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New minimum wage: NLC moves to compel states, private sector to pay

The least worker on level one step one will go home with N17,000 and the highest paid civil servant will take home N453,444,67 per month.…

The least worker on level one step one will go home with N17,000 and the highest paid civil servant will take home N453,444,67 per month. The committee is in the process of drafting a bill that will ensure that wherever Nigerians work, they will receive living wages.

Mr Peter Esele, Chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC) said, “For the first time, we want to make it a law that any minimum wage decided at the federal level will be binding for every employer of labour in Nigeria. We want to make a law so that we can use it in holding erring states, companies and establishments liable for defaulting to pay.”

President Jonathan said he has agreed to pay the minimum wage because of the high cost of goods. The president said there needs to be a level playing ground for all.

But as it has always been the case when wages are increased, there are fears that state governments and private employers will fail to pay their employees the new minimum wage.

Already, the Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, has hinted that his state cannot pay the minimum wage as it is presently burdened with N2.2 billion workers salary monthly.

“The newly approved minimum wage of N18,000 recently approved by the federal government has not even appeared on our expenditure screen. Let me, however, say this, no matter how palatable it may be, Ogun State, under the economic crunch it is presently experiencing, will not be in any position, to implement any of this increment, except a financial miracle occurs soon,” Daniel was quoted as saying.  

However, the Kano State chapter of The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said it will soon negotiate with the state government on the new minimum wage approved by the federal government.

Comrade Aminu Suleiman, the chapter secretary, told Sunday Trust on phone that labour has been in contact with the state government right from the time the federal government started the negotiations on the national minimum wage and government had assured them that as soon as the new minimum wage is agreed, the state government will strike an agreement with the state chapter of the NLC.

The Kano State government said it was waiting for the executive members of the NLC to start the negotiations. The Public Relations Officer of the Civil Service Commission, Malam Usman Bello, said there was nothing on ground yet, until NLC starts the negotiations.  

In Kaduna state, civil servants are skeptical if the salary increase at the federal level will affect them. Labour leaders and some civil servants, on two occasions, had lost their jobs over agitation for salary increase and the workers, for this reason, are reluctant to agitate for any salary hike.

But Comrade Lawal Sambo, the Chairman of the Joint Public Negotiating Council, is optimistic that Governor Patrick Yakowa, who was a civil servant,  will be sympathetic to workers. He cited how the government negotiated with health workers over the CONMESS and COHESS salary structure which made them to call off  the strike after government promised 20 per cent salary hike instead of the 80 per cent that they demanded. Significantly, health workers are a tiny fraction of the 30,000 work force of Kaduna State and whether Yakowa will increase salaries across the board is difficult to predict.

In Jigawa State, already the state government and workers’ unions under the Joint Negotiation Council (JNC), comprising representatives of Tertiary Institutions and Medical Practitioners and National Union of Teachers, have met and negotiations have reached advanced stage.

The Head of Service, Alhaji Mustapha Aminu, told our correspondent that, “we have met three times and a proposal was submitted to the government by a group of workers’ unions under the auspices of JNC in that respect. Government will analyse the content before the next meeting and see how to confront the issue.”

Alhaji Aminu assured that there is no cause for alarm because government is ready to cooperate with workers unions and solve the problem amicably.

The chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Jigawa State chapter, Alhaji Muhammad Jibril Gumel, expressed optimism that negotiations with government will yield positive results.

“NLC has confidence that the Jigawa State government will do everything possible within its powers to come up with something that will be acceptable to all,” he said.

In Yobe, the NLC leaders said they would write a formal letter to the state government and demand an increase in the salaries and allowances of workers just like what obtains in the federal civil service.

Comrade Muhammed Bukar who is the chairman of the State chapter of the NLC, said negotiations with the government on the new increment was necessary since his members have been agitating for increased pay for some time now.

The Head of Service (HOS), Alhaji Dauda Yahaya, said government is willing to sit and talk with the labour unions in order to ensure industrial harmony.

He added that Yobe will not take a unilateral decision on the issue of salary increase. “We would consult our sister states and see what they are doing. If it means going to the federal government to seek for more funding, we will not hesitate to pay,” he said.

In Nasarawa State, it is not yet certain if government will pay the workers the new pay package. The Joint Public Service Negotiation Council (JPSNC) said no negotiations have commenced so far. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), according to the State Secretary, Comrade Salihu Eladoga, said it is waiting to see what the JPSNC will come up with.

Secretary of the council, Dan Musa, who spoke to Sunday Trust on phone, confirmed that negotiations are yet to commence, because according to him, “we want to have our facts and see what is being done in other states.”

Private employees are often left licking their wounds when federal government increases wages, especially workers in private sectors are considered the worst exploited. But Mrs Angela Ajala, National Vice President, North-Central Zone, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, said a lot of private employers already pay beyond the minimum wage. “We try to be competitive and give our employees a sense of worth. If government says the minimum wage is N17,500, some will pay, some will not be able to pay because businesses differ. Some are big, some are small.

“Again, a lot of private business owners are really under heavy bank loans in efforts to set up standard businesses. Because they don’t have support anywhere, there is no subvention, no grant—you have a school somewhere, you are providing water, light, you are putting security in place—so  little money competing for too many things.

She however said that the association cannot compel schools to pay the minimum wage. “Each school has its own peculiarity. You cannot compel me if I have a N20 million loan on my head. I have to put things in place. You don’t know the problem each owner is going through. But we can advise, we can guide, we support one another,” she said.

But in a telephone chat with Sunday Trust, Chief Economic Adviser to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, said the National Minimum Wage Committee submitted its report last Monday and when the report is approved by the federal government and passed into law, it becomes binding on every employer of labour.

“The tripartite committee that recommended the minimum wage is made up of federal government, representatives of states, the private sector and labour. We’re talking about those who employ 25 persons and above. So we are waiting, as far as the NLC is concerned. Once the National Minimum Wage is promulgated and it becomes law, it is binding on everybody and everybody has to abide by it. Because it is a law, any violator, by defaulting to pay, the affected workers will inform us if their employers do not comply.  If they inform us, our duty is to bring that before law enforcement agencies because penalties are prescribed for violators of the law,” Ozo-Eson said.

 He said labour expects that the government will ensure speedy amendment of the National Minimum Wage Act so that the hardship of Nigerian workers can be reduced.

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