There is palpable apprehension among workers over the inclusion or otherwise of the N30,000 new minimum wage in the 2019 budget proposal to be presented to the National Assembly on Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari.
LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that the tripartite committee negotiating the new minimum wage had recommended N30,000 as the new minimum wage and presented same to the president.
However, there has been a sharp disagreement between Organised Labour and state governors after the latter, under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), said they cannot afford to pay the proposed new wage to their workers.
LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that President Muhammadu Buhari had also on Friday expressed concern at the poor state of the economy, telling governors to tighten their belts in preparation of harder times ahead.
Consequently, with the budget presentation coming next week, there are feelers that the state governors are anxious because if the president includes the new minimum wage in the budget, it will imply that he has given his blessing to the payment of N30,000 as minimum wage.
But although the president is yet to send an executive Bill on the new minimum wage to the National Assembly, the Labour unions have insisted that the new salary scheme should be included in the budget for 2019.
Besides, Labour has warned that any reduction in the N30,000 national minimum wage agreed to by the Tripartite Committee as contained in the committee’s report to the president or any further delay in its passage will lead to devastating consequences.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday in a telephone conversation in Lagos, the president of United Labour Congress (ULC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, said that naturally, the union expects that the formulators of the budget would be sensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people, especially Nigerian workers.
“We expect the budget to be crafted bearing in mind the fact that Nigerian workers working within the tripartite process have agreed on N30,000 as a new minimum wage but which is awaiting submission to the NASS for passage into Law.
“We therefore expect this budget to capture the increased expense that must accrue as a result.”
According to Ajaero, the formulators of the 2019 budget must understand the urgent need to reflate the economy by increasing the purchasing power of the masses, especially the workers.
“This is critical if the increasing inventories in the various warehouses of manufacturers and other businesses can be reduced so as to stimulate economic growth and thus create more employment in the economy,” he said.
The ULC president explained that the most critical way to do this is to capture in this budget transfers to workers in the form of a reviewed minimum wage as agreed by the Tripartite Committee.
“We expect this budget to be proactive in this direction if it is serious about achieving its objective of growing the economy.
“However, because of the unfortunate dynamics of our nation, we have come to trust less on the nation’s annual budget considering the years of disappointment and variance in its implementation process. 2019 budget will not be any different when we also remember that the general elections are before us. Will politics allow the processes operate smoothly and would it be passed even before May 29?” he asked.
Ajaero noted that the contents of the 2019 budget as it concerns wage bills will show clearly the government’s position as it concerns the new national minimum wage.
“It will also signal to Nigerian workers the direction they will vote in the next coming elections. We cannot vote for a government that does not have our interests at heart and is not prepared to drive us out of poverty and peripheral existence,” he said.
Ajaero further stated that the union was also watching the budget proposals across the states and warned that any government that does not capture the new minimum will be an enemy of Nigerian workers and would be voted out by Nigerian workers and their families during the forthcoming election no matter the party they may belong.
“Nigerian workers are already discussing across the various divides on the modalities for engaging our adversaries in the corridors of power. We shall actively work for the actualisation of better and increased income, both nominal and real, for Nigerian workers and any government at any level that stands against this will not be viewed with kindness by Nigerian workers. 2019 budget is a test case,” he added.
Concurring with Ajaero, the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, told LEADERSHIP Sunday in an interview that Nigerian workers expect the federal government to give priority to minimum wage as it prepares the 2019 budget.
He said, “Nigerian workers should not suffer the consequences of what they are not responsible for. You will recall when the economy is doing well, nobody cares about the workers. When the economy is not doing well, workers are at the receiving end. In most cases they are not paid. Our expectation is that since there is commitment, the minimum wage should be given priority.
On the possibility that the governors will reject the new wage, he said, “Our expectation is that they know the reality; they must agree to pay the minimum wage. It’s not about resources; it is about the will to pay. In the midst of recession, Edo State governor increased the minimum wage from N18, 000 to N25,000.”
NASS Workers’ Strike threatens budget presentation
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari’s plan to present the 2019 budget proposal to the Joint Session of the National Assembly on Wednesday may witness some hiccups.
This is because of a four-day warning strike to be embarked upon by the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN).
In a letter of notification sent to the leadership of the National Assembly on Friday, the association stated that all its members would stay at home for four days beginning from Monday.
