By Eric Elezuo
The statusquo of the much talked about minimum wage has remained blurry ever since the matter was reintroduced into national discourse in 2016. It has aroused untold suspicion, threat and attendant loggerhead between the state governors on one hand and the organised labour on the other hand.
As at date, both the organised labour and the governors, under the auspices of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum (NGF) are yet to reach a common ground as regards the basic minimum wage for its workers. While the labour union comprising the Nigeria Labour Organisation (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) are proposing a minimum wage of N30, 000 after coming down from the initial proposal of N56, 000, the state governors are offering N22, 500, saying emphatically that there is no way they can pay the amount being proposed by labour without collapsing.
With no one force coming to terms with the other, tempers running high, threats being exchanged, there seems to be a transparent danger of total collapse of government machinery in the nearest future.
Totally committed to receiving the N30, 000, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) dismissed the threat by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) that states may have to sack workers if forced to pay N30,000 as minimum wage.
The union said the threat is not new and that workers are standing firm on the figure agreed by the tripartite negotiation team as the new national minimum wage.
The Governor of Zamfara, Abdul’aziz Yari, who is also the chairman of the NGF, had warned after a NGF meeting that N30, 000 minimum wage was impracticable, adding that should the states be made to pay, many workers will definitely lose their jobs.
He gave two options that can guarantee the proposed figure including labour sacrificing some of its members in a downsizing exercise across the country or review of the national revenue allocation formula.
In his lamentation, Yari, who acknowledged that only Lagos State can pay N30,000 as minimum wage, told workers to be considerate.
“As Nigerians, this is our country, there is no other country we have and we should be fair to this country,” the governor said.
But in their reaction, the NLC through its president, Ayuba Wabba, advised state governors to sacrifice their “huge salaries and allowances” to pay the proposed new minimum wage.
“We propose that since a few political office holders are bent on enslaving Nigerian workers with peanuts mislabeled as salaries, we urge such elected public officials to subject their humongous salaries and allowances, reputed to be among the highest in the world, pro rata with the minimum wage they want to force down the throats of Nigerian workers.
“We, therefore, urge each state governor to go to their respective states and inform workers and their families their individual position on the new national minimum wage of N30, 000,” Mr Wabba said.
Wabba said the bargaining process for a new minimum wage under the 1999 Constitution only recognises individual states and not the NGF, which is not recognised by the constitution, noting that the states had already defended their positions during negotiations at the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Negotiation Committee.
“The 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) recognises individual states in the Collective Bargaining Process NOT Nigeria Governors Forum. The states, like the other social partners, have already defended their positions during negotiations at the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Negotiation Committee vis-à-vis counter proposals,” he stated.
While brandishing the weapon of strike to force the governments in various states to pay, the congress urged members to make use of the greater weapon, which is their votes, to flush out any government that is anti-workers.
”We shall continue to consolidate our efforts to strengthen already existing platforms and structures to give teeth to our resolve to vote out anti-labour governors and politicians in the forthcoming 2019 general election.
“The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Organised Labour urge workers to remain steadfast and firm on our rights to decent wages and improved living conditions. To the oppressors, we have only one answer for you, we will never sleep on our rights!” he said.
Labour is standing on the fact that the N30, 000 New National Minimum Wage was a product of intense and robust negotiations at the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Negotiation Committee that lasted for one year between November 2017 and November 2018.
At the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Negotiation Committee, State governments were represented by six states, one state from each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. A letter was sent by the Tripartite Committee to every state to send in their memorandum as their input to the national minimum wage negotiations. It is on record that 21 States responded by sending memoranda with figures.
Subsequently, public hearings were conducted in each of the geo-political zones in the country.
While President Muhammadu Buhari, on whose table the agreement has arrived, still maintains silence on the issue, states like Rivers, have stated that it will pay whatever that was finally agreed upon.
It is still not known how most states that depend largely on allocation from Abuja will cope. Nigerians have therefore called on state governments to think out of the box and come out with better ways of enhancing their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) so as to stop excessive dependence on the federal government allocation.
The states’ governors’ hesitation in enhancing the wages of its workforce has called to question the various proposals by the states to run states’ police. The people are wondering how they intend to equip, train and maintain their own police force should such agitation see the light of the day if they find it difficult to pay N30, 000 minimum wage.
The way it is today, labour stands on no retreat, no surrender while the governors are maintaining they cannot pay the amount. Consequently, the stage is set for the mother of all confrontations; the mother of all strikes. Who knows, there just might be a reactivation of 1945.