The lingering contention over a new minimum wage took a deeper dimension yesterday as the federal government accused the organised labour of blackmail following a two-week ultimatum given by the latter for the conclusion of negotiation on the matter.
Minister of Labour and employment, Chris Ngige, told journalists yesterday in Abuja that the ultimatum issued by the Labour leaders was unnecessary, saying it was done to blackmail and intimidate government to pass a new minimum wage that it may end up reneging on.
The minister also said that he and the chairman of the negotiation committee, Ms Amma Pepple, a former Head of Service of the Federation, would brief President Muhammadu Buhari on the progress so far made by the committee today.
Ngige described the ultimatum by Labour as a subtle threat and an attempt to overheat the polity, noting that the Buhari government was a worker friendly government.
He blamed certain factors such as inability of governors to provide their figures to be debated by the committee negotiating the new minimum wage as one of the reasons for the delay, just as he assured that government was still within the timeframe it promised to deliver on a new minimum wage and was not stalling the process as alleged by labour.
“We have worked assiduously as a committee and we are still within the timeframe that we have given ourselves. The only aspect of the negotiation is on the figure. Other aspects of the committee work have been concluded, such as frequency of review of the national minimum wage, enforcement and penalties. We are left with the minimum wage itself. We are yet to fix that because of several factors.”
He noted that while it was easy for Labour to present it figure, government was taking its time, because it could not accept a figure only to later renege on it
According to Ngige, the organised private sector had initially proposed a figure of N42,000 but later brought it down to N25,000, taking into account the current economic situation, ability to pay and ability to enhance and create new jobs
“We don’t want people to renege on the agreement when we finally come up with something. That is why the president insisted that the governors must be part of the process. They had complained that they were not part of the last process.
“Part of the problem we have now is that states that are unable to pay salaries today have claimed that the last minimum wage negotiation did not include them. Therefore, the federal government felt we should carry them along, to have their inputs.
“It is not true, as I read on the pages of newspapers, allegations by NLC, TUC an ULC that the federal government is trying to stall negotiations. It is not true. As a matter of fact, before the meeting adjourned last week, I told the meeting that the members of the economic management team are all in China with Mr President,” the Labour minister said.
He noted that the federal government, contrary to claims by labour, had given a timeframe of two weeks to be able to consult.
He said, “It is very surprising to me that labour is giving ultimatum of two weeks. Tomorrow (today), the chairman of the committee and my humble self will brief Mr President on the negotiations. Yesterday, I had briefed the governors through the chairman of the governor’s negotiating team. So we are still within the ambit of what I promised the committee
“I don’t think there is any cause to worry. Government is not oblivious of the fact that there is need to fix a new national minimum wage.
“We have written to the state governments. The governors’ forum told us they have to do more work on what their committee has sent to me and asked that they be given more time.
“Labour is trying to heat up the polity unnecessarily. If anything, this government is a labour friendly government,” he added.
Meanwhile, the president of the Nigeria labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba yesterday insisted that labour stood by its two-week ultimatum issued on Wednesday.
Wabba told journalist at the NLC headquarters in Abuja that should government fail to ensure that negotiation for the minimum wage was concluded within two weeks, labour will be forced to embark on an industrial action.
LEADERSHIP Friday recalls that organised labour had in May 2016 demanded a pay rise on the current N18,000 national minimum wage to N56, 000
After over a year of stalling, President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2017 inaugurated the National Minimum Wage Committee with a mandate of arriving at a new national minimum.
Similarly, the federal government had assured workers during the 40th anniversary celebration of the NLC earlier in February that workers should expect a new national minimum wage by September.
However, following what the labour described as an attempt by government to stall the process after the minister of labour adjourned the negotiation indefinitely, organised labour comprising Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union of Congress and United Labour Congress (ULC) on Wednesday issued a two-week ultimatum to the government conclude negotiations on the issue.
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