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Minimum wage: Labour kicks as FEC steps down memo, demands consultation

Written by silvernewsng

By Onyeche Wofurum Igwe

The Organised Labour on Tuesday kicked against the Federal Executive Council’s decision to step down the memorandum on the report of the Tripartite Committee on New National Minimum Wage.

The Head of Public Relations of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Benson Upah, who criticised the failure of FEC to consider the memo during Tuesday’s FEC meeting, said stepping down the tripartite committee report “creates room for injurious speculations.”

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, told journalists after the council meeting that the FEC stepped down the memorandum on the new minimum wage to allow for more consultations between President Bola Tinubu, state governors, local government authorities and the private sector.

Idris said the council deferred acting on the memo given that the Federal Government is not the sole stakeholder on the national minimum wage issue.

The Federal Government, Organised Private Sector and Labour had held several meetings on the new minimum wage with the NLC and Trade Union Congress leaders insisting on N250,000.

On the other hand, the Federal Government, states and the OPS made a counter-offer of N62,000.

However, the state governors argued that they would not sustain any minimum wage higher than N60,000.

The Assistant General Secretary of the NLC, Chris Onyeka, said Labour would not accept the latest offer of N62,000 and the N100,000 proposal made by some individuals and economists.

The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said the unionists were waiting on the President to consider Labour’s proposal.

But speaking at the opening of the 2024 Synod of the Charismatic Bishops Conference of Nigeria in Abuja, the information minister emphasised the imperative of a realistic wage system that could safeguard against mass retrenchment while addressing workers’ needs.

FG faults NLC

Idris argued that the N250,000 minimum wage proposal could undermine the economy, lead to mass retrenchment of workers and jeopardise the welfare of Nigerians.

But in his Democracy Day broadcast, the President promised to forward a bill on the new minimum wage to the National Assembly soon.

He told governors and members of the National Assembly on the occasion of the nation’s 25th Democracy Day anniversary at the State House that his administration would pay whatever it could afford as the new minimum wage.

This statement drew the anger of Labour, which insisted that the political office-holders should also be paid the minimum wage.

The Senate spokesman, Yemi Adaramodu, said, “The President will likely send the minimum wage bill after the Sallah break.”

The Senate had adjourned plenary for the Sallah break and is due to resume on July 2.

But the then acting President of the NLC, Prince Adewale Adeyanju, said Labour would not accept the N62,000 proposed by the government and OPS, advising the President to pay workers a living wage and ignore those he described as sycophants.

He also refuted insinuations that a consensus had been reached between the Federal Government and Labour on the new wage.

On Monday, the NLC President, Ajaero, mentioned that Organised Labour expected Tinubu to reach out to the members of the tripartite committee to harmonise the figure, given the stalemate at the end of the committee meeting.

Addressing State House correspondents after Tuesday’s FEC meeting, the information minister, Idris, explained that the President needed to interact with other wage-paying entities to factor their contributions and circumstances into the executive bill on minimum wage that would be passed on to the National Assembly for passage into law.

He stated, “I want to inform Nigerians here that the Federal Executive Council deliberated on that (minimum wage) and the decision is that because the new national minimum wage is not just that of the Federal Government, it is an issue that involves the Federal Government, the state governments, local governments, and the organised private sector and of course, including the organised labour.

“That memo was stepped down to enable Mr President to consult further, especially with the state governors and the organised private sector, before he makes a presentation to the National Assembly before an executive bill is presented to the National Assembly.

“So I want to state that on the new national minimum wage, Mr President is going to consult further so that he can have an informed position because the new national minimum wage, as I said, is not just an issue of the Federal Government.”

He said the President studied the report and will “consult wider before a final submission is made to the National Assembly.”

Reacting to the FEC’s decision, the NLC spokesman, Upah, declared that stepping down the minimum wage memo did not bode well for workers.

When asked if the decision to postpone the consideration of the minimum wage memo was a waste of time, he responded, “Definitely, stepping down the minimum wage memo does not bode well with or for us. It creates room for injurious speculations.”

The Deputy National President of the TUC, Tommy Etim, said he expected the President to address the ‘grey areas’ ahead of the transmission of the executive bill on the new minimum wage to the National Assembly.

“I want to believe that the government is very conscious of the grey areas which organised labour has pointed at, especially the amount to be accepted by every party involved, the frequency of review and criteria for the review and application.

“These, amongst others, are the burning issues which to the best of my knowledge need to be addressed before its consideration by FEC to the National Assembly,’’ he noted.

OPS warns Labour

Meanwhile, the OPS on Tuesday reiterated its warning that any approval of a new national minimum wage that is above N62,000 could spark an industrial crisis and lead to job losses.

It said an upward review by the President might lead to non-compliance by employers which could lead to a series of industrial actions by aggrieved employees.

The Director-General of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, Adewale Oyerinde, stated this while speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the Third Nigeria Employers Summit on ‘Economic Renaissance Harnessing Government Reforms and Private Sector Agility,’ in Abuja.

He said private sector members swallowed a painful pill in accepting the proposed N62,000 by the tripartite committee and that it was based on a certain premise of concession by the government to suspend implementation of the electricity tariff, among others.

The NECA DG added that the government must consider the financial capability of its members to avoid a total shutdown of the sector.

He said, “Now, for us, and we have said it and we’ll say it again openly, the N62,000 that the employers came up to, the N62,000 was based on some premise. It was painful conceding that we did. And it was based on a certain premise. And one of those, or two of those, or three of those is the new electricity tariff, the government has to suspend it. That is one. That there should be an embargo on the new tax.

