The organized labor and the federal government may be heading for another showdown that may lead to a nationwide strike over demands to increase the national minimum wage figures from the current N18, 000.
While the media has been awash with the news that organized labour and the FG had reached an agreement to settle for N30, 000 as the new national minimum wage, the federal government yesterday insisted that it has not concluded on how much it can afford to pay civil servants as the lowest take home pay.
Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige told State House correspondents that those on the tripartite committee representing the interest of the federal government has proposed the sum of N24, 000 while state governors have so far proposed the sum N20,000 as what they can afford as minimum wage to state civil servants while the organized labour insisted on N30,000 as the least Nigerian workers can collect in a month.
However, Ngige who spoke shortly after the Federal Executive Council, FEC meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari denied knowledge of any prior agreement with the organised labour to shore up the national minimum wage to N30,000 per month.
His reaction came as a result of media reports quoting the President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba that the tri-partite committee discussing the demand for new minimum wage has agreed to increase it from the current N18, 000 to N30, 000 per month but the Minister vehemently denied it saying that “such information is not true.”
Speaking further, Ngige explained that when the committee reconvened on October 4 and 5, after the NLC had called off its nationwide warning strike, “the organised labour came down to N30,000 while the organised private sector came down to N25,000”.
According to him, the FG then had not consulted with the 36 state governors adding that after such consultations, the FG proposed N24, 000, while governors proposed N20, 000.
He further disclosed that the federal government has not exhausted consultations with all the stakeholders and therefore could not have settled for any figure now insisting that in accordance with Convention 131 of International Labour Organisation, the most important thing to consider in fixing new minimum wage is the ability to pay.
“If you can recollect we spoke on the 26 of September and I did inform you that I was going to meet with the organised labour to see what we can do to stop the impending strike which was slated for the 27th.
“We met in my office and we agreed to reconvene the National minimum wage tri partite committee for the 4th and 5th of October, that was the issue in contention at the time and the idea was to enable them get back to their Council and call off the strike.
“However, one thing led to the other and the strike took place and they called it off on the 30th.
“We reconvened for the minimum wage committee on the 4th and 5th, and we had adequate representation of all the three partners.
“Tri partite means the three groups that are negotiating; the first group is the organised labour, the second is the organised private sector and the third group is the government, which is called the authentic authority by the International Labour Organisation ILO.
“So we met and if you could remember the contentious issue as per that meeting was for figures to be fixed and we had all proposed our figures, but throughout the negotiations figures were adjusted”, he further explained.
The Minister also said that the negotiation took into account what he described as “irreducible offer” on the different governments but they could not arrive at a consensus “even though we adjourned our meeting and said we will put up a report that will reflect this position, we are still continuing to discuss informally to see if we can arrive at a common figure.”
He said the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission have also done its own part for the government and presented to the economic management team, “so discussions are still ongoing and that is where we are.”
But in its reaction to Ngige’s statement that no amount was agreed upon before the tripartite meeting was adjourned, the organized labour carpeted the Minister declaring that it completed its work and adopted a figure through a formal motion seconded and adopted in the absence of any counter motion.
In a statement jointly signed by Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC, Bala Kaigama, TUC and Joe Ajaero ULC, the organized labour stated that adoption of the motion was after a thorough debate of a report from the sub-committee figure, chaired by Senator Ngige himself, which presented four scenarios for consideration.
“The sub-committee worked on the basis of a figure proposed by the federal government, figures proposed by a number of state governments as well as proposals submitted by organized private sector and organized labour.
“The committee formally adjourned its sitting with a decision that a date will be communicated to members for the signing of the report and submission of same to Mr. President.
“Organised labour, therefore frowns at the manipulation and bending of facts in an attempt to delay or derail the processes needed to promulgate a new national minimum wage. We call on the government to take immediate necessary steps to ensure the enactment of a new national minimum wage as we cannot guarantee industrial peace and harmony”, the organized labour added.