Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nigerian Labour Congress Set for Showdown With State Governments Over Minimum Wage

Labour Set For Showdown With Govs Over Minimum Wage

Saturday, 18 June 2011 00:00
By Samson Ezea (Lagos) and Nkechi Onyedika (Abuja)

A CONFRONTATION is looming between workers and state governors over the latter’s position on the new national minimum wage of N18, 000 which was recently signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) Mr Chibuike Amaechi recently said that most states could not pay the minimum wage unless the revenue allocation formula was reviewed.

But reacting to this yesterday, President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Abdul waheed Omar told The Guardian that implementation of the new wage was inevitable.

Omar said it was unfortunate that the state governors who were part of the tripartite committee set up by Federal Government on the new national minimum wage and headed by retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, how now turned around to speak from both sides of their mouths now.

“I am always baffled each time I hear somebody saying that the governors cannot pay the N18, 000.00. At the moment, it is not subject to negotiations, it is a law and anybody who resides in Nigeria must obey the laws of the land. If you look at what is happening, it is as if the governors are trying to introduce a new dimension into it.

“It is like they are saying that the only way they can pay this minimum wage is if the revenue allocation formula is reviewed. Well, we wish them luck; we are not opposed to anything that would bring about development, especially something that would go down to the grassroots. But what we will not allow is for anybody to use the issue of review of revenue allocation formula as condition for the payment of the new minimum wage that has been negotiated, agreed and signed into law,” Omar warned.

In the same vein, the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele yesterday threatened that they would do everything, including withdrawing the services of workers, to compel the governors to pay the minimum wage.

“All organs of the state were duly involved, including employers and the informal sector. We have made sacrifices to climb down from N52,500 to N18,000 . We will do everything within our legal right to enforce this agreement; including withdrawing the services of our members across the country,” Esele said.

He challenged the governors to tell Nigerians what they do with the large chunk of state funds they get every month as security votes, even when the security agents are being catered for by the Federal Government in the yearly budget.

He said: “Let me give you an example – security votes in the states. What do governors use them for? If the Federal Government is in charge of the police, army and other security agencies and budgets huge sums annually for them, why are the state governors taking security votes again?

“Nigeria is the only country in the world where security votes are not accounted for; how can one not account for public money? Public funds must be spent publicly and judiciously.”

On whether the state governors were adequately consulted before arriving at the minimum wage, Omar said: “The issue of consultation is even a matter of procedure. The law is very clear and it provides that the Federal Government shall provide a national minimum wage and therefore, that would be the minimum that every employer would build upon.

“Going by the provisions of the constitution, the Federal Government has the liberty to unilaterally fix a national minimum wage. Of course, the Federal Government will use certain indices, but in this particular case, the Federal Government has gone the extra mile, not only in consultation, but to bring in major stakeholders to partake in the negotiation of the national minimum wage.

“I want people to note that of all the stakeholders that were drawn to negotiate the minimum wage, it is only the state governors that did not appear in person. All the ministers and the leadership of other groups appeared in person.

He continued: “On the side of labour, I, as the President of NLC, Comrade Peter Esele of TUC and other senior colleagues of ours appeared in person, but the governors felt it was just a child’s play and they decided to send some people to represent them. But whatever the case, what I want to point out is that the governors as major stakeholders were adequately carried along.

“Also, if we are to go by the submission of some of the state governors, I don’t know whether they would hang them. I remember that one of the state governors recommended that the minimum wage should be N45, 000. Only a few of them said, N11, 000, N13,000 and so on.”

He said the new national minimum wage became law the very day President Jonathan signed it into law, but because of some logistic challenges, they decided that the starting point would be the beginning of May.

“Therefore, all employers already owe workers arrears of the new minimum wage. We want to come out with a deadline within which any state or employer should negotiate with its workers so that we know those who are willing and those who are not and treat each accordingly.

“We intend to send letters to state governors giving them a deadline, so that they ensure that discussions and negotiations are done, to develop how they would implement the new national minimum wage,” Omar said.

On the agitation by the governors that they can pay if the revenue allocation formula is reviewed, Esele asked the governors who want a review of revenue allocation, before the implementation of the new minimum wage whether the unemployed should be allowed to steal until they are provided with jobs.

He said: “If their wait is legal, it’s not different from the scenario I just pointed out. The law is what keeps us together and makes the society civil and civilized. Therefore, no matter how we feel, we must enforce it or the alternative is chaos.”

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