By Femi Ogunshola
The Senate on March 19 approved ₦30,000 as the new national minimum wage by passing the National Minimum Wage Act (Repeal & Enactment) Bill 2019.
On April 18, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law, thereby making it compulsory for employers of labour to pay the new wage.
However, the implementation across board is still in limbo.
While junior workers from grade levels 1 to 6 have started receiving the new wage, others from grade levels 7 to 17 are yet to see a ray of hope.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, while admitting the hiccups in the implementation, noted that the only issue at stake for the implementation was from grade levels 7 to 17.
According to the minister, the issue requires a consequential adjustment, which is still being negotiated.
He said that the Federal Government cannot pay the 32 per cent being demanded by organised labour.
Ngige said that if the government bowed to labour’s demand, it would increase the wage bill to N580 billion, and may lead to retrenchment of workers.
minister stated that the Federal Government was avoiding a situation where it
would have to lay off workers, noting that throwing workers into the
unemployment market would add to their burden.
He pleaded with labour to accept the consequential adjustment for levels 7 to 17, adding that government had only three months left to implement the new wage.
The journey to the eventual implementation of the new minimum wage was tortuous, with hiccups and attendant expectations from Nigerian workers.
Several committees were set up by the Federal Government to negotiate with organised labour what it considered feasible to offer grade levels 7 to 17.
May 14, the Federal Government 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.
Mr Anchaver Simon, acting Chairman, Trade Union Side (TUS), of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), noted that the TUS initially proposed a 66.66 per cent increase across board.
According to him, 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.
This he said was to maintain the relativity that exists in the salary structure in the Public Service.
However, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission stated that such increase across board would raise the total wage bill too high.
The TUS, therefore, 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.
However, the government side insisted on 9.5 per cent salary increase for employees on grade levels 07-14, and five per cent for those on grade levels 15-17.
The government’s offer was not acceptable to organised labour that threatened to embark on a nationwide strike from Oct. 16, if the Federal Government fails to reconvene the meeting of the committee negotiating the consequential adjustment.
Dr Samuel Akanbi, an economist and financial analyst, noted that the economic implication of paying the N30, 000 minimum wage, would be a huge burden on the government.
He urged the government to look at other means of generating fund to meet the demand of Nigeria workers in order to fulfill its own part of the agreement.
The economist stated that there are many untapped resources that the government could leverage upon to generate more revenue for the government.
Mr Quadri Olaleye, the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), while reacting to the delay on the implementation of the national minimum wage, said that the government was being smart.
He said that the present approach tended to divide the workers.
According to him, the government is playing smart and this is an attempt to play a divide and rule policy, which according to him will not work because the consequential adjustment arising from the wage increase is alien to the labour union.
Mr Godwin Segun, a retired banker, observed that the current national minimum wage of ₦18,000 was calculated based on the cost of living at the time it was approved and implemented in 2011.
He stated that when the N18,000 minimum wage was agreed upon, inflation rate was double digits, noting however that the inflation pressure was tamed in the years that followed as the economy also improved.
The banker noted that, since that time, Nigeria has suffered a recession and gone back to double digit inflation.
Mrs Tonia Emmanuel, a civil servant, said that the Federal Government should apply caution in handling the issue of implementation of the new minimum wage, noting that the same method former President Obasanjo used when the minimum wage was increased to N7, 500 should be applied.
She stated that tempers were already high and workers were agitated reading about disagreements as a result of consequential adjustment, and urged the Federal Government to tread with caution.
Emmanuel stated that it would be a disservice to Nigerian workers, after their hopes were raised on the signing of the minimum wage and again dashed on the excuse that it can no longer afford to pay workers the N30, 000 across board.
She noted that the current minimum wage was no longer enough to cater for the need of an average worker, adding that while prices of goods and services have gone so high, salaries remained the same.
This she said was a recipe for breeding corruption in the civil service, stating that if the government is sincere in its fight against corruption, then the living wage of Nigeria workers must be addressed without further delay.
Mr Alex Dauda, a lawyer, said that the government is bound by the minimum wage document signed on April 18 to pay according to the agreement reached with the labour unions.
Dauda added that the labour unions can sue the Federal Government for a breach of agreement, because the president was not compelled to accent to the N30, 000 minimum wage law when he did.
He said negotiation and understanding can be reached as to the method of payment if the Federal Government said it did not have enough resources to pay what was agreed upon.
This according to the legal practitioner must be done in an atmosphere of peace and not intimidation.
He also suggested for amendment of the constitution to allow states determine minimum wage to pay to their workers.
Workers and other stakeholders hoped that the minimum wage issue would be resolved sooner than later. (NAN)