By KENNETH DARENG

BEARING last minute negotiations and the 16th October ultimatum issued to the Federal Government by the leadership of organized labour over the full implementation of the N30,000.00 minimum wage, it appears the ground is now set for a showdown.

President Muhammadu Buhari signed the minimum wage bill into law in April this year. But the major bone of contention now is how to implement the increase according to the structure of the salary levels.

The SUNDAY STANDARD gathered that the federal government on its part had since the month of August commenced payment to workers on levels 1-6 which the minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige was quoted in The Nation publication of October 7, 2019, as stating that the arrears from April would be paid subsequently.

However, there seems to be a disagreement on the percentage of increment for workers on levels 7 to 17 as the Federal Government is offering 11% for those on levels 7to 14 and 6.5% for workers on levels 15 to 17.

According to The Nation publication, the Governors of the 36 states are offering mine percent while labour is demanding between 24 percent and 29 percent.

Meanwhile, both the Federal Government and the organized Labour leadership comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) were expected to converge at a round table meeting to agree on the way forward.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige had expressed optimism on the meeting with the Labour leaders and told the press that, “the Federal Government will at the meeting make available its book’s income and expenditure as per 2019 and 2020 proposal. Let labour look at the books first and we shall proceed from there.”

According to media reports, the minister said he was hopeful that an agreement would be reached by all the parties involved in the negotiation. Noting that there was no major dispute yet that would warrant a strike by the organized labour.

But, the secretary of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) Comrade  Alade Lawal in a press statement said, labour was not interested in looking at government’s books. Noting, “they don’t have any books to open to us. They have been parading figures, throwing us a lot of things which books are they going to show again?

“If they call us to the negotiation table, on Tuesday we should be able to wrap up by the end of the week (Friday). Any elongation will not be entertained by labour. We will be demanding our position as contained in our communiqué, 29 percent salary adjustment for officers on levels 7-14 and 24 percent for officers on level 15-17,” noted Lawal.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF) through its chairman Dr. Kayode Fayemi told The Nation correspondent on 6th October 2019, that governors are not divided on the new minimum wage implementation.

According to Dr. Kayode, the governors do not see the national minimum wage increase as a general wage review. Adding, “we are not divided. We have agreed to the national minimum wage and we are paying. Even if we do not agree, the National Minimum Wage is already a law which is binding.  Adding, “our proposal during the negotiation was N24,500 minimum wage but at the end of the negotiation, N30,000 was the agreed figure and we abide by that because it is now law. However, governors are very clear that a national minimum wage increase is not tantamount to a general wage review.”

“Whilst we know that there may be need for a minimal consequential adjustment, we (governors) are together with the Federal Government that this should not exceed mire percent. We think nine percent is too much for those who are already earning above the minimum wage,” said Fayemi.

But another governor from the North Central, who spoke with The Nation in confidence said; “some states have not paid the N30,000.00 minimum wage because there is no general agreement yet on the consequential increase. Negotiation is still on and the NGF is fully represented.

“The government has offered nine percent consequential increase across board for those who are earning above the minimum wage threshold but the Nigeria Labour Congress is asking for 45 percent increase.

According to the governor, “the Federal Government has said 45 percent consequential increase is unrealistic. The government has already made provision for the 30,000 minimum in the 2020 Budget. Where do you expect the government to get the funds? Some consequential increase way be sensible but the demand for 45 percent is unrealistic.”

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) President, Quadri Olalaye has a different view by saying that, “we are not changing our mandate. Our mandate is 29 percent for workers on level 7-14 while level 15-17 remains at 24 percent. If we have to shift ground, you must have something to prove that government cannot pay. “If they remove the he’s from the 1.3 million workers they say they have, then they will see that they don’t need that figure (N580 billion) to give us a breakdown of the workforce.

“We have given them an ultimatum. The windows are still open. They should do whatever they can do before then but once we cannot agree before October 16, then we will go on strike. Comrade Olalaye maintained.

