The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on Monday, disagreed with two civil society organisations on workers’ demand for N56,000 minimum wage.
While the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders supported the workers’ call for the review of the minimum wage, MAN and the ACCI said the economy could not sustain N56,000 minimum wage.
This followed the disruption of the 2017 May Day rally at the Eagle Square in Abuja by angry workers over the failure of the Federal Government to approve a new Minimum Wage for workers in the country.
The workers insisted that the Federal Government had a responsibility to give them a definite position on the lingering issue of a new Minimum Wage in the country.
The aggrieved workers also faulted the absence of the President and his deputy from the event, where they expected either of the two to address them on the issues of survival affecting them.
The incensed workers rejected all pleas by their leaders as they chanted “no! We need a new Minimum Wage.”
They insisted that the N18,000 minimum wage has become inadequate to feed their families and indeed to survive in the face of the biting effects of the economic recession in the country.
Trouble started when the workers, who had gathered in front of the podium to listen to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, were told that the Acting Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mrs. Abiola Bawa, was to address them on his behalf.
This seemed to have angered the workers, who insisted that the minister should address them on the issue of the minimum wage while they would wait to see the representative of the President.
They rejected the explanation by the President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, that the minister could not read his own address as he was meant to read the President’s address as his representative.
The workers brought out their posters and chanted “we need a new minimum wage now” and insisted that the event would not continue until the issue was addressed.
However, when Ngige mounted the podium, they insisted that they needed a new minimum wage and that he had nothing to offer them.
Labour leaders of the NLC and the TUC made frantic efforts to douse the tension for Ngige to address the workers without success.
Even when Organised Labour brought out former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshi0mhole, who is also a former President of the NLC, the workers refused to listen to him.
The highest political office holders, who attended the event, were Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.
Some of the workers were heard telling the President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Bala Kaigama, that the price of food items, building materials, and indeed everything in the market had increased while the naira had continued to lose value.
“There is no salary; the naira is coming down and everything in the market is going up. You cannot buy school items, you cannot buy building materials, you cannot buy food items. Everything is just going up,” some of them chanted.
When asked to react to what happened and what the workers told him, Kaigama said the NLC and TUC would address the press on the issue.
However, Wabba read an address in which he urged the Federal Government to immediately constitute the tripartite committee for the negotiation of a new minimum wage for the Nigerian workers.
The NLC president added, “Workers also expected that either the President or the Vice-President should have been here because, as you can see, it was at the point when his speech was to be read that trouble started.
“It also points to the fact that workers are actually going through serious challenges. Many of them have not even earned their salaries for this month. Nigerian workers have been pushed to the wall.”
Wabba, who recalled that Organised Labour had sent a proposal to the Federal Government to increase the minimum wage from N18,000 to N56,000 in May last year, described the struggle for a new minimum wage as the most effective action against corruption in the civil service.
He said the anger expressed by the workers was a reflection of the harsh effects of the economic situation on workers and other Nigerians.
Wabba appealed to the Federal Government to ensure the “implementation of all the palliative measures to cushion the effect of the increase in fuel price as recommended by the technical committee” on the issue.
For the first time, the workers rejected the traditional address of the President and that of the Minister of Labour contrary to the norm.
Also, Kaigama said the disruption of the workers’ day rally by the aggrieved workers was the result of pain and anger.
The TUC boss added, “What happened today is not surprising. In particular, federal workers, we are aware, have not been paid their promotion arrears since 2007. Some of them, as far back as 2007, and you keep promoting them.
“Somebody, who has been promoted as director or assistant director, is still collectingthe salary of Grade Level 9 or 10. Obviously, here we are in recession in the face of devaluation of the naira, in the period that we have a huge inflationary trend at a very astronomical rate.
“It is a protest of pain and anger and the best thing the government should do is to come out practically to address these issues.”
ULC holds May Day in Lagos
Also, the new labour centre, the United Labour Congress, which was formed last year, and led by Joseph Ajaero, held its May Day rally at the National Stadium Surulere in Lagos.
Ajaero said the declaration that the country was out of recession was propaganda because the prices of goods and services were still high.
The ULC called on the Federal Government to stop further privatisation but should build domestic industrial capacity and turn round local refineries.
He stressed that workers should rise to fight for their rights rather than lamenting.
“Workers should come out to register their grievances on the issue of allowances owed them by the governments. The government needs to address issues such as high unemployment rate, precarious work, privatisation, recession to mention a few,” he added.
In his message, the President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Igwe Achese, said the drop in oil price had compelled multinationals and contractors to embark on endless sackings.
According to him, no fewer than 3,000 oil workers had lost their jobs because of the oil glut.
