By Michael Oche, Geneva
There are indications that the federal government and organised Labour may be heading for a showdown over the time limit for the actualization of a new national minimum wage.
Nigerian workers who are anxiously expecting the quick implementation of the new minimum wage may have to wait for a longer time as the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, disclosed in Geneva, Switzerland that there is no time limit to when the process leading to the new wage would be concluded.
But the Organised Labour warned that “there is a limit to patience and understandin”, saying there must be a time limit for the actualization of a new national minimum wage.
The Organised Labour, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), had in May 2016 presented a new minimum wage of N56,000 citing increase in inflation and high cost of living as reasons behind their new demand.
But Ngige who was addressing journalists at the on-going 106th session of the International Labour Congress (ILC), holding in Geneva, stated that though the processes have begun and the minimum wage committee will be put in place in a fortnight, he cannot put a time limit to when negotiation will be concluded.
The federal government had last month approved the constitution of a 29-man National Minimum Wage Committee to kick start the process of deliberations for a new wage for Nigerian workers.
The minister said he cannot put a time limit because the issue of minimum wage as it involves a rigorous process of negotiations also involves the employers, workers and the government who have all agreed that there is the need to review minimum wage in Nigeria.
Justifying his position, he pointed out that while the workers, represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have proposed N56,000, the employers represented by Nigeria Employers Consultative Council (NECA), have rejected the proposal and declared that they cannot pay N56,000 for now.
He, however, stated that actual discussion would only start when the committee is put in place in the next fortnight and that all the comments being made on the issue of minimum wage were informal
When the minister was asked if there is time limit as to when will the workers start enjoying the new minimum wage, he said, “We cannot put a time limit; it is a negotiation that is on-going but we are sure that all of us have seen the need that there must be a review.
But in a swift reaction, NLC president, Ayuba Wabba said workers are running out of patience, warning that they cannot wait forever.
He said, “For us organised labour, certainly, it (minimum wage) is an issue that we think that is long overdue and we have gotten commitment from all level, including from the National Assembly that they are ready to make sure that this issue is addressed once and for all.
“It is an issue that that you need to bring the governors, employers, government and Organised Labour. And you know businesses are for profits and anything that will take a dime out of their profits, they are ready to do everything possible to delay it. We are mindful of that.
“It’s not the first time we are treading this path. You remember in 2010, it was also the same process. There was also this insinuations, but I think when the die is cast, all of us will then know that certainly the workers have been pushed to the wall. there is a limit to patience and understanding.
He revealed that Leader of the House of Representatives , Hon. Femi Gbajamila, had proposed a bill to the effect that the issue of the review of minimum wage should even be a provision of the law.
“Because you are aware that in 2011, what we had was a tripartite agreement that after five years, the minimum wage will be reviewed. But they have even gone one step further by saying that it should not only end up in the tripartite agreement. It should be a product of law.
“And I think that all of them in the National Assembly, wo we have interfaced with, are ready to do the needful, including if there is supplementary budget today, that they are ready to give it accelerated hearing. And therefore, those fears are real but we are working assiduously from our perspective to ensure that those issues are addressed”.