Barely three days to the deadline given by the Nigeria Labour Congress to states to conclude negotiations on the implementation of the N30,000 new National Minimum Wage, some state governors have started a last-minute rush to meet the cut-off date of the labour union.
The NLC had in a communiqué issued at the end of its meeting with the state council chairmen on December 12 said it would not be able to guarantee industrial peace and harmony in states that failed to conclude negotiations and began payment of the new minimum wage by December 31, 2019.
In the communiqué, which was jointly signed by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba; General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja; and the National Chairperson of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (Trade Union side), the NLC said states that had yet to commence negotiation might experience “industrial disharmony from January if the governors refuse to do the needful.”
As of the said date, the NLC noted that while states like Kaduna, Lagos, Kebbi and Adamawa had begun payment, some others like Kano, Bayelsa, Abia and about nine others had constituted negotiating committees. Others like Rivers, Ogun, Delta, Plateau, Gombe and about 14 others had yet to set up a negotiating committees.
The new minimum wage Act was signed into law on April 18, 2019, by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
Meanwhile, as the deadline draws closer and in a bid to avoid industrial disharmony as threatened by organised labour, Saturday PUNCH investigations on Friday revealed that seven states, including Ogun, Delta, Kwara, Katsina, Borno, Edo, Osun and Ekiti were making last-minute efforts to conclude negotiations with their respective labour unions.
However, while Cross River, Taraba, and Ondo states have set up committees to negotiate with the unions before the deadline, Oyo, Gombe and Imo states have not shown commitment to meet up with the deadline.
Also, Benue, Enugu, Bayelsa and Ebonyi states have ruled out the possibility of meeting up with the deadline.
States in the last-minute rush
In Kwara State, Mr Rafiu Ajakaye, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, said the governor had shown commitment to meeting the deadline by constituting the minimum wage 15-member committee earlier to work out the modalities for the implementation of the new minimum wage.
Also, a member of the implementation committee and state Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, Mr Kolawole Olumoh, on Friday, said, “We have commenced negotiations with the state government and Insha Allah, we are going to meet the deadline. Though some states, including Kwara, have paid the December salaries of their workers, since we have commenced negotiations in our case, I’m sure we are going to meet the deadline.”
In Delta State, the Commissioner for Finance, Mr Fidelis Tilije, promised that the committee would conclude seating on the matter by Tuesday (December 31).
He said, “We have been meeting and already negotiating with labour. I’m so sure by Monday or Tuesday, we must have resolved completely, cross all the ‘t’s and dot all the’ i’s and should be able to come up with the final agreed minimum wage pay for Delta State.”
Also, the state Secretary of NLC, Mr Innocent Ofoeyeadi, said, “We are engaged in dialogue with the committee of the state government and they would have to pay the new minimum wage this December. But because of the issues of figures in the proposal, it will not reflect until we resolve them.”
In Edo State, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, said the state government had already set up a committee on the implementation of the salary scale.
Meanwhile, the NLC chairman in the state, Mr Sunny Osayande, said there was no cause for alarm, adding that they were praying for the governor to be able to implement the new scale in December.
He added, “The governor is working seriously I must confess to you even though he is not talking. By the grace of God, Edo will meet the December 31 deadline with the work ongoing right now in the state. We have met him already and he has assured us.
“He said they should work out how much is involved and we discovered that what we are going to add to it is going to be very minimal, so there is no cause for alarm,” he said.
In Katsina State, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour and Productivity, Mallam Tanimu Saulawa, said the state was optimistic about the fruitful outcome of its current negotiation with the state chapter of the NLC before the December 31 deadline.
Saulawa said, “The deadline has not come. We are still discussing with the workers. We do not envisage any problem over the minimum wage issue. Do not forget that His Excellency is workers’ friendly and he does not joke with issues concerning workers.
“We have a committee that is discussing with the workers and anything can happen between now and the end of December. But I am sure that by the grace of God, everything will be positive.”
The state chairman of the NLC, Mr Hussaini Hamisu, also said he was hopeful of a fruitful outcome on the current negotiation between labour and the government.
“We are going to conclude the negotiations before the deadline. We hope that the whole thing will be fruitful,” he added.
Also, the Ogun State NLC Chairman, Emmanuel Bankole, said negotiation was ongoing with the state government, adding that the state would meet up with the deadline.
When asked if labour would extend the December 31 deadline for negotiation to be concluded due to the delay in constituting the committee, Bankole said it might not be necessary.
“Negotiation is in progress; we just left the committee now, it is ongoing and we are hopeful that we can still conclude it by December 31,” he added.
In Borno State, the chairman of NLC, Mr Bulama Abiso, also expressed hope that negotiations would be concluded before the deadline.
“We are negotiating and very much hopeful of the fruitful outcome. Therefore, the issue of starting an industrial action does not arise for now,” he added.
In Osun State, the Chairman of the Joint Negotiation Council, Bayo Adejumo, said the December 31 deadline could still be met.
He added, “Osun State government has shown willingness. They recently requested for names of labour negotiating team and we have submitted that. I believe they are also putting together their team. Before the end of the month, negotiation will commence and I believe the negotiation will not take a long time.”
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola, Ismail Omipidan, could not be reached and the text messages sent to him were not responded to as of press time.
Benue, Enugu, Imo, others say implementation not feasible
While some are making efforts to meet the deadline, which is about three days away, states like Benue, Enugu and Bayelsa have said the Tuesday deadline is not feasible.
