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Minimum Wage stalemate: Labour chiefs blow hot

Posted by on September 20, 2019 0

The Nation Newspaper

Minimum Wage stalemate: Labour chiefs blow hot

Following the deadlocked meeting between the Federal Government and the Joint Public Sector Negotiating Council over the minimum wage early this week, the organised labour has threatened to embark on a strike, if the government fails to implement the proposed new wage, reports TOBA AGBOOLA
Living in Nigeria is tough, especially for those born without a sliver spoon. While the cost of living is going up, inflation and double digit interest rates have further made a bad situation worse, thereby reducing the purchasing power of average citizens.
To this end, people have to pay through their nose to get needed goods and services in an atmosphere where companies are paying peanuts to their workers. In a week or so, the salary is gone and yet there are mandatory needs yet to be met, making workers to rely on family assistance for survival.
To correct this anomaly, the Federal Government and the labour unions agreed to N30,000 new minimum wage, an amount considered the minimum to meet some basic necessities of workers.
Sadly, there are still disagreements over the wage implementation.
The meeting between the  Federal Government and the Joint Public Sector Negotiating Council over the implementation of the N30,000 new minimum wage and the consequential adjustment in the workers’ salary suffered another setback as both parties failed to reach an agreement despite minor adjustments in their separate positions.
The Federal Government had on May 14, this year inaugurated the Relativity/Consequential Adjustment Committee, which, in turn, set up a Technical Sub-Committee to work out the template for the adjustment of salaries of public sector employees.
The negotiation on the consequential adjustment was earlier adjourned to September 4, to allow the government’s team brief President Muhammadu Buhari, and it was held on Monday, September 16.
During the meeting, chaired by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, the government shifted from its earlier position of 9.5 per cent to 11 per cent for grade levels seven to 14 and 6.5 per cent from 5.5 per cent for levels 15 to 17.
But the workers have insisted that the government should adjust the salaries of workers on grade levels 07 to 14 by 30 per cent and those on levels 15 to 17 by 25 per cent, having stepped down to 29 per cent from 30 per cent for grade levels 7 to 14 and 24 from 25 per cent for levels 15 to 17.
However, the labour has expressed readiness to begin an industrial action any moment, following the impasse.
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A civil servant, Solomon Michael, said: “I wish the Federal Government will conclude negotiations on the implementation of a new minimum wage so that I will know that my salary will rise to be able to cater for my kids.”
The President, Medical and Health Workers Union, Biobelemoye Joshua, said the organised labour would not allow the government to use the minimum wage issue to score political point, as labour was ready to embark on the proposed strike.
According to him, workers cannot afford to wait for the implementation of the new minimum wage in view of economic realities as their monthly take-home pay can no longer support their demands.
“The issue of minimum wage is legitimate to the Nigerian worker. It is expected that five years down the line, employers are supposed to sit down with their employees represented by trade unions to review their wages. We are two years behind schedule on this. The dollar rate when the last minimum wage came into being was N150. It has now more than doubled that figure,” he said.
Corroborating him, an analyst, Mr Salihu Lukman, said issues of minimum wage are popular largely because, in some ways, the benefits are far beyond the target beneficiaries. “This is because of the consequential effect of wage adjustments for other categories of workers and citizens as a result of increasing the minimum wage,’’ he explained.
Labour, under the auspices of the Trade Union Side  (TUS) of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), said it would give no further notice to the Federal Government before millions of its members at the federal and 36 states public services commence strike over the non-implementation of the new wage and appropriate consequential adjustment.
Expressing dismay over the turn of events, TUS Acting Chairman, Comrade Anchaver Simon, said it had become imperative to alert the public that efforts by the trade unions to persuade the government to implement the new N30,000 monthly national minimum wage signed into Law by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 18, this year with appropriate consequential adjustment, had been frustrated  by the government side.
According to him, the government’s action was an open invitation for industrial action, since workers were already engulfed in fear and agitations whether their accumulated arrears would be paid when talks were finally concluded.
”The Consequential Adjustment Committee two weeks ago agreed that the proposal of the TUS that salary of officers on grade levels 07-14 should be increased by 29 per cent and those of officers on grade levels 15-17 by 24 per cent vis-a-vis that of government side of 10 per cent for officers on Grade Levels 07-14, 5.5 per cent for those on Grade Level 15-17 should be forwarded to Buhari to see the patriotic position of labour and approved appropriate consequential adjustment accordingly.
He said what had become clear was that the government side was not serious about paying millions of workers a new national minimum wage and adequate consequential adjustment but preferred taking the Trade Unions for a ride.
He said as a responsible Trade Union, the TUS had given the government enough time to come to term with workers demand but it appeared that the only language necessary for government to act was a strike action.
The union recalled that initially it recommended 66.6 per cent across board so as to maintain existing relativity in emoluments of public servants, but the government side argued that the wage bill would be too high.
“Consequently, the TUS scaled its demand downward by suggesting that officers on grade levels 07-14 should receive 30 per cent pay rise while those on grade levels 15-17 should get 25 per cent, the government side proposed 9.5 per cent for grade levels 07-14 and five per cent for grade levels 15-17.
“Both parties agreed thereafter to forward the two positions to the plenary session of the enlarged Consequential Adjustment Committee for consideration,” he said.
The union leader stated that to their surprise, when the committee reconvened on June 27, this year, the government side introduced a strange clause and argued that the term of reference of the panel was to apply the subhead of emoluments contained in the 2019 Budget across board to pay the minimum wage which the TUS objected to.
“It is difficult to understand why the political appointees who cart millions of naira away every month are determined that Nigerian workers must not get N30,000 monthly minimum wage with fair consequential adjustment.
“As we write, Nigeria is rated the poorest country in the whole world and yet Government is refusing to implement a minimum wage for Nigerian workers to lift millions of citizens out of poverty,” he said.
The Secretary of the JNPSNC, Alade Lawal, said labour would decide on the next line of action towards the issue of the minimum wage.
He maintained that very soon, Nigerians would be informed on the next step to take.
Lawal said: “The meeting is deadlocked; we found out that the Federal Government officials are not serious about it at all, we are suspecting foul play or a hidden agenda somewhere. So, we have decided to report the development to our principals, including the labour unions. Nigerians will be adequately briefed of our next line of action very shortly.”
NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, warned that workers were disturbed over the delay in implementing the new minimum wage.
Wabba said though the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) were not involved in the negotiations, they would step in if the disagreement on the modality for the implementation of the consequential adjustment persisted.
Wabba said the workers had waited long enough, adding that people would want to see an end for its full implementation without further delay.
Wabba stated that it was the desire of organised labour that this becomes a reality. “For anybody on that table to say that labour is the one delaying the process, he/she is not saying the obvious. This is because I learnt that the person that made the statement is the chairman of the technical committee; so clearly speaking, I think it is not in good faith,” he said.
“I think also that workers are becoming very concerned, including the NLC because the process must actually have an end where workers will benefit. How can a worker or unions that are at the receiving end be the ones delaying the process.
“`For us as a union we wanted this money to be in the workers’ pockets long before now,’’ he said.
Former  General Secretary of NLC, Comrade Peter Ozo-Eson, also said the congress was keenly monitoring developments in states as regards the roll out of the implementation guidelines of the approved new minimum wage.
“Having waited for so long, we feel that the government should do the needful and conclude the negotiations on the consequential adjustment to enable the commencement of implementation of the new minimum wage. Any bureaucratic delay will not be in the interest of labour peace,” he said.

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