On the other hand, the Federal Government had threatened that should the labour force it to pay the wage bill as demanded, N580 billion will be required which it said it cannot afford.

The alternative, according to the Labour and Employment Minister Dr. Chris Ngige is to retrench some workers. But Labour has promptly rejected the sack option.

SUNDAY STANDARD investigation gathered that some states have indicated their readiness to pay the N30,000 minimum wage while others are still waiting on the final outcome of negotiations within the week between the leadership of organized labour unions and the Federal government team before deciding on implementation.

According to SUNDAY STANDARD, sources, Ekiti Delta, Kano, Osun, Akwa Ibom and Anambra states have indicated readiness to pay the new wage. But other states such as Plateau, Jigawa, Oyo, Bayelsa, Ondo and Enugu states are said to be undecided on the matter.

The Nation news report of October 7, 2019, confirmed that Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai had commenced implementation of the N30,000 wage from the month of September this year.

The report quoted the Kaduna State Deputy Governor, Hadiza Balaraba as stating that the consequential adjustments increased the Kaduna State’s wage bill by 33 percent which saw gross monthly salary outlay rose to N3.759 billion from N2.827 billion.

According to Balarabe, the least paid worker in the Kaduna Civil Service got an increment of at least 67 percent while those on grades 10 to 14 were awarded increment of up to 69 percent.

The same publication reported that Kano State Head of Civil Service, Alhaji Kabiru Shehu had expressed readiness of the state to pay although he did not confirm when Kano State will commence the payment of the new wage but rather said that the state was “working on it,” Shehu added that, “we are ready to pay the N30,000 minimum wage. We are working on it. We are consulting as well as waiting for approval.

SUNDAY STANDARD also gathered that Delta State has reiterated its commitment to paying the minimum wage. Olise Ifeajijika, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ifeanyi, Okowa said, Delta State was awaiting the outcome of the negotiation between the Federal Government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). He stressed that the state would implement any agreement reached.

In Ekiti State, Governor Kayode Fayemi has said that his state will implement the N30,000 new wage increase beginning from this month end. According to Fayemi who spoke at the 2019 would Teachers Day in Ado-Ekiti, “we will commence payment of N30,000 minimum wage to workers in Ekiti with effect from this month. We are determined to reward diligence because the workers particularly our teachers have done the state proud” Fayemi noted.

Other reactions gathered from other states such as Anambra where Governor Willie Obiano is said to have budgeted N22.8 billion for the new wage his Chief Press Secretary, James Eze told The Nation correspondent that everything has been put in place for the implementation. He added, ”Anambra is good to go.”

SUNDAY STANDARD also gathered that Jigawa State had scheduled a meeting with the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to discuss the minimum wage. According to the Acting Head of Civil Service, Alhaji Hussaini Kila  the Governor Muhammadu Badaru Abubakar had constituted a 19 man implementation committee.

In Ondo State, the Commissioner for Information, Donald Ojogo also said the Akeredolu administration had also set up a committee to address the issue. He said, “the issue of the new minimum wage is not a thing the governor jokes about. In a matter of weeks, the committee will submit its report and government’s position will be made known.”

But in Imo State Chibuike Onyeukwu the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Emeka Ihedioha, told the media that the state had reinstated the 100 percent salary payment to all categories of workers in the state. It will be recalled, it was cut to 65 percent by the Rochas Okorocha administration Onyenkwu added.

Bayelsa State according to media reports is still awaiting the outcome of the Federal Government and Labour talks before taking an outright decision. The Bayelsa State chairman of NLC, Comrade John Ndiomu was quoted by media reports as saying that, any state claiming to pay the new minimum wage without a federal template was deceiving itself.

The Nation publication also stated that Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong, a member of the national minimum wage planning committee, had promised to implement the new wage but is yet to do so and it could not be confirmed when the state would begin the implementation.

Similarly, in Enugu State workers were yet to receive the new minimum wage as one of the workers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were still collecting the N18,000.00 and there seem to be no action on the new minimum wage as far as his state was concerned.

