Minimum wage: Labour, FG stand eyeball to eyeball

It is wicked to talk of 5 per cent when the last was 54 per cent, says Labour

SOJI-EZE FAFGBEMI reports that organised labour and the Federal Government are both locked in a familiar fight, the outcome of which is too early to predict as the ultimatum given by the workers’ unions draws nearer.

 

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari signed the new national minimum wage of  N30,000 into law, precisely on April 18, 2019. The signing followed more than two years of intense negotiations between the federal and state governments on one hand and labour on the other, which invariably cumulated into legislative process and eventual assent by the president.

At the signing of the law last April, workers and their dependents, especially those who are direct beneficiaries of such process, were expectedly happy, while the move clearly raised the hope of Nigerians that soonest, workers would be smiling to banks to enjoy the new increase.

Though a few pessimists raised the fear that the signing by President Buhari at the eve of the general election was a ploy to cajole Nigerians, particularly the workers, into vote for him and his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), majority of Nigerians believe that the president was being sincere with them and the workers.

Buhari, Aid worker, Minimum wage
President Muhammadu Buhari

Almost six months after the signing, the battle is still about how and when the Federal Government will begin the implementation, while it is not yet under consideration by some state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). This development has therefore raised another fear of a nationwide strike by workers.

After a series of failed negotiations between the Federal Government and the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC-Trade Union Side) saddled with the responsibility of negotiating the consequential adjustments arising from the N30,000 new minimum wage on all other categories and grade levels of workers, labour had threatened to go on a nationwide strike as from October 17 if the government fails to resolve the issue before then.

The leadership of organised labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), met recently with the JNPSNC-Trade Union side in Abuja, where they received briefing from JNPSNC and discussed the way forward on the deadlock in the negotiations.

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At the end of their deliberation, labour resolved to embark on a nationwide strike to get their demand.

«In conclusion, the leadership of organised labour in Nigeria wishes to categorically state that the leadership of labour cannot guarantee industrial peace and harmony in the country if our demands are not met at the close of work on Wednesday, 16th October, 2019,» a communique issued after the meeting held at the Labour House, Abuja, said.

 Justification for strike

The NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, justified the strike, saying the organised labour has out of its patriotic disposition demonstrated a great deal of restraint, consideration and patience with government, adding that: “In the course of negotiations for consequential salary adjustment, the organised labour had to moderate its initial position of having 66.6 per cent upward salary adjustment for workers on salary grade level 07 – 17 by accepting an upward adjustment of 29 per cent for officers on salary level 07-14 and 24 per cent adjustment for officers on salary grade level 15 – 17.”

He regretted that despite this gesture, “government has kept insisting that it can only pay 11 per cent for officers on grade level 07 – 14 and 6.5 per cent consequential wage increase to public workers for officers on level 15-17.”

The NLC president further justified the position of labour. He pointed out that workers had been forced to suffer huge inflation and astronomical hike in the prices of essential goods and services since the last national minimum wage of N18,000 during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan.

Besides, he explained that the country’s currency had suffered devaluation from N150 to $1 in 2011 to N360 to $1 in 2019, a depreciation of 140 per cent, while petrol price has been hiked from N87 per litre to N145 per litre which translates to 60 per cent price increase.

Giving further examples and the need to fight for the workers, he added that electricity tariff has been increased by about 60 per cent, while of recent, the Value Added Tax (VAT) has been reviewed from five per cent to 7.5 per cent.

“The nonchalant attitude of the government negotiating side has dragged negotiations for consequential wages adjustment unduly. Nigerian workers have exercised tremendous patience and restraint already.” Wabba said.

At the end of the labour leaders’ deliberation, they rejected the government offer for salary adjustment of 11 per cent for public workers on salary grade level 07 – 14 and 6.5 per cent consequential increase for public workers on grade level 15 – 17, saying “it is not acceptable to Nigerian workers.”

NLC, Minimum wage, Nigeria
NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba

Giving an insight into this, the NLC president said: “We view the position of government as a show of insensitivity to the plight of workers and an attempt to collect with the left hand what government had offered with the right hand. We demand the reconvening of the meeting of the committee negotiating the consequential adjustment with a view to concluding the process that started on the 28th of May, 2019 within one week.”

Organised labour, according to Wabba, also demanded that the government entered into an agreement with labour “to the effect that salary of officers on grade 07-14 should be reviewed upward by 29 per cent while that of officers on grade level 15-17 should be reviewed upwards by 24 per cent and to commence immediate implementation of the signed agreement on consequential adjustment of public workers’ salaries with effect from 18th of April 2019 when the new national minimum wage of N30,000 per month was signed into law.”

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 Old templates

The General Secretary, Senior Staff Association of Statutory Corporations and Government owned Companies (SSASCOG), Comrade Ayo Olorunfemi, described the position of government as a wicked plot against workers and Nigerians. He pointed out that there had been templates on consequential adjustment before now, adding that during former President Goodluck Jonathan salary increase, 54 per cent was used for workers of all categories apart from substantive directors.

