Nigerian workers were filled with a sense of joy as the await the payment of the N30,000 minimum wage.
President Muhammadu Buhari who assented the Minimum Wage Repeal and Enactment Act, 2019 made this in order to sustain the minimum wage.
“This makes it compulsory for all employers of labour in Nigeria to pay to their workers the sum of N30,000 as the minimum wage.
“It also gives workers the right to sue for the balance, when compelled to accept salary that is less than N30,000.”
The above quotes were the exact words of Mr Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, after Buhari signed the new National Minimum Wage into law, on April 18, 2019.
The law mandates all employers of labour in Nigeria to pay to their workers the sum of N30,000 as the least salary, except those with less than 25 workers.
The law also mandates the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission and the Minister of Labour to serve as the principal enforcers of its provisions.
The fears, which started as some rumour, got more intense when government, on May 14, inaugurated the relativity/Consequential Adjustment Committee, which in turn set up a Technical Sub-Committee to work out the template for the adjustment of salaries of public service employees.
The fresh committees sent fears down the spines of most workers who had thought that the template was already ready and waiting for just cash backing.
The fears got even more heightened recently when the Federal Government, through the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, announced that only workers earning below the N30,000 minimum wage would be paid, meaning that the wait for the new wage was getting indefinite for those earning above that.
The commission’s chairman, Mr Richard Egbule, while addressing newsmen on the implementation of the new national minimum wage, on July 16, said that the commencement of the approved payment would be determined by the office of the Accountant-General and backdated to when the President signed the agreement.
Egbule had said that the position of government was that the implementation of the wage would start with workers currently earning below N30,000, while others would follow after the conclusion of talks on consequential adjustments.
Angered by that development, organised labour has hinted of possible industrial action if the current state of affairs as regards the issue of consequential adjustment arising from the new national minimum wage of N30,000 per month remains the same.
The organised labour, in a joint statement signed by Mr Anchaver Simon, acting Chairman, Trade Union Side (TUS), of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), and the Secretary, Mr Alade Lawal, expressed disappointment by “government’s effort to derail the implementation of a new National Minimum Wage”.
“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 statement said.
Checks indicated that the committee on Consequential Adjustment of Salaries agreed to set up a technical body to work out different scenarios in respect of salaries that would be paid to workers in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), that draw their emoluments from the government treasury.
TUS had initially proposed that since the minimum wage was increased by 66.66 per cent from N18,000 to N30,000, 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 when the government side argued that such increase across board would raise the total wage bill too high, the TUS side reviewed its demand downward 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.
The government side, on its part, was insisting on 9.5 per cent salary raise for employees on Grade Levels 07-14, and five per cent for those on Grade Levels 15-17.
The workers, through the Trade Union Congress (TUC), rejected the stance, with the TUC President, Mr Quadri Olaleye, accusing the Federal Government of “playing smart to avert industrial unrest”.
“We have read the circular released by Mr Richard Egbule, Executive Chairman of the National Minimum Wage Committee set up by the Federal Government to work out the consequential adjustments arising from the wage increase.
“Let it be known that this circular is unacceptable to us because it contradicts the reason for setting up the committee,” the statement said.
Olaleye said that the TUC considered the circular as a smart move on the part of government to discourage labour action, declaring that “labour is not fooled”.
“We wonder why anything that has labour undertone becomes the issue of rejection by government. By this circular, the government is testing the patience of workers.
“We assure them that they either go to the negotiating table to complete the assignment or risk the wrath of workers.”
Meanwhile, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, has attributed the delay in the full implementation of the new National Minimum Wage to the “unrealistic demands” by labour unions.
“President Muhammadu Buhari is committed to implementing the new national minimum wage and that is why the presidential committee on the consequential adjustment arising from the minimum wage has been sitting to deliberate on it.
“The committee has sat with the union leaderships within the public service to come out with the consequential adjustment arising from the new minimum wage.
“There were a few, what I will call unrealistic, demands from the unions.
“So as not to continue delaying the implementation of the very dear policy of Mr President, we had to go ahead and seek his approval to implement the minimum wage effective from April,” she said.
She explained that the decision was to pave way for the federal government to continue with the discussions on the consequential adjustment.
Oyo-Ita said that the federal government would not allow the demands of the senior staff unions to affect those the minimum wage was largely meant to address – the low income earners.
The NLC and TUC, in a recent letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, urged the Federal Government to reconvene the stalled minimum wage committee meeting with the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC).
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, and TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, jointly signed the letter date July 16, 2019.
They expressed dismay in the stalemated discussion and the meagre amount being offered by the Federal Government, adding that they were particularly sad over the staggered implementation of the new minimum wage.
While commending the President for setting up the committee to work out the modalities for relativity and any other consequential effect that may arise from the new national minimum wage, it said that its initial optimism was hinged on the fact that the step would speed up the implementation of the minimum wage.
“We are, however, worried by this stalemate and must, in all honesty, point out that what the government is offering is far too small to be acceptable.
“We recall that in the immediate past exercise, 53 per cent relativity was used across board. The resort therefore to unnecessary obduracy by the government’s team is neither helpful nor reflective of precedence.
“The option of a staggered implementation conveyed in a press statement by the Chairman of the Salaries and Wages Commission is similarly not in good faith; the notion of staggered implementation is both divisive and catastrophic.
“It is important to note that the national minimum wage has always been implemented holistically in acknowledgement of the fact that we all go to the same market.
“In the light of this and the need to head off a major industrial crisis, we would urge you to do all that is necessary to ensure that the meeting of the Committee is reconvened with NLC and TUC.”
As the Nigerian workers await the next line of action by the stakeholders, experts and analysts say that reconvening the committee will help in reaching a truce in the consequential adjustments and ensure a mutually agreeable rate that would avert an impending nationwide industrial action.
They equally say that everything should be done by those concerned to end the waiting game of anxious workers who were thrown into wild jubilation when President Buhari signed the minimum wage bill into law in April.