In this piece, MICHEAL OCHE examines the struggle for new minimum wage by the Nigerian workers as the federal government’s technical committee submits report this week.
Workers, during the 2016 May Day celebration proposed a new minimum wage of 56, 000 insisting that the current 18, 000 minimum wage is no longer realistic as the economic realities have rendered it so.
More than eight months after the proposal was made, the federal government is yet to respond to their demands, but recently, the minister of labour, Dr Chris Ngige, disclosed that a technical committee is expected to submit its report this week.
Reflectively, although the history of the struggle for minimum wage has been a long standing one, in March 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan made history by signing the N18, 000 new minimum wage into law.
Prior to that, the national minimum wage was N7000. The signing of that historic act came after more than three years of prolonged negotiations and threats of strikes on the issue by the organised labour.
Six years later, Nigerian workers are back on the same table. A new round of negotiation to determine a new national minimum wage is set to commence. The biggest threat however to the new minimum wage implementation is the various lack of coordination and misunderstanding of the various stakeholders involved.
There are several huddles to be scaled and it appears a new minimum wage may not be coming anytime soon despite the pressure from the organized labour which have repeatedly said the N18, 000 minimum wage is no longer worth it especially with the current economic reality in the country.
Negotiating the minimum wage requires tripartite partners – the Government, the employers and the organized labour. And various checks reveals that the committee is yet to be inaugurated
It would be recalled that the federal government had accepted to set up two committees as a result of the major protest action by labour following the increase in the pump price of petroleum products from N86:50 to N145.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation on June 2nd, 2016 constituted the Committee on Palliatives leaving out the minimum wage committee.
Though the process of negotiation has been ongoing at different levels as there are various people driving the negotiation, last November, NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, said the issue of membership of the team that is supposed to negotiate the minimum wage was being discussed.
Perhaps, worried by the delay in setting up the committee, the NLC early January, 2017 warned that it cannot guarantee industrial peace by May 1, if the Federal Government fails to address the National Minimum Wage issue.
“Guaranteeing industrial peace and harmony means that if by May 1 nothing concrete is put on ground to address the issue of minimum wage, we cannot guarantee industrial peace and harmony; so, it can take any form,” The NLC President, Mr Ayuba Wabba, told newsmen in his office.
The debate over how much should constitute the national minimum wage has been a controversial issue in Nigeria. In 1999, NLC pushed in favour of a minimum wage increase from N7, 500 (for Federal civil service) and N5, 500 (for state civil service and private sector) to N20, 000.
By 2011, in spite of NLC asking for N52, 000, both NLC and TUC finally agreed to Federal Government’s offer of N18, 000 minimum wage.
Most states of the federation are still unable to pay the N18, 000 new minimum wage, and this has continued to raise question over whether the new proposal of N56, 000 by the NLC is implementable, at least by the states.
But even as the organised labour clamour for wage increase, the seeming friction between the different factions of the union is a snag on the demands. Already, there is seething discord between the Ayuba Wabba led NLC and a faction led by Joe Ajearo.
While the Ayuba Wabba led NLC says it is proposing N56, 000 as the new minimum wage, another labour centre led by Comrade Joe Ajearo has also called for N90, 000 as new minimum wage.
It is crystal clear that there appears to be a disagreement between the labor unions on how much should be the new minimum wage. Indeed, this seeming disagreement is likely to be the labour’s greatest undoing as far as pushing for the national minimum wage is concerned.
Wabba however insisted that for now labour would leave the proposed wage at N56, 000 “because it is a document that we have already signed.
“By law under convention 144 of International Labour Organization (ILO), it is the most representative Labour Centre that galvanizes others to make a formal presentation and that we have made with the Trade Union Congress.
“If there is need to look at the data on the negotiating table, we are going to do that, but also we have been looking at the position of our economy that is why we are being realistic’’ he enthused.
Indeed, those are issues expected to be settled during the negotiations involving the tripartite partners. But again, the delay in constituting the committee is causing anxiety.
However, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige recently gave a glimpse of hope by saying the Technical Committee on National Minimum Wage, saddled with the responsibility of reviewing workers’ salaries to reflect current socio-economic realities, will submit its report this week.
Again, this issue raised some quick misunderstanding of the matter. The NLC claims the committee for the new National Minimum Wage is yet to be constituted by the Federal Government.
“What the minister is referring to is the Technical Committee on Palliatives which recommended in its report that there was need for the composition of the Minimum Wage Committee.
“It recommended that the committee for the minimum wage should be set up immediately, but as we speak the committee has not been constituted because the palliative is just tidying up their report properly, so until palliative report is adopted and submitted, the minimum committee will then be up later,’’ wabba said.
There have been indications that the clamour for upward review of new national minimum wage by organized labour, may be long in coming, as there is no provision for it in the Federal budget proposal now before the National Assembly.
As the nation awaits the technical committee, the Nigerian workers are understandably optimistic of a favourable outcome which will ultimately translate to an increased minimum wage. But then of course, the declining fortunes of the economy has continued to be an issue of concerns. Whether government will accede to the labour’s demands or not is something that the weeks ahead will reveal.
Source : Leadership