Minimum wage: FG, Labour talks deadlocked, NLC defends N615,000 demand

The ongoing negotiations for a new minimum wage have deadlocked following the inability of the Federal Government and organised labour to reach a consensus on the issue.

President Bola Tinubu gave this indication in his speech during this year’s International Workers’ Day celebration in Abuja, on Wednesday.

Also, the President’s Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Mr Bayo Onanuga, in an interview with The PUNCH, faulted workers’ insistence on the N615,000 minimum wage. He said the government and labour unions had not agreed on the amount for the minimum wage.

But the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, defended workers’ demand, insisting that the organised labour would not accept any amount that would impoverish its members.

The President had in January set up a tripartite committee consisting of the government, labour and private sector representatives to review the N30,000 minimum wage introduced by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

Last month, the two central labour bodies in the country, the NLC and the Trade Unions Congress, submitted a proposal of N615,000 minimum wage to the committee.

The government failed to announce the new minimum wage at the May Day celebration on Wednesday as it had not accepted labour’s demand.

Top officials of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the issue, said while the organised labour was insisting on N615,000 minimum wage, the government and the private sector were proposing between N60,000 and N70,000, resulting in a stalemate in negotiations.

However, the NLC president, Ajaero, during an interview on Channels Television on Wednesday, said the proposed N615,000 minimum wage was arrived at after an analysis of the current economic situation and the needs of an average Nigerian family of six.

He said the last minimum wage of N30,000 expired on April 18.

He described as mischievous the pay rise of between 25 and 35 per cent for civil servants across various consolidated salary structures announced by the Federal Government on Tuesday.

He added, “We should be in the regime of a new minimum wage as of today. Discussions were supposed to have been concluded.

“The Federal Government through the National Assembly legislated on it. But we saw that the discussion entered voice mail because the Federal Government refused to reconvene the meeting that was adjourned.

“I think the announcement now appears mischievous because there is no wage increase that the government is announcing. For them to announce it now, it is an issue that we are worried about at the NLC and even at the TUC.”

Ajaero further said organised labour had agreed on N615,000 as the living wage for civil servants.

Living wage

He stated, “Living wage is such that will, at least, keep you alive. It is not a wage that will make you poorer and poorer. It is not a wage that will make you borrow to go to work. It is not a wage that will lead you to be in the hospital every day because of malnutrition. For that living wage, we have tried to look at N615,000.

“Let me give you a breakdown of how we arrived at that figure. We have housing and accommodation of N40,000. We asked for electricity of N20,000 — of course, that was before the current tariff increase. Nobody can spend this amount currently. We have a utility that is about N10,000. We looked at kerosene and gas, that is about N25,000 to N35,000.

“We looked at food for a family of six, that is about N9,000 in a day. For 30 days, that is about N270,000. Look at medical, N50,000 provided there will be no surgery or whatever.

“For clothing, we looked at N20,000. For education, N50,000. I don’t know about those who tried to put their children in private schools, they will not be able to cope with this amount. We also have sanitation of N10,000.

“I think where we have another bulk of the money is transportation. This is because the workers stay on the fringes and because of the cost of petrol, which amounted to N110,000.
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“That brought the whole living wage to N615,000 and I want anyone to subject this to further investigation and find out whether there will be any savings when you pay somebody on this rate,’’ the NLC president explained.

But notwithstanding the stalemate in negotiations for a new minimum wage, Tinubu said his administration was poised to give workers better living and working conditions buoyed by “a fair living wage.”

In his address to workers at Eagle Square, Abuja, President Tinubu revealed that despite its efforts, the Tripartite Committee on Minimum Wage, established on January 30, 2024, could not reach a consensus at its last meeting with organised labour which was held on Monday.

Tinubu, who was represented by Vice President Kashim Shettima, explained, “You would recall that on January 30, 2024, the Federal Government convened a 37-member Tripartite Committee on Minimum Wage. The committee’s mandate was to provide counsel and suggest a national minimum wage that aligns with our current economic conditions.

“Since then, the committee, in collaboration with labour leaders, has been diligently working towards proposing a new National Minimum Wage.

“Unfortunately, despite concerted efforts, the committee was unable to reach a consensus at its last meeting.”

However, he promised to resolve the impasse to ensure the announcement of a living wage soon.

“This shall be resolved soon and I assure you that your days of worrying are over. Indeed, this government is open to the committee’s suggestion of not just a minimum wage but a living wage,” he stated.

In a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity earlier, Tinubu affirmed that his administration remained committed to improving the welfare of all workers through various relief programmes including the wage award and the imminent minimum wage review.

“President Tinubu strongly believes that the custodians of the nation’s machinery deserve a fair wage and enhanced welfare and that a labourer is deserving of not just any reward but fair and commensurate wages.

“The President assures Nigerian workers of his dedication to not only improving their welfare but also enhancing their working conditions and providing the necessary tools for them to succeed,” the statement read.

Tinubu saluted Nigerian workers for their “fidelity to the peace, progress, and development of the nation evident in their tireless efforts and patriotic zeal to keep the national engine running.”

He commended workers across all spheres, from the clerical officer who ensures the proper documentation and distribution of correspondence, the security officer who remains ever dutiful through all seasons, and the teacher who secures the future of our nation by imparting knowledge to the next generation; the doctor who works relentlessly to save precious lives; and all Nigerian workers who keep the candle aflame.

Presidency faults labour

Explaining the reasons for the negotiation impasse, the Presidency said the N615,000 minimum wage demanded by the organised labour did not sit well with the Federal Government because it could not pay such an amount.

The President’s Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Onanuga, told The PUNCH that the parties must agree on an amount feasible for the government and the private sector.

