On Thursday, July 23 when the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC led by its national president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba paid a courtesy visit to the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki at the National Assembly complex, Abuja, the least expected request or conversation with him and other the distinguished senators in attendance, was the issue of minimum wage.
Although the labour leader raised a lot of other vital issues of national interest, including the need for the present administration to reduce the high cost of governance, corruption and improve on the current exchange rate of naira to foreign currencies in order to impact positively on the lives of Nigerians.
The reason is not far-fetched. Many state governments are presently owing their workers despite the fact that they are yet to implement fully the controversial N18, 000 minimum wage approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. Though the last Minimum Wage Act propagated by the National Assembly before the former president’s assent is already due for evaluation, it is a known fact that approving any increase in salaries of workers at the moment is not feasible, notwithstanding the present economic situation in the country.
Wabba, who solicited for support of the National Assembly on a new national minimum wage that will be submitted for approval, said the current N18, 000 minimum wage was no longer realistic in the face dwindling value of naira which presently exchanges at the rate of N242 to a US dollar as against N140 it was to a dollar when the N18, 000 minimum wage was approved five years ago.
“The last Minimum Wage Act was promulgated by the National Assembly in 2011. As we also indicated in this year’s May Day address, the five-year circle, during which the National Minimum Wage is due for review, is here. In addition, the devaluation of the naira from N150 to $1, to about N242 to $1, today underscores the grim situation for salary earners in the country against the fact that our economy is import-driven.
“The devaluation, in simple economic terms, means that the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerian wage earner is grossly devalued. As a result of this grim economic reality, Your Excellency, Congress will soon submit a New Minimum Wage demand, which we hope will be negotiated by the traditional tripartite negotiating team of Government, Employers and Organised Labour.
“Our hope is that when the end product of the negotiation is brought before the National Assembly for legislation, it would be treated with dispatch”, he said.
The 7th Senate had approved the N18, 000 new national minimum wage for workers proposed by former President Jonathan. The bill was given an expeditious passage as the Senate suspended order 79 of its standing rules to amend the National Minimum Wage Act, thus increasing the minimum wage from N7, 500 to N18, 000.
Section 2 (1) of the National Minimum wage states, “As from the commencement of this act, it shall be the duty of every employer to pay a wage not less than the national minimum wage of N18,000 per month to every worker under his establishment.”
Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the passage of the bill, yesterday, said the new wage would alleviate the sufferings of workers. He said: “We have responded appropriately to the yearnings of our workers whom we are representing in this chamber. Today is a happy day because we have shown that we are conscious of the sufferings of our people. This country is rich enough to cater for everybody if we avoid the avarices of some few people.”
Ekweremadu, however, urged workers to be more responsive in paying taxes to enable government fund the new wage increase, saying, “The need has come for us to pay more tax to support the new wage”.
The then Senate Leader, Senator Taslim Folarin, who led the debate on the bill advocated the amendment of the Constitution to give state governments the rights to legislate on wage increment.
He said: “I recommend that a more pragmatic approach should be evolved in future to address the subject of wage increase. There is need to alter the Nigerian Constitution by delisting of the subject of minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list to enable both the federal and state governments free hand in negotiating wage increase matters separately with their workers which will further strengthen our fiscal federalism”.
Many Nigerians, including the former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, said workers deserve more than N18, 000, noting that wage increment must correspond with standard of living.
“Nigerian workers deserve it if you look at the wastage of government. It is also time for revenue commission and the salary and wages commission to index wages against cost of living. It should not be all the time that we should always come to the National Assembly to increase wages”, Ndoma-Egba said.
Meanwhile, Wabba said the NLC would soon submit a new minimum wage demand and expressed the hope that the apex lawmaking body would give it the necessary approval. According to him, “the last Minimum Wage Act was promulgated in 2011 by the National Assembly.
“The five-year cycle during which the National Minimum Wage is due for review is here. In addition, the devaluation of the naira from N150 to about N242 to $1 today underscores the grim situation for salary earners in the country against the fact that our economy is import-driven.
“The devaluation, in simple economic terms, means that the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerian wage earner is grossly devalued. As a result of this grim economic reality, congress will soon submit a new minimum wage demand, which we hope will be negotiated by the traditional tripartite negotiating team of government, employers and the organised labour”, he added.
It is against the backdrop of worsening hardship facing civil servants that the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria has demanded N46, 000 as minimum wage for workers.
Secretary-General of ASCEN, Basir Lawal, said in Lagos last Wednesday that the current N18, 000 minimum wage was no longer acceptable. He said the new wage being sought by workers was arrived at after the association’s meeting with the National Public Service Joint Negotiating Council.
“In the past one year, we presented a proposal for salary review to the Federal Government but the government said that the price of crude oil had fallen.
“We argued that if the price of crude is 30 dollars per barrel and the resources of the country are well managed, money will be enough to pay workers decent salaries.
“From the memo we submitted to the NPSJNC, we computed what it will take for an average worker to survive and we arrive at N66, 000. So we took 75 per cent of that and we arrived at N46, 000 minimum wage.
He said that the joint negotiation council used the table for the payment of N18, 000 minimum wages to arrive at the N46, 000 being demanded.
“If the government believes that the amount will create crisis, we will tell them what to do to ensure that everybody will be carried along.’’
He urged government to show understanding with workers on their demand and do the needful, to make life worth living for Nigerian civil servants.
The unionist said the government should itemise the income generating areas of the economy and set realistic targets.
But the question on the lips of many Nigerians is that ‘Is the issue of new minimum wage realistic with the present economic situation in Nigeria?’ This is because President Muhammadu Buhari had recently approved N713.7 billion financial lifelines for states, to among other things, offset backlog of salaries owing their workers and also meet other needs.
Some experts and lawmakers particularly chided the president for including $2.1 billion (N413.7 billion) from the recent liquefied natural gas, LNG proceeds into the federation account as part of the comprehensive bailout for the state governments.
Aside the N413.7 billion sourced from the LNG proceeds, the remaining N300 billion is a Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN-packaged special intervention fund while the Debt Management Office, DMO would also assist states to restructure over N660 billion commercial loans.
The leadership of the NLC will have to exercise patience with the present administration on the issue of minimum wage, as it is not realistic for now, either at the federal or state level. This has become necessary to avoid clash with the new administration and another round of industrial action in the country.


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