For instance, the Chairman of Benue State Joint Negotiating Council (1, 2 and 3), Mr Ojoma Ojutu, told Saturday PUNCH that there was no way the state government and labour could complete the process of negotiations within one week.
He added, “The December 31 to complete the negotiation with the state government is not feasible. The joint negotiation committee was inaugurated on December 19 and today (Friday) is already December 27.”
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Samuel Ortom, Terver Akase, said his boss had a cordial relationship with labour given the transparent government he runs.
Also in Enugu, the state chairman of Joint Public Service Negotiating Council, Mr Chukwuma Igbokwe, said the December 31 deadline was just a template but that they would conclude negotiation before January 31, 2020.
“The December 31 is labour’s template, but we will conclude negotiation before January 31, 2020,” he told Saturday PUNCH.
The Commissioner for Information, Chidi Aroh, neither answered his calls nor responded to a text message sent to his mobile phone.
In Taraba, the state Chairman of NLC, Mr Peter Gambo, said the organised labour was worried over the delay by the state government in setting up the negotiation team.
But, the Special Assistant to Governor Darius Ishaku on Media and Publicity, Mr Bala Dan-Abu, said the government was not opposed to the negotiation. He said the committee would soon be constituted.
In Imo State, the Secretary to the State Government, Uche Onyeagocha, said the governor would inaugurate the joint negotiation committee before the December 31 deadline.
The NLC Chairman, Austin Chilakpu, however, said Governor Emeka Ihedioha had not shown any sign that he would implement the new minimum wage. He told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that the organised labour was waiting for the state government to inaugurate the new minimum wage joint negotiation committee.
In Ondo State, chairman of NLC, Mr Sunday Adeleye, said a meeting had been scheduled for Monday, adding that if the meeting was deadlocked again, the unions would make their next line of action known.
The Head of Service, Mr Dare Aragbaiye, who is the leader of the government team, could not be reached on Friday.
In Cross River State, the Vice-Chairman of NLC, Mr Lawrence Achuta, said, “We have not held any meeting on that. Hopefully, before the end of the year, we may likely have a state executive council meeting after which we will decide. So, we are just hoping that perhaps before that December 31 something positive will come up.”
The Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr Christian Ita, however, said, “I’m not sure there is an issue to it because if there was an issue to it, you will see labour agitating.”
In Bayelsa State, the NLC chairman, Mr John Ndiomu, said the organised labour would take it up with the government if at the end of January 2020 the new scale was not implemented. “By January 2020, if they (the state government) don’t pay, we will make small trouble with them,” Ndiomu added.
In Ebonyi State, the NLC chairman, Mr Nwafor, said the state government’s claim that it had negotiated the minimum wage with workers was a lie.
“Of course, we are not aware of the negotiations and don’t know the people that it (government) signed the agreement with,” he said. “So, if after looking at what they had done and it’s right, we will adopt it; but if it’s wrong, we will join others and embark on the imminent strike.”
Meanwhile, in Oyo State, the NLC Chairman, Mr Bayo Titilola-Sodo, said he would not speculate on whether Oyo State workers would embark on strike or not by December 31 if the state government did not start the implementation. He, however, said the union would liaise with the national body when the right was right.
When contacted, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, Mr Taiwo Adisa, said, “The governor had made it clear that we are going to get the matter resolved and the labour has keyed into that because of the sincerity of purpose and transparency they have found in this government.”
In Gombe State, the Secretary of NLC, Shuaibu Chiroma, said negotiations would commence on December 30 (Monday), adding that final decisions would be taken on Tuesday.
But the Special Adviser to the Gombe State Governor on Public Communications and Strategy, Dr Anas Kubalu, said, “The government has inserted the minimum wage and consequential adjustment to the issue of salary in the 2020 budget.”
The Federal Government reached an agreement with labour unions on the consequential increase in workers’ salaries as a result of the new minimum wage on October 18, 2019, after protracted negotiation, with governments at the state level expected to open negotiation with labour representatives.
The December 12 communiqué had said that from the report reaching the national leadership of labour, Jigawa had concluded negotiations but yet to make its first payment to workers.
Meanwhile, the state government said two days ago that it had commenced payment of the N30,000 new minimum wage.
The communiqué had noted that Borno, Abia, Kano, Bayelsa, Sokoto, Niger, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi, Katsina and Zamfara states had constituted a negotiating committee on the consequential adjustment in salaries, while Bauchi, Yobe, Rivers, Benue, Gombe, Kwara, Imo, Osun, Ekiti, Oyo, Anambra, Taraba, Cross River, Ogun, Enugu, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kogi and Delta states had yet to put in place a negotiating committee.
Labour to review outcome in January
Although some state governments had begun negotiation with labour after the meeting, the national leadership of the organised labour insisted that it would react in its usual fashion in states that did not complete negotiation by December 31, 2019.
In an interview with our correspondent, President of the Trade Union Congress, Quadri Olaleye, said that the union had fixed a date for the review of minimum wage negotiation in all states, saying that a decision would also be taken against defaulting states at the meeting.
He said the union would meet in the first week of January on the matter, noting that letters had been sent to all state councils to that effect.
In a copy of the letter obtained by one of our correspondents, TUC said the two-day meeting would hold at Airport Hotel, Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos.
On Friday, efforts by one of our correspondents to talk to the Secretary-General of the NLC, Emmanuel Ugboaja, were not successful. He did not respond to his phone calls neither did he reply to a text message sent to his mobile line.
However, he had reiterated in an interview earlier in the week that labour would not extend the ultimatum issued to states over the minimum wage implementation.