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Minimum Wage: Can FG Meet Labour Six Months Ultimatum?

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With the astronomical rise in cost of living, workers are losing their patience and want a quick resolution to the minimum wage impasse. Though, after a protracted stalemate, President Muhammadu Buhari last November reluctantly inaugurated a new minimum wage tripartite committee, chaired by former Head of service and Minister of Housing, Ms Ama Pepple.

Recall that it took government over 20 months to inaugurate the committee after organized labour placed a request for the review of the minimum wage from its current N18, 000. The workers cited what they said is the expiration of the 5 years plan as stipulated in the National Minimum Wage Act which was passed in 2011 by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

However, despite President Buhari inaugurating the committee, workers have expressed concern that the actual negotiation for a new minimum wage might linger for a long time. Besides, after the committee submits its reports, the Presidency is expected to transform it into an executive bill that would be sent to the National Assembly with a view to giving it a legal backing. The workers say these processes take time.

Besides, their concerns are not far-fetched. Some governors have openly said they will not be able to pay a higher minimum wage. Some have called for the removal of the minimum wage from the exclusive list of legislation to enable them negotiate with their workers. And sadly, some governors are still unabe to pay the current N18, 000 minimum wage, a situation which begets the question of how will they be able to meet a higher obligation if they are unable to pay the current N18, 000.

There are also concerns in some quarters that the executive did not include provision for a new minimum wage in the 2018 budget it submitted to the National Assembly.

In response to this concern, both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and it’s Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) counterpart  have given a six-month deadline to the National Minimum Wage Committee to come up with a new  minimum wage for  workers.

The two labour centres are also asking all governors owing workers salaries to settle such arrears before the end of the first quarter of this year or face the full wrath of the workers.

NLC president, Ayuba Wabba in his New Year message, called for an accelerated passage of the national minimum wage before the end of the 3rd quarter of 2018.

He said,  “following the recent inauguration of the tripartite National Minimum Wage Negotiating Committee by President Buhari, it is the expectation of Nigerian workers that the committee under the chairmanship of Ms Ama Pepple, former Head of Service of the Federation, will expeditiously conclude its assignment. This is because a new national minimum wage has been due for over a year now.

“It is also our expectation that upon completion of negotiations, the National Assembly will give the executive bill that will emerge, an accelerated passage for the new national minimum wage to become a reality before the end of the 3rd quarter of 2018.”

However,  despite the apprehension by many state governments over the new minimum wage, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige has said that the new minimum wage, which is already in the works, would be binding on all the states of the federation and the federal capital territory when it is eventually approved.

Some states have been demanding that they be allowed to negotiate with their workers on the minimum wage to enable them come up with what could afford to pay,

But addressing reporters after flagging off the proposed skills acquisition center being constructed at Ifitedunu in Dunukofia local government area of Anambra State at the weekend, Ngige described minimum wage as a national matter and as such, only the federal government could legislate on it as provided in the Nigerian constitution, which placed the issue on the exclusive list.

According to the Minister, the tripartite committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to work out a new minimum wage for Nigerian workers had already swung into action after its inaugural meeting on December 14, 2017, adding that as the deputy chairman of the committee, he would be playing a dual role as a regulator and as a member of the Federal Executive Council.

He said: “The committee, which had brought out a framework that will guide it, will conclude its work by the third quarter of 2018 and then submit its report to enable the Federal Government Issue a white paper and subsequently transmit the content to the National Assembly.

“That is why the President is not over flogging the issue, but he is monitoring the work of the committee. One thing that is clear is that the states will abide by whatever will be the outcome of the work of the committee because they (governors) have nominees there.

“The Governors’ Forum is represented in the committee and the Federal Government component is represented by five Ministers and the Head of Service of the Federation. It will therefore be against the spirit of the constitution for the states to have their own minimum wage.”

The Minister insisted that the national minimum wage would be the baseline, adding however, that states that could afford it could pay more, but not below the national minimum wage.

He also said that whatever minimum wage that would be proposed would be backed up with productivity indices, explaining that it was for that reason that the National Employers Consultative Assembly, NECA, was represented in the committee to protect the interest of their workers.



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