Minimum wage: Labour insists on May 31 deadline as talks resume today

After several weeks of hiatus, the tripartite committee set up by the Federal Government will finally meet today (Wednesday), May 15, 2024, sources familiar with the matter confirmed the development to our correspondent in Abuja on Monday.*

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The Labour unions also stood their ground on their proposal of N615,000 minimum wage while insisting on May 31, 2024 deadline.

The development comes after the failure of the Federal Government to present a nationally acceptable minimum wage to Nigerians following the expiration of the old minimum wage on April 18, 2024.

President Bola Tinubu, through the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, on January 30, 2024 inaugurated the 37-member tripartite committee to come up with a new minimum wage.

With its membership cutting across federal, and state governments, the private sector, and organised labour, the panel is to recommend a new national minimum wage for the country.

Shettima, during the committee’s inauguration, urged the members to “speedily” arrive at a resolution and submit their reports early.

“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 37-man committee is chaired by the former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Goni Aji.

In furtherance of the assignment, a zonal public hearing was held simultaneously on March 7, 2024 in Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, and Abuja.

The NLC and the TUC, in different states, proposed various figures as a living wage, referencing the current economic crunch and the high costs of living.

In their different proposals on the minimum wage, the NLC asked the South-West states to pay N794,000 as the TUC mentioned N447,000.

At the North-Central zone hearing in Abuja, the workers demanded N709,000 as the new national minimum wage, while in the South-South, N850,000 minimum wage was demanded.

In the North-West, N485,000 was proposed, while the South-East stakeholders demanded N540,000 minimum wage.

The organised labour would later propose N615,000 as a living wage.

Since the March 7 zonal hearing, nothing much has been heard about the committee’s activities.

However, confirming the resumption of negotiations to The PUNCH on Tuesday, three competent sources, who spoke off the record as they were not authorised to speak to the press, said the committee will sit on Wednesday.

One of the sources said, “Yes the minimum wage committee will be meeting on Wednesday.”

According to him, all the zones across the country have submitted their reports.

He said, “Our expectations are clear. We have given the Federal Government till the last day of May for all the processes around national minimum wage to be concluded, if not, we will be forced to take the necessary action to compel them to do the needful.

“So, we expect that as they meet, they will also have an eye to that particular deadline that has been given to them to ensure a speedy conclusion of the process because organised labour has made a demand to the Federal Government, and we have not received any concrete offer from the government.”

The source added that the Federal Government should make its offer public.

“That is this actual negotiation exercise, they must make a realistic offer.

“The Federal Government should make an offer that has the interest of workers and also the interest of Nigeria because when workers are paid well, they are motivated, which means that productivity will increase, and it will directly make the economy thrive,” he said.

The source said a reasonable new minimum wage would increase workers’ purchasing power, which would have a positive effect on the economy.

“The moment workers’ salaries are increased, there will be more money in their hands, and they will buy more, and the local manufacturers will produce more, employ more people and the economy will thrive.

“We are not asking for charity; we are asking for what is good for all of us and for the nation. Nigerian workers are the lowest paid workers in Africa, our minimum wage is the lowest in Africa, that is the reality,” he said.

Also speaking to The PUNCH, another source said, “We are not meant to speak openly to the press but I can confirm to you off the record that we will finally be sitting on Wednesday. All the work done by the sub-committees will be reviewed. We hope to have a headway.”

Another, source who also confirmed the authenticity of the meeting, said, “Yes, we will be meeting on Wednesday.”

Speaking with our correspondent In Abuja, the National Vice-President of the TUC, Tommy Etim, noted that the unions still stand their ground on the proposal of N615,000 minimum wage while adding that the May 31, 2024 deadline remains sacrosanct.

“We are still standing on the N615,000 and the deadline of May 31 still stands,” he said.

Earlier, The PUNCH reported how 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.

But the NLC President, Joe Ajaero said the proposed N615,000 minimum wage by Labour 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 had also 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 recently.

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 (25 per cent) 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.”

Meanwhile, the National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, proposed a middle-of-the-road approach between the government and organised labour, noting, however, that the government seemed uninterested in negotiating with labour.

“Labour and the government have been discussing, but it looks like a monologue. It seems only one side is saying something, and the other side is not saying anything, at least to the knowledge of the public. And it doesn’t look like the government is very committed to labour issues, because first and foremost, the person who was appointed as the Minister of Labour left his job and was made a senator by a court, the Appeal Court, in a very controversial circumstance. He left his job and went to the Senate, and the President, since then, has not appointed a substantive Minister of Labour, meaning the government does not even consider issues that have to do with labour.”

However, Onwubiko argued that the N615,000 new minimum wage being demanded by labour was unrealistic.

He said, “That amount is unrealistic as far as the resources of Nigeria are concerned; it is quite unrealistic; it is unachievable. I think it is the beginning point for negotiation, but it doesn’t look like the government is even serious about negotiating. I think we need to reach a middle-of-the-road approach,” he said.

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