The association’s chairman, Musa Bature Muhammed, who signed the letter, said: “Sequel to our earlier notice of strike action as contained in the Communique dated 29th November 2018, the Congress of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), National Assembly Chapter, unanimously resolved at its emergency Congress held on 14th December, 2018 to embark on a four-day warning strike commencing from Monday, 17th to 20th December, 2018.
‘’By this notice, be kindly Informed that the entire members of PASAN shall stay off their respective duties on the above mentioned dates”
LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that in a letter to the National Assembly leadership, President Buhari had last Thursday hinted that he would be at the National Assembly on Wednesday to present the 2019 budget proposal before the two houses of the National Assembly.
Buhari in the letter stated: “May I crave the kind indulgence of the House of Representatives to grant me the slot of 11 hours on Wednesday, 19th December, 2018 to formally present the 2019 appropriation bill in a joint session and lay before the NASS the 2019 budget proposal.”
But a senator who does not want his name mentioned said that the PASAN strike cannot stall the presentation of the 2019 budget, as the workers are not in charge of keys to the two chambers of the National Assembly.
‘’Besides, the Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan, had told them a fortnight ago, when they attempted to prevent federal lawmakers from accessing their chambers, that they (PASAN) have no right whatsoever to do so and must guard against such action.
‘’Any worker of the National Assembly that attempts to hinder the lawmakers from going into the chambers to receive Mr President with his budget estimate risks arrest and prosecution because such action is illegal and unlawful.
‘’We passed a motion just last week to enable them to be paid the allowances and increment that is the hallmark of their quarrel with the National Assembly management, so they have to be patient for that to mature’’, the source stated.
However, if the workers’ strike frustrate President Buhari from presenting the 2019 budget on Wednesday this week, it may not be until January 2019 before he would be able to present it.
Curiously, Senate President Bukola Saraki would be marking his 56th birthday on Wednesday that President Buhari would lay the budget estimate before a joint session of the National Assembly.
Saraki has always marked his birthday in Ilorin, his home town, but a source close to his office said that he would fly to Ilorin that day after presentation of the budget.
Ndume urges colleagues not to boycott 2019 Budget presentation
Sen. Ali Ndume, APC, Borno South, has pleaded with his colleagues in the Senate and House of Representatives not to boycott the 2019 Budget presentation by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ndume said yesterday in Abuja that if the comment credited to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr Udoma Udoma, on the budget was true, it was unnecessary.
Some members of the House of Representatives had on Thursday threatened to boycott the budget presentation over reports that the minister blamed the National Assembly for delaying the process.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 6, in an executive communique, announced that he would present the 2019 Budget to the National Assembly on December 12.
However, as at December 13 when the Senate adjourned plenary for the week, no letter to that effect was read at plenary, creating uncertainty around the presentation before the National Assembly adjourns for the year.
Ndume, who is the chairman, Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service, urged his colleagues to reconsider their position in the interest of the nation.
“I understand the reactions of the honourable members; it is as a result of the unnecessary comment credited to the Minister of Budget as to who is responsible for the delay.
“My take on this is that two wrongs do not make a right and I want to appeal to my colleagues in the House of Representatives to have a rethink because the President is not responsible for what the minister was alleged to have said.
“I feel national interest should be placed above any individual or group interest. As for the Senate, the letter from Mr President as to when to present the budget has not been read,” he said.
The lawmaker pointed out that to quicken passage, it was imperative for the budget to reach the parliament before the Christmas break.
He said: “I feel the best thing to do is for the president to present the budget, especially before we go on Christmas break so that copies of the budget will be circulated to members to enable them start work on it.
“On resumption immediately after Christmas, we will start working on considering the budget for passage. So, I feel the reasonable thing to do is to receive Mr President in a joint session because it is very key to our national interest.”
On alleged plans by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to create illegal polling units in Niger and Chad in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari, Ndume said the commission was being guided by law.
He expressed concern that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was crying wolf on the matter where there was none.
“I am aware of voting in various places, but I do not know if PDP wants to be INEC. The law is there and all actions of INEC will be guided by law.
“I was one of the senators in the 7th Assembly that moved for amendment of the Electoral Act to accommodate Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
“This was to ensure that they are not disenfranchised and I think that is what INEC is saying about the allegation by PDP.
“So, if PDP has any issue with that, I think they should look at the law first because INEC is responsible for conducting the election not PDP.”
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