Labour insists on strike over minimum wage

By Cyril Okonkwo, Abuja

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr Chris Ngige meet the leaders of the Trade Union Congress over the Minimum Wage

Organised labour in Nigeria says it will not go back on its ultimatum to embark on strike over the non-implementation of the new national minimum wage.

President Muhammadu Buhari accented to a new national minimum wage of N30,000.00 on April 18, this year but disagreement between labour and government over the consequential adjustments of the new wage on some categories of workers has stalled its implementation.

President of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Quadri Olaleye, who led leaders of the union to pay a courtesy call on Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Thursday, told State House correspondents that the union would call out workers on strike if nothing is done before the expiration of the two-week ultimatum given to government.

“Surely, you know labour will not give an empty threat or empty ultimatum.  If nothing is done, I can tell you, come that day, labour will go on strike,” he said.

Burning issues
According to Olaleye, the minimum wage is one of the burning issues, which the TUC tabled before Vice President Osinbajo during its meeting at the Presidential Villa.

“We told the vice president the need to take quick action on the issue of minimum wage.  You are all aware that we have issued an ultimatum already to the government and you know labour will not joke with that. 

“We have encouraged him to also encourage the president to do something urgent before the expiration of the ultimatum given to government,” he said.

Job creation
The labour leader said that job creation was also mentioned at the meeting, pointing out that it was not the responsibility of government to create jobs.

“It is the private sector, individuals that can create jobs,” Olaleye said, adding that the labour leaders also appealed to the vice president to look into the plight of retirees.

 “We have encouraged the vice president also to look at the issue of retirees as a means of creating jobs.  We have suggested a way to do it and we are going to submit paper on that.”

Insecurity
Olaleye said that insecurity in Nigeria was discussed at the meeting and that lanbour suggested to government to reduce the amount of money spent on security and to channel it on job creation.

“We mentioned the quantum of money spent so far on curbing the issue of insecurity in the country. 

“We have advised that such money could be used to revive companies that have closed down in this country, especially the textile industry.

“ And also the money can be used to create other companies that can create jobs, instead of continuously spending this money on insecurity without achieving much as expected by the whole world,” he explained.

Toll gates
On the proposed re-introduction of toll gates on Nigerian roads, Olaleye said ”it would create more hardship for the Nigerian worker who is still struggling for the implementation of new national minimum wage.”

According to him, the labour leaders “cannot say his reaction was positive or negative.”

Olaleye said the vice president tried to mediate over the issue and urged the union to show understanding with government.

Opening negotiations
Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr Chris Ngige, who was also at the meeting, said government would open negotiation with labour next week over their threat to go on strike.

“We are opening up negotiations next week and we will lay our books open for them to see.  It is part of negotiations,” the minister said.

Mr Ngige restated government’s position that the implementation of the new national wage, as labour is insisting, would constitute a financial bogey for government and negatively affect the provision of infrastructure.

“All we are talking about is the consequential movements as a result of minimum wage for the least paid worker.

“The minimum wage for the least paid worker today is N30,000, for the last man in the lowest rung of the ladder. 

“So, if you do consequential adjustment and go up and have a 30% rise, across board on a sliding scale, or even 25%, which labour is asking government to do, government will go and look for extra N580billion to effect that and that government doesn’t have…One of the guiding principles of consequential negotiations, which we call in labour parlance, collective bargaining agreements is ability to pay, the wherewithal to pay, the capacity to pay…The maxim to cut your cloth according to your cloth comes in place there.  So that’s what government is saying,”Mr Ngige said.

He explained that; “Government has done a consequential movement budget, in the 2019 budget, which is what government can pay in order to maintain the balance in re-current expenditure.  Otherwise, we will overshoot. 

“You know that this government said we are going to do a 70-30 mix; 70% for recurrent expenditure and 30 % only for capital expenditure. 

“Today, if we pay what labour is asking us to pay, it will translate to 15% capital expenditure and 85% recurrent expenditure. 

“That won’t augur well for the country.  It will mean that we abandon road construction; it will mean we abandon refurbishment of airports; the rail we are doing and even the schools we are managing, hospitals.” 

The minister said expressed confidence that labour would not go on strike over the issue.

 

Mercy Chukwudiebere