MAN, ACCI disagree with CDHR, CACOLSOs
While MAN and ACCI said the workers should realise that the N56,000 demanded as minimum wage was not realistic, the CDHR and CACOL called on the Federal Government to grant the workers their wish.
The CDHR President, Malachy Ugwumadu, said, “The minimum wage is an act of the National Assembly, which is designed to be reviewed every five years. The last minimum wage, which was put at N18,000, was done well over five years ago. Therefore, a review is overdue, even as a matter of law.
“Also, the present economic situation tells us that N18,000 cannot sustain an average Nigerian worker.
“We must also examine this wage demand against the backdrop of the looting in government by a few greedy misguided politicians, as we now witness the recovery of our money in markets, buildings, burial grounds and other places.
“The workers must therefore have an urgent constructive engagement with the government.”
In his remarks, the CACOL Chairman, Debo Adeniran, said, “It is ideal that workers must be paid wages equal to their efforts and the Federal Government must not shy away from that fact. I agree that N56,000 is not too much for the Federal Government.
“At the state level, we must admit that some states, where the workers are not contributing to internally generated revenues, may not expect to earn as much as other states that have huge IGR and other means. I believe that the labour unions also must put their house in order. They must not sing discordant tunes.”
But MAN and the ACCI said the current economic realities might make it difficult for the Federal Government to afford the N56,000 minimum wage demand by the NLC.
The President of MAN, Dr. Frank Jacobs, and the ACCI President, Mr. Tony Ejinkeonye, while speaking during separate telephone interviews with The PUNCH, called for caution in considering the demand of the NLC.
Jacobs said while the workers were at liberty to demand a wage structure that would satisfy their interest, there was the need to consider if such demand would be affordable by the government.
He said, “Everybody is entitled to make demands to satisfy his or her personal interest but the question is ‘can this economy with stand that kind of minimum wage?’
“Even if the Federal Government is able to do it, there are some states that cannot pay the N18,000 minimum wage.
“It’s okay for them to demand this but what about affordability? Can the system actually pay?
“So I think it’s something they are going to find out from the government as they begin to negotiate whether government has the capacity to pay.”
Ejinkeonye said while the level of inflation in the country had made it imperative for workers’ salaries to be reviewed upward, there was the need for such review to be tailored to the ability of government to pay.
He stated, “The government has to be careful, we have to check inflationary trends in tandem with the present salaries workers are getting generally.
“Because if the inflation is very high, you will expect, of course, that the workers cannot afford to maintain themselves.
“So, government has to be very careful. I support the minimum wage which supports an increase in remuneration for workers but it has to be tailored carefully.
“If there is going to be salary increment of minimum wage, the state of our economy has to be really checked so that if government is to take a decision, it would be taken in a holistic manner.
Buhari promises to set up minimum wage panel
Meanwhile, Buhari has promised to set up a new minimum wage committee and provide the needed palliatives to reduce the discomfort currently being experienced by Nigerian workers as a result of the nation’s economy that is in recession.
Buhari made the promise in his address to Nigerian workers to mark the 2017 Workers’ Day.
The address, which was not read at the labour rally in Abuja, on Monday, was made available to journalists by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity.
He said, “As you are aware, my government set up a government cum labour committee on minimum wage and palliatives following the liberalisation of fuel pump price on May 17, 2016.
“This is sequel to the request made by organised labour for a new minimum wage and palliatives to cushion the effects of the sharp increase of petroleum products prices especial Premium Motor Spirit.
“This was despite our earlier government policy of National Social Investment Programme as emergency intervention against poverty.
“I am happy to inform you that government will give expeditious consideration to the proposals contained in the technical committee’s report which was submitted on April 6, 2017.
“Government will take necessary steps to implement the final recommendation of the main government/labour committee as it relates to the setting up of new national minimum wage committee and needed palliatives in order to reduce the discomfort currently being experienced by the Nigerian working class.”
The President said as a responsible and labour-friendly government, his administration would continue to accord high priority to the welfare of workers irrespective of whether they were in the formal or informal sector of the economy.
Buhari added that the economic recession in the country had huge implications on the seamless conduct of industrial relations.
He noted that this arose from the fact that economic recession, by its nature, was characterised by a substantial risk of the “vicious circles of low- productivity.”
While commending organised labour for supporting the present administration’s desire to change the country for the better, Buhari urged workers to continue to partner his government by resorting to social dialogue to resolve conflicts.
He urged them to stop embarking on “needless strikes”, which he said would do Nigeria no good at this critical moment in national history.
Ekweremadu calls for N50,000 minimum wage
Also, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, reiterated his call for the implementation of N50,000 Minimum Wage for Nigerian workers.