By Akanimo Sampson
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is currently planning a massive purge of the civil service in a seeming bid to meet with the demand of labour on the disturbing N30,000 new minimum wage.
But if the purge eventually takes place, it will compound the unemployment crisis in the country. The country’s unemployment rate stood at 23.1 percent of the work force in the third quarter of 2018, up from 18.1 percent a year earlier, Head of the Statistics Office, Yemi Kale, said on his official Twitter feed.
President Buhari came to power in 2015 campaigning to fix the economy, but his term has been marred by the country’s first recession in a quarter of a century and a sluggish recovery since 2017.
“As of Q3 2018, the calculated unemployment rate was 23.1 percent, the underemployment rate was 20.1 percent, and the combined unemployment and underemployment rate was 43.3 percent,’’ the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in its report.
“While the Q3, 2018 results show a rise in the rate of unemployment, it also depicts a slowing down in the rate of increase in unemployment, which is usually the first sign of improvement in reducing unemployment,’’ it said.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in the controversial 2019 poll, had vowed to get Nigeria’s economy back on track and secure jobs for the work force in a country of roughly 200 million people, promising that if he becomes the president he will aim to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025.
The NBS last released employment data a year ago when it said unemployment stood at 18.8 percent in Q3 2017 but Kale said on Twitter on that it had stood at 18.1 percent then.
However, Labour and Employment Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, pointed out on Thursday that the Federal Government under Buhari’s watch will have to lay off workers in order to meet a wage bill of N580 billion needed to meet labour’s demand on the new regime.
Ngige explained to labour leaders in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, that the sum was what will be needed by government to pay the consequential adjustments as demanded by labour. This is the latest in the increasing drama over payment of the new wage.
Ngige who was speaking when the leadership of the United Labour Congress (ULC), paid him a courtesy visit in his office, said that federal government was avoiding a situation where it will have to lay off workers, noting that throwing workers into unemployment would add to their burden.
While the minister pleaded with labour to accept the consequential adjustment from levels 7 to 17, adding that government had only three months left to implement the new wage, he stated that government will not promise labour what it can not pay, noting that no worker deserved to be owed salary.
According to Ngige, government had so far paid arrears of N500 billion to workers, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), restating that implementation of the new minimum wage had since commenced for workers on grade level 1 to 6, adding that the development had helped those on the lower cadre in the civil service to move up.
He advised labour unions to establish an inspectorate division that can work in collaboration with the Inspectorate Department of the ministry to ensure the faithful implementation of the new minimum wage and to guard against unfair labour practices, especially in the private sector.
The Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations, Charles Akpan, in a statement pointed out that the minister said government was adopting a new strategy to enforce compliance to the new minimum wage law.
“Our new strategy is to encourage trade unions to create an inspectorate arm that will work hand in hand with our Inspectorate Department in all the states. They are to work together; go into factories, companies and industries and look at their books to know what salaries workers are earning. With that, we will be sure Nigerians are not underpaid and with that also, we shall ensure that the new minimum wage and its consequential adjustment are being implemented faithfully,’’ the minister said.
On the union’s demand for the registration of the ULC as a trade centre, the minister said its registration must be done within the confines of the law, adding that the ministry will uphold the provisions of Section 40 of the Constitution on freedom of association including unionisation.
According to him, “we are not saying you won’t be registered. We want to register you within the confines of the law. Section 35 of the Trade Union Act is very clear on the requirements and process for the registration of a new Labour Centre. Though I agree with you that some of the labour laws need amendment but until they are amended, they remain the extant law and all and sundry must obey it.
“I’m excited you said your number is now thirty-seven. The last time you made an application, it was sixteen. It means you are growing from strength to strength and that the only thing you need to do now is to conform to that aspect of the law; Section 35 of the Trade Union Act that requires you to have twelve brand new unions.’’
President of the ULC, Joe Ajaero, appealed for payment of the new wage, stressing that the private sector should also be compelled to pay the N30, 000 minimum wage, insisting there was need to review obsolete laws that were not in tune with present realities.
He also noted that a situation where some private sector employers paid their employees N10, 000 and N15, 000 was unacceptable.