Minimum wage crisis: Labour centres put on red alert

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Ime Akpan

There are indications that the organised labour will, once again, mobilise Nigerian workers to embark on a nationwide strike as discordant tunes seem to be coming from the federal government after the tripartite committee on the new minimum wage had submitted its report.

Receiving the report from Ms. Ama Pepple, chair of the committee, President Muhammadu Buhari remarked:  “I am fully committed to having a new National Minimum Wage Act in the very near future. As the executive arm commences its review of your submission, we will continue to engage you all in closing any open areas presented in this report. I therefore would like to ask for your patience and understanding in the coming weeks. May I therefore, implore workers and their leaders not to allow themselves to be used as political weapons.”

But the minister of information and culture, Mr. Lai Muhammadu threw a spanner in the works when told journalists in Abuja yesterday that the N30, 000 contained in the report “is a mere recommendation” and had not been approved.”

But labour insisted that “it’s N30, 000 nor nothing.”

“I think it (N30, 000) was a recommendation. Mr. President will consider it and will make his views known in due course. A recommendation was submitted. Mr. President will get back to the committee after he has studied the recommendation,” he said.

It would be recalled that when labour called off its planned strike on Monday November 5, the general secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson said: “We all need to stand ready in a state of full mobilization in case future action becomes necessary to push for the timely enactment and implementation of the new minimum wage.”

In an earlier interview, he had stated that: “If anybody contemplates reduction, we will be back to the trenches and our members would direct us on the next step to take. But we think in the interest of industrial peace and harmony, what needs to be done now is that this compromise amount is forwarded to the National Assembly because reducing it will be extremely problematic.”

The general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Musa Lawal who reacted to Mohammed’s comments re-echoed Ozo-Eson’s position and threatened that the organised labour would go on strike should the federal government fail to approve and implement the N30,000 minimum wage recommended by the tripartite committee.

He said organised labour decided to shelve its planned strike because the government had expressed the willingness to accept the report of the tripartite committee.

He warned that anything short of the full implementation of the report would be met with stiff opposition.

“They can say anything they want to say. Why were they panicky before? Why did they agree to the N30, 000? They can call it a mere recommendation or whatever they want to call it but the important thing is that at the end of the day, if we do not get the N30,000, they know what we will do.”

For his part, the former president of TUC, Mr. Peter Esele, said neither the national council of state nor the national assembly could renegotiate a figure already agreed upon by the tripartite committee.

“The biggest problem we have as a country is our government. Government officials do not know what it means to negotiate; they have no respect for negotiated agreement and contracts. This is the scenario: government appointed the chairman of the committee, appointed its minister as deputy chair, and then the president says he will ‘look’ into the report. What is the president looking for in that report?

“N30, 000 is a negotiated figure done by its own representatives. Does it mean that the presidency does not trust the capacities of those it appointed? Labour started with N66,500 and later came down to N30,000, which is a negotiated figure arrived at as a result of negotiation. And now, government is ‘looking’ at this? How?

“If government will ‘look’ at the figure again after negotiation, why didn’t it legislate the figure instead of allowing people to waste their time for one year? The truth is that whatever is negotiated cannot be changed. Otherwise, labour goes back to the trenches,” he added.

Also contributing to the discussion, the executive secretary of the Organisation Trade Union of West Africa (OTUWA) Mr. John Odah, cautioned the federal government against messing with labour describing the tripartite negotiation as “sacrosanct.”

“It is in the interest of this government not to allow this process to drag longer than necessary because minimum wage affects the large chunk of workers of this country. I know labour knows this and will not allow anybody to mess with them. Tripartite negotiation is sacrosanct and people should just respect it.”

Also reacting, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, said while Buhari and his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo collect hardship allowances of 50 per cent of their annual basic salary, long-suffering Nigerian workers have no hardship allowance and are expected to live on unrealistic minimum wage.

Atiku who made the remarks in a statement issued by his media campaign organisation in Abuja said “approbation” and “reprobation” is characteristic of the Buhari administration and that it is evidence of lack of leadership at the very top that is putting our economy in peril.”

“Just two weeks ago, two of the world’s largest banks, HSBC and UBS, pulled out of Nigeria citing lack of policy stability as their reason.

“This same reason was given by Procter and Gamble when they pulled out last year. In the span of the three years that this administration has been in office, more than 500 companies have pulled out of Nigeria for similar reasons. Nigeria under President Buhari has become synonymous with policy flip flopping.

“A government is only as reliable as its word and if its word is not reliable then nothing else about the government will be stable. This is why Nigeria suffered from a recession under this administration and it’s right now at risk of another recession.

“At the risk of repeating ourselves, we urge the Buhari administration to note that Nigerian workers are the goose that lays the golden egg that top members of this government are enjoying to the detriment of those laying the egg.

“We are aware that both President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo, despite living and feeding at the public expense, collect a hardship allowance of 50 per cent of their annual basic salaries, whereas, the long-suffering Nigerian workers, who are the main sufferers of the hardship caused by the incompetence of this administration, do not have any hardship allowance and are expected to live on the unliveable minimum wage of the Buhari government,” he said.

The PDP flag bearer who called on the federal government keep faith with the agreement reached with labour and affirm the new minimum wage added that Nigeria has officially been declared the world headquarters for extreme poverty by the World Poverty Clock and the World Economic Forum.

“We can only change this by paying our workers a living wage as opposed to the starvation wages now paid to them by the Buhari administration,” he added.

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