Federal Government’s plan to readjust salaries of those earning above the new minimum wage appears to be dragging it back to the trenches against organised labour, Sunday Ojeme reports
The dust raised by the long battle between Federal Government and organized labour over minimum wage may be far from being settled months after the wage increase had been signed into law.
The latest swirl is unfolding over the planned salary readjustment of those currently earning above minimum wage based on the approved N30,000.
Initial conflicts Although President Muhammadu Buhari, while signing the bill into law, had confessed government’s willingness and ability to pay, the attempt made in the past to truncate the demand was enough reason for observers to doubt his pronouncement.
However, with the organised labour having emerged winner in the whole front, there appears to be some level of reluctance on the part of government to fully implement the deal without hurting anybody.
As it currently stands, although President Buhari confessed that funds have been budgeted to meet the new wage payment, there appears to be an attempt to rob Peter to pay Paul through the planned salary readjustment.
Buhari said: “We anticipate that after the new minimum wage bill has been passed into law, we will be going into negotiations for salary review for all the workers who are already earning above the new minimum wage. It is therefore important that we are properly prepared to meet these demands,” he said. The President who said a provision for the new minimum wage has been made in this year’s budget proposal, said he was committed to the upward review of the minimum wage.
“As you know we, at the Federal level, have made adequate provision for the increase in the Minimum Wage in our 2019 Budget proposals which we submitted to the National Assembly. “Therefore, we will be able to meet the additional costs that will be incurred in moving up all personnel who are currently earning below the new minimum wage.”
Labour, form the onset of the pronouncement, had kicked against it, saying it would not in any way agree to an adjustment that will result in any worker earning less than what is due to him.
With the president’s sustained aggression in this regard, it is obvious that both workers, represented by labour leaders and the Federal Government may go back to the trenches over whatever everyone thought had been settled.
This observation stems from the position of the president, who gave a 22-man committee four weeks to negotiate the consequential adjustment in salaries arising from the new national minimum wage.
Apart from the fact that the committee failed to meet its deadline to get back to the president with any position paper, it was also reported recently that the representative of organised labour in the committee stepped down on the ground that labour was not comfortable with the readjustment narrative even as Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) completely stayed away from it.
Recall that while inaugurating the committee, which consists of former Ministers of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu; Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Gida Mustapha; and Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, Mustapha said: “I have no doubt in my mind that you have abundant literature, reports and other materials to help this assignment. The duration of the assignment is four clear weeks from this inauguration. It is expected that the Committee will work assiduously to complete the assignment,”
On her part, Oyo-Ita said concerted efforts have been made by various stakeholders to ensure that workers in Nigeria receive wages commensurate with their output in the public service considering the prevailing socio-economic realities. She said the committee will do its best to deliver on its mandate within the stipulated time frame.
The members of the committee from the government side are the ministers of Labour and Employment, Budget and National Planning, Education, Health and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
Others are Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Secretary, Federal Judicial Service Commission, Secretary, National Assembly Service Commission, and Chairman, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission who is to serve as Member/Secretary.
On the side of the Trade Unions, 10 representatives have been nominated by the Joint National Public Service Negotiation Council as members.
Following a recent report, the negotiation committee appears to have also rejected what the government is offering.
According to the report, Oyo-Ita, who was appointed as chairman of the panel, stepped down for the chairman of the National Wages, Salaries and Income Commission to head the technical committee.
It was also revealed that an officer of one of the labour unions said government’s position on the consequential adjustment had been rejected by labour representatives in the committee.
He said labour decided to be careful in reaching an agreement based on what happened when minimum wage was last increased and also to avoid being blackmailed by the Federal Government.
He said: “We are monitoring the negotiations between our representatives and government. There is likely to be some challenges which is normal. The government negotiating team is looking at what the government can pay conveniently, but labour is also looking at what will be good for workers to avoid a situation where workers found themselves when the minimum wage was last increased.
“What happened then was that government came up with a block figure and out of poor negotiations because of insufficient time, a paltry sum was spread on workers’ salaries, translating into about N900 increase monthly.”
With the current development, and for the fact that it took long for both the Federal Government and the organized labour to reach an agreement over the new wage, it will be too early for government to allow another crisis set into the system so soon.
In the circumstance, it is important for both parties to work in collaboration quickly, and quietly iron out any gray areas before the situation degenerates into another round of public disorder.