Meanwhile, there is concern emerging from the academic circles as the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) is now being threatened with a breakaway faction of ASUU seeking registration.

SUNDAY STANDARD monitored reports   reveals that members of the faction named Congress of University Academics (CONUA) from five universities had met in Ile-Ife, Osun State comprising members from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Federal University Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), Federal University Lokoja, Kwara State University, Malete, Ilorin and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State.

According to the National Co-ordinator of the new union, Niyi Ismaheel, the lecturers decided to form a new union in order to redefine unionism and restore peace and stability in the universities.

Speaking to reporters at the OAU, Ismaheel disclosed that the new union would form a new approach of engagement in addressing the welfare of its members and put to an end “the unnecessary wasting of students academic time as a result of frequent strike actions.”

Ismahel said the union is putting necessary documentation in place for official recognition by the university management and government.

Sources close to the SUNDAY STANDARD said already Labour and Employment Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige has confirmed that the union has applied to be registered by the ministry since April of this year.

The minister also said that a committee has been set up to look at their application. The source quoted Dr. Ngige as saying,. “We are still looking at their application. I asked a committee to look at it. When we look at the committee report we will know” the minister said.

However, this latest development in the wake of the new minimum wage saga is seen as another setback for the mainstream ASUU which has remained the only recognized umbrella body of the staff of Nigerian Universities and could therefore constitute another distraction in government’s effort in bringing stability to all labour unions. It will be recalled that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) almost suffered the same fate following the announcement of the breakaway of some of its affiliaties which was unable to get Federal Government recognition.

However, preparatory to a looming strike action over the non-implementation of the new national minimum wage with its consequential adjustments, the SUNDAY STANDARD gathered that Labour will commence mobilization of its workers beginning from Wednesday 9th October 2019.

Already, the leading union under the Trade Union side (TUS) of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has summoned all its unit chairmen, secretaries and treasurers in ministries, departments an agencies (MDA’s) to and emergency meeting in Abuja to start “serious mobilization.”

According to The Tribune of October 9, 2019, the ASCSN has also sent a circular titled,” “mobilization for nationwide strike” to all its states secretaries directing them to liaise with the joint council, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) officials in all the states of the Federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja towards ensuring the success of the intended strike action nationwide.

The organized labour resolved to commence the mobilization, just as the Federal Government had also moved swiftly to summon the leadership of the NLC, TUC, the JNPSNC and the ASCSN to a crucial meeting in Abuja to avert a total shutdown of the government during the nationwide strike as planned.

Despite the move by the federal government, Labour has resolved to commence full mobilization for the strike after the October 16 dateline given by the organized labour.

SUNDAY STANDARD sought the views of some civil servants in Plateau State on the proposed nationwide strike action over the non-implementation of the new national minimum wage and one of the respondents who spoke on condition of anomimity said the strike is long overdue considering the lack of speed and will to implement the increase on the part of the Federal and state government respectively. Noting that already market forces have taken over the megre salaries of workers by hiking the prices of goods and services without any commensurate value.

Also, in her reaction, Mrs. Naomi Joseph, a house wife laments the way and manner prices of goods particularly foodstuffs have skyrocketed in the market. “Just imagine my husband  who is a civil servant used to give me twenty thousand to buy foodstuffs at the end of every month, but now can’t even buy half of what I  used to buy with that kind of money. Just look at the price of rice which keeps increasing by the day and as at today, a bag of rice is going between N25,000.00 and N26,000.00 thousand per bag. What about palm oil, grains and so on, all these are going beyond the purchasing power of the common man. So I am one hundred percent in support of the strike. Maybe it will force the government to apply good measures in making life meaningful to the average Nigerian.”

But Sam Okoh, a Jos based businessman argues that all these increase is the major source of inflation in the country. “Rather, I think government should focus more on boosting the economy and provide enough social security to address some of these challenges and all these will change for good.”

 

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