all Nigerian workers of our commitment to our collective resolve to get this government to show more responsibility and sensitivity to our plight as workers and those who lay the golden egg.
“All workers should be on the alert! Gird your loins and be ready as we go into the Joint CWC and the final days of preparation to grapple with the looming oppression.”