Comrade Olorunfemi said: “It used to be ratio 1:7:17. They will use that ratio, first from ratio 1:7, then from ratio 7:17. So, that consequential adjustment has always been there. The truth is that if they want to reduce it, it can always be a gradual process not the drastic one they are doing. Adjustments have always been there, not the crude one the government is doing without any basis.

“They should take a cue from the last minimum wage, look at the relativity ratio and take it from that point. If you look at the previous adjustment, it conferred about 54 per cent to all workers, except for directors. If they are talking of percentage, they should not be talking of five per cent or 10 per cent, when the last per cent was 54 per cent, who does that? Level 1 to 15 took 54 per cent during the last salary increase, expect those who are substantive directors. How can you be talking of five per cent for them now? It is a wicked plot.”

Since the ultimatum was issued over a week ago, labour has taken steps to ensure the success of the strike, while government has also moved to stop any form of strike. Labour has intensified mobilisation for the strike. The leading union under the JNPSNU, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), has already called meeting of its unit chairmen, secretaries and treasurers preparatory to “a looming strike action.” The ASCSN summoned all its unit chairmen, secretaries and treasurers in the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to an emergency meeting in Abuja last Wednesday to commence what it terms “serious mobilisation.”

The ASCSN has also sent a circular entitled: “Mobilisation for nationwide strike,” to all its states secretaries, directing them to “liaise with the Joint Council, the TUC, and the NLC officials on your state of coverage to start serious mobilisation to ensure that the strike is successful.”

The circular read: “As  you are aware, the negotiation for consequential adjustment arising from the N30,000 monthly national minimum wage signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on 18th April, 2019 has been deadlocked.

“Consequently, organised Labour under the auspices of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and the Trade Union side of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) has given the Federal Government up till Wednesday, 16th October, 2019 to reconvene the meeting of the Consequential Adjustment Committee to enable it conclude negotiation on the consequential adjustment arising from the approved N30,000 monthly national minimum wage, failing which a nationwide strike will commence.

“You are, therefore, directed to liaise with the Joint Council, the TUC and the NLC officials on your state of coverage to start serious mobilisation to ensure that the strike, if allowed to take place, will be a huge success. It must be emphasised that this is the last opportunity labour leaders at every level have to cooperate and ensure that the current slave-wage imposed on Nigerian workers is improved upon.”

Meanwhile, the Secretary General of ASCSN, Comrade Alade Bashir Lawal, speaking on the proposed strike, said: “The essence is to mobilise our members towards the looming strike, if government does not accede to the demand of labour in respect of the consequential adjustment of salaries arising from the new national minimum wage.

“If you go through our communiqué issued last week by TUC, NLC and the Joint Public Negotiation Council, we are asking government to reconvene the meeting of the committee and within one week let the committee conclude the assignment.”

Ngige
Ngige

Also, labour has written the Federal Government through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, warning about the looming industrial strike. It said workers and their leadership had been pushed to the wall and would give no further grace after the close of work on October 16.

“The leadership of NLC, TUC and the JNPSNC (Trade Union Side) feels highly constrained to inform you that labour has been pushed to the wall in respect of the stalled negotiations of the consequential adjustment arising from the new national minimum wage of N30,000 per month and has, therefore, concluded arrangement to embark on industrial action to press home its demand if concrete steps are not taken to address the issue at stake,” the letter said.

It was signed by Wabba for NLC, Olaleye for TUC, among other chieftains of labour.

Labour said they were specifically pained because the team representing the government had refused to let President Buhari know about their position and how labour had shifted ground several times previously. It explained that the two sides had agreed that government side should take the position of labour and that of the official side to President Buhari, “with a view to allowing him appreciate the patriotic position of labour and then intervene positively towards ensuring the achievement of an acceptable and just salary adjustment for workers in the public service.”

However, the labour leaders regretted that “when the meeting reconvened, it was discovered that the mandate given to the official side to transmit the positions of the two sides to the president, was not carried out.”

Instead, the government team “offered a marginal adjustment of one per cent to what it was earlier offering. Officers on grade 07 – 14 were offered 11 per cent increase, while those on grade level 15 – 17 were to get 6.5 per cent upward salary adjustment.”

Labour said it rejected that position outright and left the meeting with the promise of briefing their leadership and taking necessary trade union actions to achieve the desired objective.

However, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, had played up different positions suggesting that government cannot accede to workers demands. First, Ngige said for government to carry out what labour are demanding, there would be retrenchment of workers. The minister, while speaking  when the leadership of United Labour Congress (ULC) paid him a courtesy visit, said the organised Labour demand is not sustainable. He added that such adjustment in line with “Labour demand was not sustainable, except the Federal Government would lay off some workers to be able to meet their demand. But he warned that the Federal Government was avoiding a situation where it would have to lay off workers.