“And this speaks to the National Assembly as we speak. I hear the representative of the speaker saying he’s going to declare open a public hearing on CSR (corporate social responsibility). It’s not a part of the issues we had. The House wants to legislate on CSR to make it compulsory. It is corporate social responsibility, for God’s sake.

“It’s the prerogative of the business to say this is what I want to do. So you don’t legislate it. It’s another tax which we are also going to contest.

“So, those are part of the conditions that we gave for us to agree on the N62,000 minimum wage. Now, if it goes above N62,000, you have created two or three different dynamics. One, you have set the tone for non-compliance.

“That is one. Because if I cannot pay, I just can’t pay. Now, you have created a problem for the judiciary because all employees who are not satisfied have the right, according to the Act, to go to the National Industrial Court.

“Now, imagine 1,000, 2,000 employees or 5,000 employees across the country going to the National Industrial Court. How long will the Industrial Court take to dispense almost 5,000 cases? That is one.

“Two, you have also set in the process another dangerous pattern. We already have businesses leaving now. All of us are not interrogated, where are our brothers and sisters working in those companies? Where are they? So, a figure beyond what the private sector can pay may also lead to a loss of jobs.

“Now, we complain about insecurity. So, we have to put all those together. And a fundamental, lastly for me, on this minimum wage issue, a fundamental element in setting up a national minimum wage that you cannot take away is the ability to pay.

If you take away the ability to pay, then you have just set a crisis stage.”

Asked whether the association was satisfied with the delay on the minimum wage bill, the NECA DG said, “There’s no waiting game and I think we have to put all this in context. And all this misinformation, I think we are just creating unnecessary tension. There’s a process and we don’t seem to be on the same page. There’s a process of the tripartite committee sitting to recommend the national minimum wage.

“And that process, once the minimum wage, the figures are recommended, we pass it to the president, which we have done. And the president is the sovereign. They have to pick the committee’s recommendation, do I accept it or do I not take it?

“The President remains the sovereign. That position is not contested. The employers cannot contest it. Labour cannot contest it. It is the sovereign that should pick a figure, and then pass it to the National Assembly to go through a legislative process. That process, we can only advocate for it to be fast-tracked.

“We cannot put a gun in somebody’s head and say, look, you have to do this, it’s tomorrow, you have to do it. It doesn’t work like that.”

Strategic reforms

Speaking at the event, Tinubu stated that his administration would continue with proposed strategic reforms and measures to address deep-rooted structural issues in the country.

He said the reforms would be implemented fully despite the nation’s complexities and citizens’ resistance to change.

“We will continue with various proposed programs and strategic measures where necessary to address the deep-rooted structural issues these are systemic challenges that plagued the economy over the years.

“Despite our country’s complexities and citizens resistant to change, we will remain resolute in our commitment to stir the nation towards safety and prosperity,” Tinubu said at the Nigeria Employers Summit on Tuesday in Abuja.

The President was represented by the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.

In its third edition, the event was organised by the National Employers Consultative Association and serves as the premier advocacy platform for business-focused deliberation and solution paths between the OPS and the government at both national and sub-national levels.

Multiple reforms by the current administration including the removal of the fuel subsidy and unification of the exchange rate market more than a year ago have set the country on a path of inflation surge and forex crisis leading to the exit of multinationals.

The President admitted that current reforms have caused disruptions in key sectors but he insisted they had set the nation on a path of economic prosperity and generational development.

He said the withdrawal of the unsustainable fuel subsidy which drained $10bn or 2 per cent of the nation’s GDP has allowed for the redirection of funds towards critical sectors such as health care, infrastructure, and security directly impacting citizens well being and prosperity.

He added that the steps were necessary to ensure the sustainability of businesses, attract foreign direct investors and make Nigeria the pride of Africa as it used to be.

Tinubu said, “The theme of this year’s annual summit is apt as the government since its inception has rolled out several reforms that have affected the economy value chain and impact on organised businesses. It is also without doubt that this administration is committed to strengthening the private sector’s role in our economy.

“In our quest for economic renaissance and national renewal, we have had to embark on various reforms to navigate our mission. These reforms are not only necessary but also very important to preserve our national wealth and lay a solid foundation for our generational development.

“Are the current challenges surmountable? Of course, yes. They are surmountable and we will all surmount them. Now that there are challenges as a result of the reforms, I assure you that this administration is doing all that is necessary to cushion the pains and impact for all ‘citizens’.

He added, “The administration will continue to do all that is necessary to ensure the sustainability of businesses, attract foreign direct investors and make our nation the pride of Africa as it used to be.’’

NECA advises govt

In his welcome address, Oyerinde said the government must deepen collaboration and create pathways towards maximizing ongoing government reforms by leveraging the capacity and potential of private sector employers.

He called for the fast-tracking of palliative measures to lessen inflationary pressures.

He stated, “While we commend these efforts and recognize their critical role in attracting investment, enhancing productivity, and driving sustainable economic growth, it is essential to note that the true measure of these reforms lies in their effective implementation and the tangible benefits they deliver to businesses and citizens alike.

“The private sector, with its inherent dynamism and innovation, stands as a cornerstone of economic development. Our agility allows us to swiftly respond to market changes, adopt new technologies, and create value.

“It is this spirit of innovation and resilience that we must harness to complement government reforms. By promoting a symbiotic relationship between the public sector’s regulatory framework and the private sector’s dynamism and value creation, our country can achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” he stated.

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