New minimum wage implementation delay: Labour gears up for fresh battle

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When on April 18, this year, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Minimum Wage Act, it was believed that every issues pertaining to new wage has been resolved.

Workers in public and private sectors of the economy heaved a sigh of relief in the hope that better days have arrived with expected increase in their take home pay, which would equally translate to better standard of living.

The then Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige jumped up for joy as he praised the administration of President Buhari as the best thing to have happened to the Nigerian workers.

He gave assurance that at any point in time the government is ready to pay the new minimum wage, the workers would get the arrears from the day the bill was signed into law.

He had led the government delegation to the negotiation table of the tripartite team of Organised Labour and the Organised Private Sector, which eventually arrived at N30,000 as minimum wage for the lowest paid worker in the country.

But three months after the law was birthed, workers are beginning to be weary of the commitments of the government to implementing the new wage.

The reasons for the delay in the implementation of the new minimum wage by the government, which was not communicated to the workers and union leaders, is already threatening the smooth relationship between the government and the labour movement.

It was after President Buhari signed the minimum wage bill into law that a technical committee was raised to workout the modalities for payment.

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Facts on ground showed that the percentage of increase from the N18,000 old minimum wage to the new wage of N30,000 was 66.66 per cent.

Workers are expecting that salaries for officers on Grade Levels 01-17 should be adjusted accordingly to maintain the relativity that exists in the salary structure in the public service.

But from the government point of view, such increment would be unwise as it would jack up the total wage bill to an amount, which the 2019 Budget was not envisaged.

Reasoning along the government stand, labour had to review its demand by accepting a downward review and eventually settled for 30 per cent for officers on Grade Levels 07-14 and 25 per cent for those on Grade Levels 15-17.

Sunday Sun reliably gathered: “This ratio was still reduced to 9.5 per cent salary raise for employees on Grade Levels 07-14 and five per cent for those on Grade Levels 15-17, but the technical committee returned to the argument that the 2019 budget can not sustain it.”

The implication of the government position now on the minimum wage is that workers would be paid peanuts at the end of the day.

This was why the organised labour has alerted Nigerians of new plan to embark on industrial action if the current state of affairs on the issue of consequential adjustment arising from the new national minimum wage of N30,000 per month remains the same.

“As things are right now, the government side is only prepared to pay peanuts to workers as adjustment under the pretext that it will soon be undertaking general salary review in the Public Service,” the Secretary General of the Senior Staff Association of Civil Servants, FCT Chapter, Comrade Femi Olorunfemi, said.

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He claimed it was obvious that the government is playing on the intelligence of the Nigerian workers by foot-dragging on the commencement of the payment of the new wage.

“Our people are fed up, we are running out of patience, this is not what we expected from this government, having employed all manners of delay at the negotiation table, now they have embarked on the same tactics.

“Government is dancing on our head, and very soon they would hear from us, you can’t fool us twice. The template they are talking about is not an issue because it has been there even before the advent of this administration.

“So, they should stop deceiving us because this salary structure thing is not caste in stone, the template can be worked out within one week after the president has signed the law, but look at what we have now, almost three months after, it shows the level of seriousness and commitments on the part of government,” he said.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba had foretold the readiness of the organised labour to return to the trenches for government to implement the new minimum wage.

He warned during the last congress of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) that whoever does not want to pay the new minimum wage should be ready for war, particularly the state governors.

His warning drew applause from the workers, signalling that the peaceful industrial relations may be heading for the rocks.

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“We are going to fight them tooth and nail. It is already a law and they have sworn to uphold the sanctity of our laws. We have enough in this country, especially when there is prudence,” Comrade Wabba said.

On the delay in the commencement of payment, he said during a telephone interview that Labour is waiting for what the technical committee would bring to the table.

“We are waiting for them, we are ready and our people’s patience is running out, but we are waiting, we expect to hear from them in few days and we shall respond appropriately,” he said.

President Buhari had used the occasion of the TUC congress to reassure the workers of the readiness of government to pay the new minimum wage.

In his goodwill message read on his behalf by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Buhari insisted that the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage was ongoing and tasked the state governors and the private sector to pay their workers a decent living wage.

Sources at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment disclosed that the technical committee headed by the SGF would soon come out with its final recommendations.

“We are hopeful and with assurance and understanding that all issues concerning the new minimum wage will be settled for once and payment will start,” the source said.

Only time will tell when the rigmarole over the minimum wage would be resolved.

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