Unending struggle for new minimum wage

Chris Ngige. PHOTO: DailyPost

The contestation that has characterised the 2018 negotiation of a new national new minimum wage for the country is unprecedented. From the initial contact between labour and government in 2016, when the present wage floor was due for renegotiation to the declaration of the tripartite committee negotiation ‘sine die’ by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, that eventually snowballed into a national strike, the process has no doubt been a tedious one.Indeed, the poser is what factor (s) that influenced the Minister’s decision to unilaterally adjourned the negotiation indefinitely and on whose directive? Presidency perhaps.

But the intervention of the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, gave an indication that the presidency may be unaware of the ‘suspension’ of the negotiation by the tripartite committee. In his meeting with the organised labour in Abuja, last Wednesday, two hours after the strike was declared, Dr Ngige explained that ‘sine die’ did not mean indefinite suspension of negotiation, but that no definite time was set for the resumption of the talks. He also added that the Federal Government had to consult the Economic Management Team for it to take decision based on current financial status of the country six months after negotiation began.

The carrot of resumption of negotiation this Thursday, October 4th was not enough to suspend the strike action, as labour saw that as ‘too little, too late’. The strike had been declared and there was no going back. They blamed the Federal Government, accusing it of insincerity of purpose or simply a case of crass incompetence.

Why did the negotiation break down to the point of suspending deliberations indefinitely? Why was fixing 4th October for resumption of the tripartite committee not enough for the organised labour to suspend the nationwide strike?Deputy President of NLC, Peters Adeyemi, justified the position of labour thus: “Let me tell you as a member of the committee that the committee already concluded its work. So, the reconvening of the meeting is contingent on the figure that would be made available by the Federal Government team. It is assumed that when the meeting is reconvened, those figures are ready. It is not about reconvening. Reconvening for what? The meeting can only be reconvened when the figures that are missing for the committee to conclude its assignment are made available. That is the figure the Federal Government said the Economic Management Team is yet to finalise. They are also saying that the Governor Forum is likely come with its own figures. Calling any meeting without those figures would only aggravate the anger of workers the more.”

Adeyemi accused government of taking the organised labour for granted. He asked what government officials including the Minister of Labour and Employment, who is the co-chair of the committee had been doing since March this year when the committee began its work? Adeyemi, who was agitated as he spoke, said: “First, it took this government more than two years to name members of the committee, and many months to get the committee to begin its work. And now it is taking this government many months to make its figures available. Why are little things so difficult for this government to accomplish within the stipulated time? For us, all these show lack of coordination and seriousness to matters that affect the welfare of the working people, who are turning the wheels of production.”

The organised labour is angst that in a country where the minimum wage is about $38, law makers earn as much as $65,000 while those in the executive arm earn fat allowances for even extra-curricular activities. In countries like Libya where minimum wage is $430 (N190, 000), lawmakers earn $3000, while in Luxemburg where minimum wage is $2,500; their lawmakers are paid $7,400.In the United States, a worker is paid $11 per hour, while workers earn $120 in Chad and in Cameroon; minimum wage is $75, which is equivalent to N38, 000.

From the nation’s capital Abuja to the commercial nerve centre Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt, economic activities were paralysed as organised labour downed tools. At the Lagos State Secretariat, as early as 6a.m., labour unions had already barricaded the entrances that lead to the secretariat and that of the Governor’s office with their vehicles, chanting solidarity songs.

The enforcement team of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), led by its president, Oyinkan Olasanoye, prevented workers from gaining access to the Ikeja branch of the Stanbic IBTC Bank. The team also stormed Polaris Bank (former Skye Bank) on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, and locked the gate.

The labour officials said they wanted to ensure all Nigerian workers complied with the directives of the congress since the issue of a new national minimum wage affects every Nigerian worker.Speaking on behalf of the leadership of the organised labour, Vice President of NLC and National President of the National Union of Civil Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW), Amaechi Asugwuni said paralysing the nation’s activities was to enforce the position of the National Executive Council of all the organs of labour in the country.

He urged the Federal Government to immediately submit its own figures for the tripartite committee conclude its assignment. Asugwuni, said: “We would get to the end of the matter, which is for us to engage the government in struggle before they can release the national minimum wage for the past number of years. The last review of the minimum wage in Nigeria was in 2011, and by law it is supposed to be done every five years. That really tells you how patient we have been. But it appears government is taking us for a fool. That is why we have decided on the need to get down and lock down the economy of this nation if that is what it takes before government can get it right.

“It is so disheartening that the government that is the convener of the tripartite national committee where the negotiation is on-going, up to this moment has failed to come out with its figure. Whether they like it or not, they must bring a new figure. We don’t need the figure in public; we need the Federal Government to bring the figure to the table of the tripartite committee.”

Describing government as intransigence and insensitivity to the collective plight of the people, the president of United Labour Congress (ULC), Joe Ajaero, regretted that government was yet to neither “respond sensibly and positively to workers’ demands nor show any sign that suggests otherwise.”Workers at the airport were not spared, as labour disrupted early flights as 7a.m. last Friday, which left many passengers stranded and unsettled flight operations. With the suspension of the strike, the onus falls on the Federal Government to get the Economic Management Team and Governors’ Forum get the figures ready between within two days – Tuesday and Wednesday – to prevent another round of labour impasse.

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