Thereafter, on another occasion, he stated that minimum wage is basically for those who were not receiving up to that benchmark before, even though he stressed the need to at least put something little for those above the minimum wage, so, those receiving lower before won’t meet them at that point. As of Thursday while meeting with the leadership of employers, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association  (NECA), the minister said it would be difficult to meet labour demand because the personnel cost had risen astronomically from N1.88 trillion to N3.08 trillion in about three years.

Ngige also said consequential adjustment is not synonymous with the total wage review; adding, “the main issue is the consequential adjustment and I have talked to the other leg  of tripartism that the consequential adjustment is not synonymous with the total wage review. It is an adjustment that you do consequential removing the last man at the last room of the ladder to N30 000 and by so doing, you have impede on other salary grade levels and therefore you must consequentially move up.

“Consequential movement up doesn’t mean that you do a percentage of the former minimum wage to the present minimum wage so we have agreed on that but the issue is that they have mistakenly bound the two things together the issue of consequential movement upstairs and the issue of a total wage review.

“The Federal Government as a way of anticipating this kind of situation arising, put in place last month a presidential committee on salaries and wages. We are working on that area, that area is important because the federal government budget of personnel cost has risen very astronomically from 1.888 trillion to 3.08 trillion between 2016 and now.

“A very major rise that is more than 100 per cent and its worrisome therefore government has put up this committee to find all the earnings in the public service of the federation in view to making sure that quantum of work viz a viz quantum of money gotten are synchronised in such a way that productivity will come into play.”

He added: “We have problem with the public service, and we are battling to see how we can weather the storm.” The minister has, therefore, initiated a plan to stop the strike, and moved swiftly to meet with both the government negotiating team and the Labour leadership. He held both meeting, though separately, but on the same day. The meeting was a prelude to the formal meeting of the Joint Negotiation Council, to be held on Tuesday.

Silver lining?

Though, the ASCSN Secretary General, Comrade Alade Bashir Lawal, who is also the Secretary of JNPSNC (Trade Union Side) said the last meeting held on Thursday was informal and inconsequential because no agreement could be signed, it nonetheless, achieved a purpose and could sway Labour to slow down in their mobilisation till next Tuesday’s enlarged meeting.

Labour leaders after a meeting with the Federal Government team

Comrade Lawal said: “A minister is free to call us and we will go. We are hoping that may be he wants to use the opportunity to talk to the two sides before reconvening the meeting. But what I am saying is that this one is an informal meeting and you cannot sign any agreement in such a meeting without the committee handling the negotiation of the consequential adjustment. Anything from 17 the leadership of Labour will give directive to members nationwide on what to do.

“The measure of seriousness can only be seen if something concrete is done between now and the 16. We are not part of government, we don’t know what they are doing. We can’t preempt them. We will see what happens between now and 16. After the 16, if nothing is done we can start rationalising.”

Therefore, at the instance of Labour Minister, the Federal Government has scheduled a high level conclusive meeting, to wrap up all discussions and pave the way for an equable implementation of the Consequential Adjustment of the Minimum Wage with Labour, for Tuesday.

But Ngige said each group would hold separate meetings to sort out all outstanding disagreements, before the Tuesday meeting. The minister said the meeting is to resolve the impasse over the consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage.

“It was resolved however  that each group would hold further meetings to sort out all outstanding disagreements before a high level conclusive meeting to wrap up all discussions,  paving the way for an equable implementation of the Consequential Adjustment of the Minimum Wage scheduled for Tuesday, 15th October, 2019,” the minister said.

Two ministers, two ministers of state and those required at the top echelon of the government in relation to the issue were involved. Apart from Ngige, others include: The Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed, Minister of State, Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba, Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN), Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folashade Yemi-Esan, Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, Acting Chairman, National Salaries Income and Wages Commission  Ekpo  Nta and the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris. Also there were Deputy President NLC, Comrade Amaechi Asogwuni, the General Secretary of the NLC, Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, Comrade Achaver Simon as well as the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress(TUC), Comrade Musa Lawal Ozigi.

As Nigerians patiently await, how the issue would be finally resolved, another factor that could come to play is the position of Labour leaders on those employers in the private sector that have adjusted their salary structure to reflect the new minimum wage and have started paying since President Buhari assented the law.

But as common in the Labour circle, an injury to one is injury to the others. Comrade Lawal said the strike, if the government allows it will affect both the public and private sector workers irrespective of whether the private sector are already paying or not.

The JNPSNC succinctly summaries this, «The strike will affect both, it is both for public and private sector. In Labour parlance, injury to one is injury to all. So whether you have implemented or not you go on sympathy strike.»

In all, the emerging facts are, however, suggesting that the Federal Government may up its offers a little in order to stop the strike. The offer could take the consequential adjustments for both grade levels 7-14 and 15- 17 to two-digit figures,  but still below 20 per cent. Though, may still be insignificant, it may influence the decision to Labour to stop the looming strike.

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