Minimum Wage: We Won’t Shift Ground On ₦‎615,000 Demand, Says Labour

Organised Labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress, has said it will not accept the N48,000 minimum wage offer proposed by the Federal Government.

The organised private sector had proposed an initial offer of N54,000 as a monthly living wage.

The unions had on Wednesday dumped the minimum wage negotiation after the Federal Government offered to pay N48,000, a figure far below the N615,00 the unions were demanding as the new national minimum wage.

After abandoning the session, the furious labour leaders in an emergency press conference vented their displeasure with the offer, stating that it was “an insult to the sensibilities of Nigerian workers”.

This was the second time in two weeks that the negotiation had run into trouble.

The last session, held on April 29, was deadlocked after organised labour insisted on N615,000 minimum wage.

The Federal Government disagreed with labour’s demand, stating that it was unreasonable.

The National President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, stressed that the amount was arrived at after analysing the current economic situation and the needs of an average Nigerian family of six.

He blamed the government and the OPS for the breakdown in negotiation, saying, “Despite earnest efforts to reach an equitable agreement, the less than reasonable action of the government and the organised private sector has led to a breakdown in negotiations”.

Ajaero had, in an earlier interview on the matter, said, “Living wage is such that it will, at least, keep you alive. It is not a wage that will make you poorer and poorer. It is not a wage that will make you borrow to go to work. It is not a wage that will lead you to be in the hospital every day because of malnutrition. For that living wage, we have tried to look at N615,000.

“Let me give you a breakdown of how we arrived at that figure. We have housing and accommodation of N40,000. We asked for electricity of N20,000 — of course, that was before the current tariff increase. Nobody can spend this amount currently. We have a utility that is about N10,000. We looked at kerosene and gas, that is about N25,000 to N35,000.”

Explaining further, the NLC president said, “We looked at food for a family of six. That is about N9,000 in a day. For 30 days, that is about N270,000. Look at health. With the N50,000 provided, there will be no surgery or whatever. For clothing, we looked at N20,000. For education, N50,000. I don’t know about those who tried to put their children in private schools, they will not be able to cope with this amount. We also have sanitation of N10,000.

“I think where we have another bulk of the money is transportation. This is because the workers stay on the fringes and because of the cost of petrol, which amounted to N110,000. That brought the whole living wage to N615,000, and I want anyone to subject this to further investigation and find out whether there will be any savings when you pay somebody at this rate.”

Explaining why the unions would not accept the proposals by the FG and OPS, NLC’s National Treasurer, Mr Hakeem Ambali, said the expectation of labour was cut short with the Federal Government’s N48,000 offer.

He stressed that labour would only come back to the negotiation table when the FG shifts ground and consider paying workers a ‘worthy’ wage.

He said the government must consider food inflation, electricity tariff hikes and the removal of fuel subsidy before coming up with any amount as the minimum wage.

“Our government and employers of labour must show seriousness towards prioritising workers’ welfare and better remuneration. This is because this hardship that is meted out on Nigerians was caused by the policies of the government. All other employers are already benefitting from the increase in allocation in the state and local government.

“Retailers have also increased the price of their goods. Transporters have also increased their rate. Electricity tariff has also been increased. It is only the salary that is static and something urgent must be done. Labour is of the opinion that the right thing must be done. Government must show seriousness towards resolving this issue because it is no longer easy to live in Nigeria as a worker.

“That is why Labour condemned the N48,000 suggestion. Is it meant for feeding alone? If we have a family of six and they are fed with N500 per meal, that will give us N90,000 in a month. This is not adding transport, medical bills and rent. So, the government must also come up with a reasonable minimum wage regime that will address the economic crisis in the country,” he added.

The national treasurer also said FG had refused to engage the main issues on why the N30,000 was no longer sustainable.

He said, “It is not that someone will just tell us, ‘We will give you N100,000 or we will give you N150,0000.’ We will not accept it. There must be empirical data to support it. That is seriousness and collective bargaining.

“We are all living in Nigeria; we are not strangers. How much does it take to go to work for an average worker? How much is rent today? How much is feeding? Our conclusions must be logical.”

Reacting to the position of some experts who proposed N100,000 as a reasonable wage considering the current economic realities, Ambali said anyone who said that was not an expert.

