Labour shifts ground on N1m minimum wage as panel meets Monday

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There are signs that organized labour is willing to modify its demands for a minimum wage of N1 million for workers nationwide in order to accommodate local realities. The Federal Government will probably be informed of the change in stance during the second meeting of the tripartite committee on the minimum wage, which takes place on Monday and Tuesday.

The purpose of the meeting is to facilitate better discussions between all parties engaged in the negotiation process so that, when the current N30,000 minimum wage expires on April 1st, the new minimum wage can be announced on or before that date.

A 37-member committee on the new minimum wage was formally established on January 30, 2024, in the Council Chamber of the State House in Abuja by President Bola Tinubu and his deputy, Kashim Shettima.

The panel, whose members include representatives from organized labor, the private sector, and the federal and state governments, is tasked with proposing a new minimum wage for the nation.

The current N30,000 minimum wage expires at the end of next month, so Shettima urged members to “speedily” arrive at a resolution and submit a report early in his opening address at the inauguration.

Shettima stated, “It is imperative that the report be submitted on time in order to guarantee the establishment of a new minimum wage.”

In addition, he stressed the importance of contract adherence, urged good faith in collective bargaining, and promoted outside committee consultations.

The National Minimum Wage Act was amended by the House of Representatives in May 2017 to require a five-year review of workers’ compensation.

The committee is authorized to deliberate and determine a wage through the Minimum Wage Act of 2019, which was signed by former President Muhammadu Buhari. The National Assembly will subsequently ratify the agreed wage following appropriate legislative scrutiny.

Additionally, Buhari approved N30,000 for federal and state employees in the same year by signing the Minimum Wage Act.

On May 29, 2023, President Bola Tinubu announced that fuel subsidies would no longer be provided. This announcement led to a significant increase in the overall cost of living.

To lessen the effects of the removal of the subsidies, the administration approved an additional N35,000 wage award for a six-month period beginning in September 2023. However, organized labor insisted that this was only a temporary fix and demanded a thorough review of the minimum wage.

The panel’s chairman, Bukar Aji, a former head of the Federation’s civil service, promised at the panel’s inauguration that its members would develop a minimum wage that is “fair, practical, implementable, and sustainable.”

The committee’s formation comes after months of protests from organized labor, which voiced dissatisfaction over the Federal Government’s inability to hold the October negotiations-originated meeting of the new national minimum wage committee.

Members of the government include Mr. Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, who was represented by Mrs. Lydia Jafiya, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry; and Minister of State for Labor and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.

The others are Dr. Yemi Esan, Head of the Federal Civil Service, Dr. Nnamdi Mbaeri, Permanent Secretary, GSO OSGF, Atiku Bagudu, Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, and Ekpo Nta, Chairman/CEO of the NSIWC and member/secretary.

Mohammed Bago of Niger State (North Central), Senator Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State (North East), Umar Dikko Radda of Katsina State (North West), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State (South East), Senator Ademola Adeleke of Osun State (South West), and Otu Bassey of Cross River State (South-South) are the representatives of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum.

Asiwaju Michael Olawale-Cole, National President; Ahmed Rabiu, National Vice-President; and Chief Humphrey Ngonadi, National Life President, represent the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture. From the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, Director-General, NECA; Mr. Chuma Nwankwo and Mr. Thompson Akpabio.

Dr. Abdulrashid Yerima, President and Chairman of Council; Theophilus Okwuchukwu, Private Sector Representative; Dr. Muhammad Nura Bello, Zonal Vice-President, North-West; and Mrs. Grace Omo-Lamai, Human Resource Director, Nigerian Breweries; Segun Ajayi-Kadir, Director-General, MAN; and Lady Ada Chukwudozie, Managing Director, Dozzy Oil and Gas Limited are the representatives of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria.

Joe Ajaero, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Emmanuel Ugboaja, Prince Adeyanju Adewale, Ambali Akeem, Benjamin Anthony, and Prof. Theophilus Ndukuba are among the organized labor representatives.

The following individuals represent the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria: Nuhu Toro, Secretary-General; Festus Osifo, President, TUC; Tommy Etim Okon, Deputy President I; Kayode Surajudeen Alakija, Deputy President II; Jimoh Oyibo, Deputy President III; and Hafusatu Shuaib, Chairperson, Women Comm.

Speaking with our correspondent about the committee’s deliberations after NLC President Joe Ajaero announced that the organization’s membership might demand N1 million as a minimum wage due to rising national inflation, NLC representative and committee member Akeem Ambali explained that one of the tenets of collective bargaining permits all parties to consider all relevant factors prior to reaching a consensus on a sum.

“As long as the parties consider all relevant factors to ensure that an amicable amount is reached, the collective bargaining principle allows compromise,” he said.

“The second meeting of the minimum wage committee has been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday,” Ambali stated in reference to the upcoming committee meeting.

“We hope that the committee, the President, and the National Assembly will expedite action to ensure that the new Minimum Wage Act would have come to replace the old one by April 1, 2024,” the statement reads. The current minimum wage expires in March.

