Executive-Labour standoff imminent as plot to reverse minimum wage thickens

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By Bimbola Oyesola

The recent decision by the governors to reverse payment of the N18,000 national minimum wage, passed into law in 2011, may be another recipe for a long drawn-out battle with the organised labour now crying foul over the state executive plan to weaken their purchasing power.
The Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, speaking on behalf of his colleagues recently in Abuja, stated that the minimum wage is no longer sustainable because of the fall in the price of crude oil. The governors had claimed that the minimum wage was imposed on them when oil sold was for $126 per barrel as against the current $41.
The governors are also comtemplating massive jobcuts in the public service as alternative to sustaining the N18,000, a proposal Labour totaly rejected.
Recall that in the wake of signing the bill in 2011, all the governors had hinged their campaign promises on their commitment to pay the new wage. However, on assumption of office, several of them reneged and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)  had to declare strikes before it was implemented in some states. Majority of those governors had since finished their tenure with backlog of salary arears.
Over the past few weeks, the governors’ outburst has generated a lot of reactions from the stakeholders, including the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba,who noted that any attempt to reverse the national minimum wage is a declaration of war against workers, warning that the organised labour may not have any other options than to mobilise its members in reaction to the act of aggression by the political class on the workers.
His words: “For the record,  the 2011 National Minimum Wage came into existence after almost two years of agitation and eventual negotiation by the tripartite of government (represented by both the federal and state governments), the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), representing other employers (in the private sector) and organized Labour. This is in the best tradition of tripartite negotiation recognized and codified by the International Labour Organization(ILO).
“As organized Labour, we submitted a request for N52,000 and provided justification for it as the minimum wage which a worker and his recognised legal dependents need to live a healthy life of 30 – 31 days in a month. Out of our patriotic disposition and consideration, we reluctantly agreed to the N18,000 wage even as it was grossly inadequate as a living wage. Many of the state governments who submitted memoranda to the tripartite negotiating committee recommended figures that were far above the N18,000 that was eventually agreed. The governors cannot therefore want Nigerians to take them seriously by their present claim that the current national minimum wage was imposed on them!”
Ayuba said the ability to pay minimum wage is not the problem of the economy, rather the problem for states and other tiers of government is the amount of many political office holders and their unproductive aides take away as wages. While, for the private sector, the creed to accumulate more and more profit has always been a motivating factor to keep wages down.
“We have been in the forefront of campaigning that the cost of governance at all levels need to be drastically cut down, to  free enough resources for development. The hundreds of billions of Naira our public office holders continue to filter away in the name of governance is what is not sustainable”, he opined.‎
He added that the annual cost to the public purse of governors’ security votes, which is an unaccountable drain on the public resources, is worth several thousands of minimum wages per state.
The NLC President explained that part of the drain on the nation’s purse is the fact that in the last six to 10 years, majority, if not all, of the governors no longer use commercial airlines’ regular flights as a means of transportation from one place to another.
According to him, “They now have official aircraft and helicopters, which they maintain at huge costs to the state treasury. Their less fortunate counterparts charter aircraft and helicopters, which cost millions of Naira to the tax payers, to attend all manner of functions from marriages to child naming ceremonies.
“Workers’ salaries cannot be sacrificed on the altar of challenges of the economy which is not the making of workers. It has never happened in the history of our country, and it will not be said that it is during our leadership of the Nigerian Labour movement that this calamity was allowed to happen to Nigerian workers.”‎
The labour leader challenged the ingenuity of the governors, stating that they were not elected to only go and share proceeds from crude oil and petroleum products sales monthly in Abuja, but on the premise that they have intellect above the average which would be leveraged to provide good and responsive governance to the rest of the populace.
He recalled that even in the 60’s when Nigeria did not have oil as the main source of revenue, the nation’s fore bearers raised funds via efficient taxes, agricultural produce and other forms of internally generated revenue to provide development and pay living wages to the workers.
NLC, however, saw the recent statement by the Governors Forum as attempt to maneuver them away from addressing the imperatives for the review of the minimum wage, which is billed for review this year.
Warning that such ploy is bound to fail, the NLC boss ‎said workers have been patient enough waiting for President Muhammad Buhari to appoint ministers in order to have full compliments of officers to run the government. Having done so, it is now ready to table the new minimum wage demand before the Federal Government.
Besides the fact that the bill is stipulated for review every five years, Organised Labour has, in defence, explained that when the bill was signed in 2010, naira was exchanging for about N120 to a dollar. But today, it has fallen to almost less.
“With the recent devaluation of Naira, and the attendant increase in inflation and cost of living, even without the last minimum wage Act reaching the mandatory five years when it is due for review, we would have been justified to request for review”, Wabba said.
On its part, the Trade Union Congress(TUC) of Nigeria described the governors’ new position as laughable.It said labour unions are not only disappointed, but also fear for the future as responsible citizens of the country as the masses are daily confronted with policy summersaults as development strategies.
Its President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, said for issues like reduction of national minimum wage and sack of workers to be discussed at Governors Forum, which supposed to be a high profile meeting, sent a wrong signal, adding that Nigerians are disappointed that governors who preached love, peace and progress for all few months ago to win election are now singing a different tune.

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