Labour set for minimum wage battle with state govts

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Frank Ikpefan, Abuja and Chris Oji, Enugu

LABOUR is set for showdown with state governments that may not be ready for immediate implementation of the new minimum wage.

Officials said on Tuesday that after securing an agreement with the Federal Government, it is now time to get the states to key into the implementation. But many states are not financially healthy.

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba said Labour would, among other actions, take states that fail to implement the wage law to court.

Speaking on the sidelines of the 2019 NLC National Leadership Retreat holding at Nike Lake Hotel in Enugu, he said: “While other countries have fully accommodated and automated the process of minimum wage adjustments and are now focused on living wages, we are faced with a situation where we are forced to bargain too hard and wait for too long for meagre increases in minimum wage and adjustments in salary.

“There is a difference between the law we have and the law that has existed from 1981 till date. In 1981, when the first minimum wage was enacted, there was no provision for sanctions. In this one, there is a provision for sanctions because it is already a law.

“For any state or person that violates the provision of the law, a worker can make a report. Once we get the report, we can look at the means, including approaching the court, to enforce the provision of the law.”

Wabba said Nigeria cannot complain of lack of funds “when we have a lot of public funds in private pockets”.

He added: “It is no longer discussed in hushed tones that the government is struggling with liquidity. This crisis is rooted in bad governance.

“Two things define bad governance in this respect: the institutionalization of corruption in public expenditure and weaknesses cum sabotage in internal revenues accruable to government.

“On corruption in public expenditure, the issue of humongous salaries and allowances paid to elected public officials and contract inflation top the list of our concerns.

“On the other hand, the loss of government revenue due to internal sabotage by unpatriotic public officials is very alarming and worrisome.”

He urged the Federal Government to reject additional loans from the World Bank and to recover what International Oil Companies (IOCs) owe.

“We call on the Federal Government not to rest on its oars until it recovers every kobo owed us by the IOCs. Government officials behind this criminal neglect must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“We call for a tax system that captures many businesses; rich people must be compelled by government to pay more taxes commensurate with their income,” Wabba said.

Read Also: Fed Govt, Labour seal new minimum wage agreement

The NLC President decried increasing reluctance of employers to allow unionisation in workplaces.

This, he said, has resulted in indecent conditions, “slave wages, long hours of work without due compensation, and denial of social security cover.”

Delivering his speech at the retreat, Wabba said: “Comrades, I must congratulate all of us for the recent upward adjustment in salaries consequent on the new national minimum wage.

“Our collective diligence and persistence will put smiles on the faces of millions of Nigerian workers and take many families out of poverty.

“But, I must charge us that it is not yet Uhuru. We call on all our State Councils to offer the needed leadership and work harmoniously with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) to ensure effective implementation of the new national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment, which must be reached through a process of collective bargaining.

“While commending state governments that have already commenced implementation of the new national minimum wage, we urge that the implementation should be a product of collective bargaining process in line with ILO Convention 98 on Organising and Collective Bargaining.

“We also implore all employers of labour to ensure that the necessary formalities for smooth implementation of the negotiated salaries based on the new national minimum wage are carried out diligently.”

NLC General Secretary Emmanuel Ugbaoja said: “Our people have a mandate to go and negotiate with open mind and hoping that every state will open their books. We don’t expect that anybody will disobey the law of the land.

“We expect them to be reasonable in the way they (state governments) will do the consequential adjustment. We will take every issue as it comes along.

“We won’t balance now and begin to threaten brimstone and fire. We will consider all options, but we are not going to start with threats.

“We are going to negotiate with open mind. Whatever hand they bring will determine how we will respond.”

Asked if labour expects state governments to adopt the same template agreed at the federal level, he said: “We have taken precedence. Some state governors will do better, some will do equally a little below.

“It depends on the chief executive and what his priorities are and how seriously he takes his work as a governor and what resources are available to him. So, it varies.

“Some will do better than the Federal Government, some will do as good as the Federal Government and some will do slightly below the Federal Government.”

Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi promised that his administration would prioritise workers’ welfare.

He said: “Enugu State workers will get a better deal in the implementation of the consequential increase in the minimum wage.”

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