“Those experts must be among the bourgeoisie because how can N100,000 be enough for the worker? Even treating malaria now is a problem for a Nigerian worker. By the calculation of labour, it means no one would be able to live or afford to take care of his family.

“That is why the government was unable to produce something substantial at that meeting because the issues backed by labour are backed by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. The World Bank said the poverty index is about $2 per person.

“If we have six persons in a family, that is $12 per day. If we multiply $12 by 30 days, using the current exchange rate, we know what we are talking about.

“The government must address both the issue of minimum wage and the galloping inflation rate in the country and put up social policies that would take care of the vulnerable in the society, and not look for a way to pilfer and deep their hands into contributory pension funds, which so many employers are not even paying anyway.

“We believe that the new minimum wage must be a total rework of the workers’ welfare package,” he added.

When asked what organised labour would do if its demands on minimum wage were not met by the government, Ambali said workers might withdraw their services as they would not be able to cope.

He said, “It may not be a strike but it could be withdrawal of services. This is because if workers can no longer go to work, then they will stay at home. If workers trek to work today and trek for one week, they all will relax at home the next week because they may not be able to trek. Workers can’t continue going to work on an empty stomach. Those are the indices that will guide our engagements”.

‘Govt can pay workers’

The NLC treasurer also insisted that the government now had more money with the savings from fuel subsidy removal and could afford to pay workers a decent living wage.

He said,” The Federal Government has said the removal of the subsidy has earned the government over N1trn every month. If 50 per cent of that is reinvested in addressing poverty and the suffering of workers, it will be good.

“This is because the government is about the collective good of the people. We also know that the rate of the tax being imposed on workers is heavy. The poor are being overtaxed in Nigeria while the rich are enjoying tax holidays and exemptions.”

Ambali also called for a reduction in the cost of governance and wasteful government spending, noting that when citizens are going through economic hardship, the most reasonable thing to do is cut the cost of governance where possible.

He lamented that this was not happening in Nigeria with the government at all levels acting as if nothing had changed.

He added, “We have a large retinue of government appointees in Nigeria following elected officers up and down. There are too many. There are too many international trips. These are wastages in the system. There are some appointments that are not adding value to governance. All this should be looked at. Even the size of the cabinet is too much. Let the government reduce all these costs to address the needs of labour.”

The NLC official , however, urged workers to keep faith in the leadership of labour in the battle to get a living wage.

He said, “There is bound to be a lot of propaganda surrounding this matter. Labour leaders would be called names by politicians who will try to divide us and shift focus from the real subject matter. Workers must have confidence in their leaders. Once we are convinced that what is being offered can take an average worker home, we can sign an agreement with the government.”

Similarly, the Deputy National President of the Trade Union Congress, Dr Tommy Etim, said while labour was ready for the Tuesday meeting with the government, it was not ready to compromise on its position that Nigerian workers deserve a decent living wage.

He said, “Labour has already met and our position is very clear on this issue. When we pulled out, we wrote to the two centres (FG and organised private sector), appealing to us to come back for negotiation. They have agreed to shift their grounds and invited us for the continuation of the negotiation.

“We have given our submission. It is up for negotiations. It is based on variables which are known to them. Let them shift ground based on the variables. They have to take cognisance of the cost of accommodation, food, and other important things.

“According to the NBS, a meal is N900. That is official. When we look at what we submitted to them, we put N500 per meal. That is without meat. Let them tell us how they will arrive at whatever they will put on the table for us to consider.”

Labour’s next line of action

He also noted that labour expects the government to take definite action on the minimum wage before its May 31 deadline.

“We gave them May 31 as the deadline for this thing to be concluded. I think they are also working towards making sure the deadline is met. There are several grounds to cover. They know that we have what it takes.

“We believe they will be reasonable this time around to know that they are not playing with children. We want to see their level of seriousness before we discuss the next line of action. They should see the way labour picketed the electricity centres over the tariff. It tells you labour is united for this course. So, there is no cause for going back to the past. Labour is united and there is no going back to our unity,” he added.

Strike an option – TUC

When asked whether labour would consider going on strike over minimum wage, the TUC leader said the strike option was on the table.

He said, “That is one of the options and it is legal. No sane judge or court can give that kind of order to stop workers from exercising their constitutional rights. We are not deterred.”

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