By Temitope Owotoki
Senator Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, has insisted that the payment of the new National Minimum Monthly Wage started from April 18, when President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Minimum Wage Amendment Act Bill into law.
Ngige, in an interview in Abuja, said that it had become imperative that all employers of labour in the country should comply with the law which he said was a national law, adding that that no governor in the 36 states of the federation will say that he will not pay the new minimum wage of N30, 000.
He said a committee was working out a new template for upward consequential adjustment for those already earning above N30,000.
While describing the negotiation for a new minimum wage as a tortuous one, Ngige advised employers of labour especially those who have not started implementation of the new law to do so in order to avoid accumulating arrears.
“It is a national law and no governor can say he will not pay. Issue of national minimum wage is item 34 on the exclusive legislative list of the third schedule of the Nigerian constitution.
“Issue of labour is also there and not on the concurrent list. If it is on the concurrent list, then they can make their own state Assembly laws on that. Every state government is now owing workers if they have not start paying N30,000.
“They (employers) are owing workers effective from 18th of April, a new minimum wage. We are now in a committee working out a new template with which we will adjust upward the consequential adjustment upstairs for those already earning above N30,000.
“The minimum wage is for the most vulnerable down the ladder and that is the man on grade level one step one. So, you must consequentially adjust for the man on grade level two, grade level three, grade level four and five, because that man on GL 1 step 1 has over taken them with his new payment.
“That is what we refer to as consequential adjustment. This consequential adjustment touches more the people on the lower ladder and we are working it out. The negotiation is going to be with the Joint Negotiating Council in both the federal and at the state level.
“What we are trying to do now with the Salaries and Wages Commission is that we have a technical committee working out what the federal government will do for their workers and advice the state government appropriately.
“In 2011, there was a mistake in the consequential adjustment in some states when they applied the principle of percentage increase across board and they ran into trouble and were unable to pay. What this N30,000 translates into is that there is a 67 percent increase.
“If a state government applies the same 67 percent increase across board, there will be serious trouble, the same with the federal government and when there is that trouble, there will be trade dispute because the principle of ability to pay will come in and ILO encourages us to apply those principle in our discussion.
“If I am unable to pay and my workers know that I am unable to pay, we will sit down and agree on what I am able to pay. So, there is a baseline now as no worker in Nigeria should earn anything less than N30,000 provided that the establishment has more than 25 workers.”
The minister said some workers have already started enjoying the new minimum wage.
“Infact, they have started enjoying it. Employers in the private sector adjusted immediately because it is easier for them to do. In the government sector, the bureaucracy and bottleneck of government is responsible for the delay.
“You know that you must budget for it. That is what is causing the delay. But whenever the encumbrances are removed, they will pay arrears with effect from 18th April, 2019.
“So, the sooner an establishment start paying, the better for you so that you don’t take a huge backlog that you cannot take. If you pay in piecemeal and start going, the better. So, i advice all employers of labour in Nigeria, including state government to immediately set up their Joint Negotiating Councils so that whatever we get from here, we give it to them and they will look at it based on their peculiarities.
“There are no two states that are the same in terms of the revenues coming from the federations account and internally generated revenue. So, when the template from the federal level is given to you, you put it on the table with the Joint negotiating Council and discuss how it suits you and cue into it as much as possible with the finances available to you.
“Luckily, today, finances of states are known. Everybody know what the state is coming from FAAC with. The IGR of most state governments are also known now. So, it is a pleasant situation that we are all in now.”
Ngige denied the recent allegation by the NLC that he was frustrating the implementation of the new minimum wage.
“I saw the NLC President on Television saying so. But that was when they were trying to picket me and I pitied him because he was trying to blackmail me in the wrong direction.
“I am the prime mover of the new minimum wage. If you ask anybody in the Federal Executive Council, they will tell you so and the President will also tell you so and he has said so many times. So, the President of the NLC is playing politics. But he can’t play politics on workers like that. If he wants to play politics, he should leave labour unionism because the Labour laws do not allow labour leaders to play partisan politics.”
Reminded that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU had threatened to resume strike if the federal government refused to implement the agreements it entered into with the union, Ngige said that he had made it compulsory that every government establishment kept to any agreement.
“I have forced government establishments to keep to agreements, especially the ones that we entered into now. Where we have difficulties is the 2009 and 2013 agreements that the then government made. But nobody wants to know that.
“They will tell you that government is a continuum. So, as much as possible, we try to renegotiate some of these agreements to make them realistic. The ILO principles permit that CBAs that are not feasible can be renegotiated. That is the luck we have and in this Ministry, we have used it to the best of the advantage of the government.
“That is why today, if you go to the Industrial Arbitration Panel, they are complaining that cases no longer come. We are taking the bullets here and not putting some there. I have read through cases that go there and discovered that when cases go there, employers are not satisfied and still go to the National Industrial Court and to Court of Appeal.
“As they are doing that, you have spate of industrial actions because once the worker finds out that you are trying to frustrate them from getting what they believe is theirs, they will find ways of declaring new dispute. So, now that we are here, we have told government the truth. I insist and bring government officials here for negotiation.
“I don’t take officers for negotiation. The best we can do is for a Minister to come for the first two meetings and then delegate his Permanent Secretary and this has worked. Ministers are Chief Executives of the Ministries and are the ones who will take the major decisions and do a memo to Mr. President saying we need this and that. When they do that I collaborate it and they get the necessary funds.”