Minimum wage: NLC draws battleline, says govs dictatorial position won’t work

NLC chairman 1

… States should pay according to capacity, govs insist

Palpable crisis appears to be brewing between the organised labour and the 36 states of the federation, following the decision of the governors to pay the new minimum wage according to the capacity of each state.

While the federal government agreed to offer the Nigerian workers N62, 000 after series of negotiations, the organised labour is insisting on a N250, 000 living wage.

The federal government had on Tuesday stepped down a memo for the transmission of an Executive Bill on the National Minimum Wage to the National Assembly to enable President Bola Tinubu consult further, especially with the state governors and the organised private sector.

This, Blueprint Weekend learnt, resulted in the meeting of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Wednesday, in Abuja, at the end of which the NGF agreed that each state should decide on how much salary it would be able to pay its workers.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has however described as dictatorial the suggestion by state governors, saying the claim is against the concept of the living wage currently under negotiation.

…FEC directive

Addressing State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by President Ahmed Tinubu, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said an executive bill on the minimum wage would be sent to the National Assembly after the wider consultations by the president.

He said the wider consultations by the president was necessary because the new national minimum wage wasn’t just an issue for the federal government but also affects state governments, local governments and the private sector.

“I want to inform Nigerians here that the Federal Executive Council deliberated on that (report of the Tripartite Committee on New National Minimum Wage) and the decision is that because the new national minimum wage is not just that of the federal government, it is an issue that involves the federal government, the state governments, local governments, and the organized private sector and of course, including the organised labour.

“That memo was stepped down to enable Mr. President to consult further, especially with the state governors and the organised private sector, before he makes a presentation to the National Assembly, before an executive bill is presented to the National Assembly.

“So, I want to state that on the new national minimum wage, Mr. President is going to consult further so that he can have an informed position because the new national minimum wage, like I said, is not just an issue of the federal government.

“It affects the state governments, it affects the local governments, it also affects the organized private sector, and that is why it is called national minimum wage. It’s not just an affair of the federal government.

“So, Mr. President has studied the report and he’s going to consult wider before a final submission is being made to the National Assembly,” he said.

Govs’ position

Following this decision, the state governors went into an intensive meeting on Wednesday night that they would continue to engage stakeholders to reach a mutually agreeable solution to the new minimum wage crisis.

Rising from the meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) in Abuja in the early hours of Thursday, the governors of the 36 states of the federation promised to remain dedicated to the process and assured that better wages would result from the ongoing negotiations.

The governors in a 16-point communiqué advocated that each state be allowed to negotiate the new wage with the labour unions.

“The Forum discussed the minimum wage issues demanded by labour and unanimously agreed that the minimum wage should be reflective of the cost of living and that each state should be allowed to negotiate its minimum wage. This led to the forum’s discussion on fiscal federalism and devolution of powers,” the communiqué signed by the NGF chairman and governor of Kwara state, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq stated.

…Labour disagrees

Rejecting the position of the state governors, Friday, in a statement issued by Benson Upah, Head, Information and Public Affairs, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) warned the governors against further inflammatory statements over the minimum wage to avoid provoking industrial unrest.

The NLC contended that it may no longer be able to withstand the pressure for industrial action should the minimum wage issue continue to be prolonged. The union cautioned that President Tinubu, who has promised Nigerian workers a living wage “not to allow himself to be boxed into corner by unpatriotic governors.” 

The union said, “NLC is compelled to address the recent statements made by some Nigerian Governors regarding their desire to pay what they deem fit to Nigerian workers as the minimum wage.

“This notion is not only dictatorial but also undermines the very essence as well as the model adopted for creating a national minimum wage in Nigeria.

“The concept of a national minimum wage is not arbitrary. It represents a national wage floor, a baseline below which no worker in the law should be paid. This threshold is a collective agreement that ensures a minimum standard of living for every worker in the law. 

“The governors’ demand to unilaterally determine the minimum wage negates this principle and threatens the welfare of Nigerian workers and the national economy.

 “It is important to remind the governors that the national minimum wage is not synonymous with the individual pay structures of the states which they implement religiously, reflecting their unique financial capabilities and circumstances. 

“This diversity in pay structures underscores the flexibility that already exists within the system, allowing states to reward their workers in alignment with their financial realities.

“Furthermore, the governors’ argument appears inconsistent when juxtaposed with the remuneration of political officeholders. Why is there no hue and cry when political officeholders across the nation receive uniform salaries as determined by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission?

“This double standard which pits a few privileged against the majority poor is an issue that should be of concern to those who love this country.

“We are deeply concerned by this blatant display of ignorance regarding the global best practices for a national minimum wage by some of these governors.

“It is evident that, despite their frequent travels abroad, they have deliberately chosen not to educate themselves on fundamental global issues crucial to successful governance. 

“This level of self-imposed ignorance on basic industrial relations matters clearly illustrates why our nation is poorly governed, resulting in unacceptable suffering of Nigerians. For this set of governors, we recommend a return to school for proper education as they constitute a threat to our democracy.  

“We must also use the opportunity to commend the forward-looking and progressively-minded governors (not in name but indeed) who take seriously the welfare of workers in their thoughts and policies. We will continue to identify, as well as work with them.

“The pursuit by many governors to pay workers whatever they like deepens poverty and causes varying dimensions of insecurity. The governors are carried away by their present structure of security detail but the sword of Damocles awaits them on exit from office.

“It is unfortunate that workers’ salaries are often seen as charity rather than the hard-earned income of hardworking Nigerians. It is equally painful that some of these governors fail to realise that workers’ salaries substantially drive the economy. Not surprisingly, they prioritise their greed over the need of ordinary citizens.

“The fate of Nigerian workers cannot be left solely in the hands of employers, whether public or private. No sane society does that. What the governors are asking for is akin to allowing numerous companies and organizations in Nigeria to pay workers whatever they like. 

“While these companies may not pay the same salaries, they must adhere to the national wage floor, and the same should apply to state governors.

“We urge President Tinubu who had promised a living wage (which is superior to a minimum wage) not to allow himself be blackmailed or boxed into a corner by unpatriotic governors. 

“We urge the federal government to stop dithering on the issue of the national minimum wage because of the gang up by some selfish governors.

“The NLC urges the governors to abandon any inclination towards dictatorial practices as the process remains a tripartite one. Accordingly, we call for policies and actions driven by equity and fairness. Ensuring a fair minimum wage is not only a matter of economic justice but also a fundamental aspect of maintaining social stability and national cohesion. Nigerian workers should not be reduced to beggars! Enough is enough!

“NLC stands firm in its commitment to protecting the rights and welfare of Nigerian workers. We will continue to advocate for a fair and equitable wage system that reflects the true spirit of our nation’s values. We call on the governors to join us in this commitment for the benefit of all Nigerians. Let democracy flourish.”