The optimism that greeted the inauguration of the tripartite committee is gradually fading, as early signs that a new minimum wage will come into effect in the third quarter of this year disappeared.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who earlier raised the hope of a new minimum wage law was the same person that dashed it.
The Minister had said that going by the work rate of the tripartite committee, it was most unlikely that a new minimum wage would be in operation in September this year.
Ngige revealed that all that could be achieved by the committee was a submission of report to the Federal Government in September while it may likely take a few months for the processes to be completed.
By implication, the Minister seems to be preparing the minds of workers for next year for the commencement of a new wage floor.
Beside this, the Minister also pointed at the ability to pay by the state government as well as the private sector.
Ngige submitted that there were differentials in the figures that were arrived at by the major stakeholders that ranged between N22, 000 and N58, 000 while the labour movement is holding out for N66, 500.
Indeed, Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo had said during the 2018 edition of May Day that the Federal Government would expedite action to ensure that a new minimum wage is ready by the second quarter of the year.
Osinbajo’s words: “The argument for a national minimum wage cannot be faulted, because minimum wage is the minimum amount of compensation an employee must receive for putting in his or her labour. And as such, should be anchored on the principles of social justice, equity, and fairness. We believe that those who can pay above the social protection floor are free to do so, as many have been doing in many states and sectors of the economy.”
Echoing the optimism of Osinbajo, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, said Congress would resist any move to re-negotiate the minimum wage at any level, insisting the proposed minimum wage must be paid to all workers.
He urged the Federal Government to ensure federal allocations are not released to states and local governments that refuse to implement the new wage.
Wabba said: “We are battle-ready against public and private organisations that would refuse to conform to the new minimum wage. At our disposal is the power of our votes! We shall ensure that governments that refuse to pay the new minimum wage will not receive the support of the working class, pensioners and their families.”
He argued that the N66, 500 being demanded by labour as national minimum wage would at best meet only the basic needs of the average Nigerian worker, if inflation were kept at a single digit.
Struggling to reconcile non-commencement of new wage in September with recent declarations by the Minister himself as well as the Vice President, Wabba said there was an urgent need by Ngige to clarify his ‘double speak’ on the planned minimum wage to avoid confusion on the issue.
Wabba queried the sudden change in the proposed implementation date, noting that Ngige had without any prompting, informed the world that the Federal Government would start paying the new wage in September.
The labour centre expressed shock over the statement by the Minister, saying that the expected increase in salaries is the difference between survival and extinction for many workers.
NLC described comment by Ngige not only a show of insensitivity, but provocative.
Wabba added: “The current volte face by the Minister of Labour is not only provocative; it is also insensitive especially in the face of the excruciating suffering being endured by Nigerian workers particularly as occasioned by the increase in the cost of living.
“Do we need to remind the Minister that he was once a civil servant who always looked forward to his monthly salary? Nigerian workers who are not privileged to earn fat salaries, allowances, estacodes and other perks of political appointment are looking forward to enjoy minimal relief in the form of the new national minimum wage.”
In a similar vein, The United Labour Congress (ULC) said Ngige’s statement lacked due process, as it would not accept anything that would affect workers adversely.
It described the statement as unfortunate, saying that he should have consulted with members of the tripartite committee on the minimum wage before making an announcement on the wage.
The congress’ President, Joe Ajaero, who spoke at the weekend, posited that the minister’s statement that the wage would no longer be paid in September amounted to double-speak on the matter, urging him to explain his comment to avoid confusion.
According to Ajaero, it would not be good for any government official to sabotage the interest of workers, as there was need to be sensitive to the plight of Nigerian workers, who had been facing immense hardships over the years.
He said: “We are not sure the stakeholders, who are members of the committee, were consulted and this is undemocratic and lacks due process.
“Our fear and worry is that the statement is laden with intentions but we will continue to put pressure on government to ensure that the committee submitted its report next month.
While The Guardian spoke with some civil servants in different parts of the states, many said the Federal Government has dashed their hopes.
They pleaded with the Federal Government to do all within its reach to ensure the September target is attainable.
A female civil servant in Enugu state, precious Nnaji who commended the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, on his prompt payment of salaries, however, urged Federal Government to speed up the implementation process.
“Our salaries are not enough to take care of high cost of living in Nigeria. Things are expensive everywhere, people are suffering. Government should not extend the September target,” she said.
Another civil servant, Wale Ogun, said he had placed his hope on the September deadline and government should act on the promised date, as his current salary could no longer meet up with the high cost of commodities in the markets.
Meanwhile, another worker who resides in Kogi state, Adole Kenneth said because things were already difficult for them in the state, as the state government is not meeting up with payment of salaries of workers, let alone implementing new one.
“As am speaking with you now, government is owing me up to five months salaries. When I follow up on the debates of the increased wage workers are canvassing for, it makes me look as if I am dreaming, because even with the meagre N18, 000 current minimum wage, Kogi state is still not meeting up, I wonder about the N66, 500 new minimum wage workers are clamouring for. Hope you can see how our members are committing suicide, as they could not cope with the untold hardship in the state. Husbands like me are burdened with payments of rent, school fees, feeding and taking of family of about five children. Where do this money come from, when I’m being owed salaries? Life has become unbearable for us,” Adole said.
As the clamour for the implementation of new minimum wage should not be taken for granted by some forces, labour congress had said it would expedite actions at the level of the tripartite committee on the minimum wage and ensure that discussions and negotiations were concluded by August 2018.
Wabba argued that the review of the minimum wage was long overdue noting that the 2011 Tripartite Committee headed by Justice Salihu Belgore, set up by government recommended that the review of the minimum wage should happen every five years.
He said: “It is now close to eight years that the last review of the national minimum wage took place. Nigerian workers demand a change in the humiliating culture of forcing workers to bargain too hard and wait too long for meagre increases in their salaries.”
As labour movement confronts the Federal Government, it is equally imperative for them to engage state government on the ability to pay.