He said, “It is an open affair. The NLC President, Ajaero, told the public today they were asking for N615,000 per month as minimum wage. So, where will the money come from? Do we have that kind of money to pay? The government cannot afford any minimum wage that it cannot pay.

 

“So, the President is hoping that maybe at their next meeting, everybody will come to some reasonable agreement that would reflect what the government and the private sector can pay.”

Also, a Ministry of Labour official, who spoke to The PUNCH, said the Federal Government proposed between N60,000 and N70,000.

The source, who preferred to remain anonymous as he was not authorised to speak on the issue, stated, “The government can go as high as N60,000 to N70,000 a month. But anything outside of that, for the government, is impossible.”

While inaugurating the minimum wage committee on January 30, the Vice-President, Shettima, urged members to “speedily” arrive at a resolution and submit their reports early as the current N30,000 minimum wage expires at the end of March 2024.

“This timely submission is crucial to ensure the emergence of a new minimum wage, Shettima said.

He also urged collective bargaining in good faith, emphasising contract adherence and encouraging consultations outside the committee.

The Minimum Wage Act of 2019 signed by former President Buhari approved N30,000 for both federal and state workers in the same year.

The Act also makes the review of the minimum wage mandatory every five years.

Tinubu’s removal of the fuel subsidy on May 29, 2023, triggered a sharp rise in the general cost of living.

Although the administration approved an additional NGN 35,000 wage award for six months (starting September 2023) to alleviate the impact of the subsidy removal, the organised labour maintained that this was only a provisional solution and called for a complete review of the minimum wage in 2024.

Reacting to the President’s comments, the Vice President of the TUC, Mr Tommy Etim, in an interview with The PUNCH, argued that it was not possible to say the committee failed to reach a consensus when it had not gotten to the stage of finalising agreements.

Etim also said the organised labour only presented its side of the bargain and other stakeholders would present theirs.

He added that the new salary increment was in a bid to correct the salary scale that had been in existence, insisting that it should have been announced earlier.

He noted, “It is not possible to say the committee failed to reach a consensus when its members haven’t even got to the stage of reaching agreements. So, that can’t be said.

“What Labour only did was to present its side of the bargain and other stakeholders will present theirs so they have not got to the stage of agreement.

“The new salary increment is in a bid to correct the salary scale that has been in existence and it should have been announced earlier than this. When the new minimum wage is announced, everything will be balanced for all Nigerians of working age.”

At the May Day celebration, the organized labour comprising the NLC and TUC demanded an end to excessive borrowing by the Federal Government.

FG borrowings

The labour unions said they acknowledged the Federal Government’s recognition of the mistake in floating the naira, leading to significant devaluation and inflation.

The NLC President, Ajaero, argued that borrowing foreign currency to support the naira was a short-sighted solution that might worsen the country’s economic situation.

Ajaero lamented that businesses were shutting down, with significant losses incurred due to the government policies, noting that the Nigerian economy had slipped to the fourth position in Africa while other African countries were thriving due to better leadership and policies.

He said a select few benefitted while the masses suffered and that petrol price hikes enriched the elite while the devaluation of the naira further impoverished the majority.

In his words, “Our nation faces escalating poverty, dwindling opportunities, and widespread disillusionment. Genuine businesses struggle, unemployment soars and the government remains indifferent.

“However, there’s hope if the government re-evaluates its policies, prioritises the welfare of its people, and supports local industries.

“We demand an end to disastrous policies like excessive borrowing and corruption. We need transparency in governance and accountability for public funds.

“Bold leadership is required to steer our nation towards recovery. President Tinubu has the chance to lead us towards a brighter future by putting the interests of Nigerians first.

“Let us act now to build a more equitable and prosperous Nigeria for all, ensuring a future free from deprivation and despair. Together, we can forge a path towards a brighter tomorrow for every citizen.”

On the energy crisis plaguing the country, the two labour centres decried what they termed as an uninspiring approach to managing the energy resources, warning that it spelt doom for any nation.

The unions stated that the country was being crippled by incompetence and selfishness, leaving citizens and the economy vulnerable.

Labour also insisted that power, regardless of its origin, fuels economic growth, saying the government needed to collaborate with the people to ensure energy benefits all Nigerians, not just a privileged few.

On the fuel crisis, the TUC President, Festus Osifo, demanded prompt action on the refineries, referencing the failure of the Federal Government to bring the refineries on stream despite repeated promises to do so.

“There is suspicion of sabotage to profit from importing at the expense of our economy. The recent refinery agreement lacks transparency, echoing past exploitation in other sectors.

“Claims of trillions spent on PMS subsidies baffle us. We demand clarity from the government on who benefits and who consumes the 40 million litres of projected daily consumption

“The power sector’s plight persists a decade after privatization. Conflict of interest hampers progress, and higher tariffs for nonexistent electricity are unjust. We reject unilateral and illegal tariff hikes and demand adherence to due process,’’ he demanded.

Commenting on the recent electricity tariff hike, the labour leader stated, “A 300 per cent tariff hike would devastate domestic manufacturers. Consumer classification perpetuates inequality, akin to apartheid, endangering field workers’ lives.

“Reassessing privatization is crucial for progress. Despite billions invested, grid collapses persist, and generation remains stagnant. Tanzania’s recent action underscores the need for change. The government must reclaim control and account for revenue from its stake.

“We commend states pursuing independent power generation and urge swift action to break monopolies and empower consumers nationwide. Let us unite to ensure energy serves all Nigerians, driving our nation’s prosperity.’’

“The NLC and TUC hereby advise NERC and power sector operators to reverse the last increase in electricity tariff within the next one week,” labour noted.

<<Punch>>