By Andy Chukwu
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum on Sunday strongly disagreed over specific salary adjustments being sought by workers on the new National Minimum Wage.
The NLC, in a letter to its state councils, said there was no going back on its demand for the consequential adjustment of salaries as a result of the new minimum.
The congress, therefore, directed its state councils to prepare for a nationwide strike starting from October 16, 2019.
But Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Chairman of the NGF, said any strike by labour would be an exercise in futility as the country could not meet the specific demands of the organised labour on consequential adjustments of salaries.
After the first phase of negotiations collapsed due to percentage differences between the two parties, the Federal Government negotiating team and the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council will meet again on Tuesday.
The JNPSNC is representing labour unions in the negotiation for the implementation of the new minimum wage.
Labour is demanding 29 per cent salary increase for officers on salary grade level 07 to 14 and 24 per cent adjustment for officers on salary grade level 15 to 17. However, the FG had presented a proposal of 11 per cent salary increase for officers on grade level 07 to 14 and 6.5 per cent adjustment for workers on grade level 15 to 17.
Labour in a joint communiqué issued at the end of a meeting of the union leaders in Abuja recently said it would not guarantee industrial peace if the Federal Government failed to hold a meeting with it and accept its demand on the consequential salary adjustment before the close of work October 16.
The warning prompted the Federal Government to call a meeting of all stakeholders on Wednesday with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, presiding. At the meeting, all the parties agreed to meet again on October 15 in Abuja.
Also present at the Wednesday meeting were the Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed; Minister of State for Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba; Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN); the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi- Esan, Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, acting Chairman, National Salaries Income and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta, and the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris.
Despite the new schedule, the NLC in a letter dated October 11, 2019 and signed by its Secretary General, Emma Ugboaja, directed the state chairmen and secretaries of the council to coordinate preparations for industrial action.
The letter stated, “You will recall that a joint communiqué was issued by the leadership of the NLC, the Trade Union Congress and the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council stating that after two weeks from the date of the said communiqué, industrial harmony could not be guaranteed in the country should an agreement not be reached with the Federal Government on the consequential adjustment of salaries as a result of the new minimum wage of N30, 000.
“You are hereby directed to coordinate preparations with the TUC and the JPSNC in your state for necessary industrial action should the time expire without an agreement as contained in the communiqué.”
However, Ngige has assured that he would continue to serve as mediator in the dispute.
He added that he would still meet labour leaders on Monday before the Tuesday meeting.
Nwachukwu Obidiwe, the Special Adviser, Media to Ngige stated that the minister has in exercise of powers conferred on him as the chief conciliator, said the trade dispute and conciliation are going on.
“The leadership of the NLC and the TUC know the laws as well as the provisions of the International Labour Organisation statutes on the current situation. I do not think they will wish to go against these elaborate provisions by taking to action while the conciliation is on.
“The minister will continue his efforts tomorrow (Monday) with separate meetings with labour and government side and joint conclusive meetings for Tuesday.
But in an interview with journalists in Lagos on Sunday, the Ekiti State governor, who is also the NGF’s Chairman, Fayemi, said any strike by workers would be an exercise in futility.
Fayemi, who doubles as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, made the appeal, while speaking with journalists in Lagos.
He called on workers to take into consideration, the country’s economic situation before embarking on industrial action.
“We don’t workers to down tools, but we made it clear during the tripartite negotiation that an increase in the National Minimum Wage is not tantamount to a general wage review,” he said.
“The fact that we moved people, who were below N30,000 to N30,000 and wherever they should be on the scale, should not automatically mean that we must increase the salaries of people on Level 17, who are on N400,000. It is a minimum wage law; it is not a general wage law.
“Yes, if you promote levels 05 or 06, they may go over what the current level 07 is earning. So, that calls for a consequential adjustment, but that adjustment should not go over levels 08 and 09. The Federal Government has even agreed to do nine per cent for levels 07 to 12 and five per cent for levels 13 and above, but they said no and insisted on 45 per cent.
“Government can’t pay what it doesn’t have’
“Where is Nigeria going to find the money? I mean the economy is in doldrums. Whether we openly admit or not, everyone knows. If you have an economy that earmarks N2.4tn for debt servicing; then what are we talking about? So, I hope good sense will prevail and that people will be able to convince labour that it is a futile effort if they do so because Nigeria cannot pay what it doesn’t have.”
Fayemi also spoke on the directive by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit on local government funds, saying the NGF stance on the issue is the position of the law.
He said, “There is no law that has been passed in the country on local government autonomy. There have been several attempts, but it has never got the nod of 24 states’ Houses of Assembly out of the 36 in the country to make it happen.
“Nigeria is not a three-tier federation. Talks about Nigeria been a three-tier federation is a distortion. If you want to create 200 local government areas, it is your business because you and your people in your state should figure it out. It should not be the business of Abuja because that for me is surreptitious unitarism.
“What is the business of the NFIU on local governments’ funds? When you read the NFIU law, the NFIU monitors what is going on in the banking system, internationally and locally and if you have a specific case of money laundering, please bring it up. You cannot have a general rule to address a unique problem. You can’t because you want to fight money laundering; you now say that states and local governments cannot run joint accounts, which is in the constitution of Nigeria; Section 162 and we have a case pending in court on the issue.”