Ambali also expressed surprise over the N500 million the committee’s president had approved.

The N1.8 billion requested for the committee’s inauguration was made public by a leaked memo. The document, dated January 18, 2024, and signed by Senator George Akume, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was sent to President Bola Tinubu.

It made clear that the committee needed a sizable sum of money to get off the ground. The document requested permission to release N1 billion, with January 26, 2024, scheduled as the date of the inauguration. The legal requirement to set a new minimum wage by April 1, 2023, was also underlined in the memo.

In response to the memo, President Tinubu authorized N500 million for the committee’s establishment, recognizing the significance of the committee’s work and emphasizing the need for effective resource management.

“On the purported allocation of funds to the committee, it is unbelievable because we were never informed or given a kobo,” Ambali said in response to the sum. We’ll soon ascertain the truth behind this.

The N1 million suggested minimum wage, according to Tommy Etim, Deputy President of the Trade Union Congress, is representative of the nation’s economic realities. Etim also confirmed that the committee will meet on Monday and Tuesday.

He said it was terrible that a Nigerian worker did not make up to N1 million a month, while members of the National Assembly received enormous salaries and expensive cars paid for by the country.

“How many months did those in the National Assembly put in that they are all taking home enormous sums and own cars valued at N250 million each?” he asked.

According to Etim, the workers’ hope was dashed when the fuel subsidy was eliminated because living expenses rose.

The deputy president of the TUC continued, “What is the current accommodation cost? What is the cost of food? Level 17 civil servants should have a legal right to a two-bedroom apartment. Renting a two-bedroom apartment in Abuja now costs roughly N3.5 million.

“Have you recently checked the price of building supplies and cement? Have you given the cost of transportation any thought? Who are you fooling, then, if you believe that workers cannot make N1 million while politicians can make up to N3.5 million a month?

“The NLC has proposed that if the government is unable to pay the N1 million minimum wage, they should publicly state what they can afford and make it commensurate with living expenses.”

“If insecurity prevents people from going to the farm, what will they eat?” Etim pointed out. It is comparable to what the Bible means by “to eat and die.” Have you looked at how much a loaf of bread costs?

“Has the revolution in Sudan in 1980 not been caused by the rise in bread prices? Nigerians must pay if they have been patient with the government.

He advised against hoarding food if you have the benefit of having it. Food hoarding is not recognized by hunger, and it can escalate into a crisis. Food hoarding is a surefire way to start a revolution.

“Instead of hoarding food, I advise those in positions of privilege to distribute it to those in need.” It will spoil if you keep storing it in your possession.

“The President is aware that there is hunger in the nation. He met with the governors for this reason: he wanted them to know that there is hunger in the nation and that they should release funds in order to pay their salaries and to enable people to access money in order to combat poverty.

“FG will confer”

In response to organized labor’s demand for a N1 million minimum wage, the Federal Government stated that it would prefer to wait for the 37-member committee’s final decision.

Idris Mohammed, the minister of information, informed one of our correspondents that the government would adopt a rational stance that would take into account the interests of the populace after giving Nigeria’s resources and other variables adequate thought.

“While the N1m demand is a proposal, the Federal Government will not impede the 37-member committee’s work, which includes labor itself. The government will act morally and in the best interests of the country as a whole, considering our resources among other things.

The minister stated he would “leave Nigerians to imagine that” when asked if the federal and state governments could continue to pay N1 million given the rate of inflation.

“Proceed with caution.”

Dr. Segun Ajayi, a developmental economist and financial specialist, advised the Federal Government to exercise caution when negotiating the TUC and NLC’s demands.

In this economy, N1 million is not much money, but the issue is that the government will probably claim they cannot afford it. It is also evident from the state of the economy today that the government is unable to provide employees with a minimum wage of N1 million. However, it is a good idea to always start large when negotiating. Thus, the workers would have something significant to rely on by the time it is destroyed and reductions are made,” he stated.

Dr. Ade Dayo, a different prominent economist, stated that “the government and the Organised Labour must be reasonable.” A recession is unaffordable for Nigeria. Additionally, the nation cannot afford another strike. This is the lowest point in the economy. It’s the worst we’ve had in over 20 years.

It is true that no worker could make ends meet with the N30,000 minimum wage. The government needs to be aware of that. Labour has to be aware of what the government can currently afford. However, I think that everything will come to an amicable resolution at the negotiating table; concessions will be made.

Additionally speaking, Dr. Ugwueze Emmanuel, a senior lecturer in the political science department at Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State, stated that the government ought to take into account the predicament of Nigerian laborers and promptly grant their requests to raise the minimum wage to “something reasonable.”

He added that some politicians with little to no qualifications “earn much higher while doing so little,” so N1 million was not too much to ask for.

“Those in government shouldn’t behave as though they’re not citizens of the nation. In this economy, how can an employee make N30,000 a month in pay? What is the cost of bread? How much is rice or garri? He continued, “The government must also learn to view things through the eyes of the people.

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