The Federal Government, Wednesday, proposed to pay N24,000 new minimum wage, saying states agreed to pay N20,000, against the N30,000 demanded by Labour.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who stated this while briefing State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said N24,000 was what the Minimum Wage Negotiation Tripartite Committee agreed on. And that government would not go beyond that.
The Minister said that in the tripartite committee, the Federal Government according to the International Labour Organisation, ILO, is called the authentic authority and that the cardinal principle of wage fixing under the ILO was the capacity to pay.
But Senator Ngige said that negotiation was ongoing as the government team would be meeting with the leadership of organised labour today to ensure that all the parties arrived at a consensus figure.
He stated further that there was a disagreement in the private sector as some players in the sector have opposed the proposed N30,000 agreed on in the last meeting.
Ngige said: “If you can recall, we spoke on September 26 and I did inform you that I was going to meet with organised labour to see what we can do to stop the impending strike which was slated for the 27th.
“We met in my office and we agreed to reconvene the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Committee for October 4 and 5, that was the issue in contention at the time and the idea was to enable them get back to their council to call off the strike.
“However, one thing led to the other and the strike took place and they called it off on the 30th which was on Sunday.
“We reconvened at the Minimum Wage Committee on the 4th and 5th, and we had adequate representation of all the three partners. Tripartite means that three groups are negotiating; the first group is organised labour, the second is organised private sector and the third group is the government, which is called the authentic authority by the ILO.
“So, we met and if you also remember the contentious issue as per that meeting was for figures to be fixed and we had all proposed our figures, but throughout the negotiations, figures were readjusted; the labour unions adjusted their figures and came down to 30,000 per month, organised private sectors also adjusted their figures from 25.000 which they had earlier proposed to N30,000.
“Federal Government is carrying on its own team, the governors, so it’s a bi-focal arrangement when it comes to the federal government. Governors had their own figure, which was different from the figure of the federal government; both the federal government figure and that of the state governors were also presented and we discussed because the cardinal principle of wage fixing mechanism under the ILO is the ability to pay, the capacity to pay.
“Because the issue of minimum wage under Convention 131, the fixing mechanism takes that into account and also says that there must be a consensual agreement. So, we have a figure of the federal government and the state government have theirs.
”The state government figure at the last time was N20,000, the federal government had a figure of N24,000 and that was where we all stood.
“This negotiation took into account these irreducible offers on the different governments but we could not arrive at a consensus. Even though we adjourned our meeting and said we will put up a report that will reflect this position, we are still continuing to discuss informally to see if we can arrive at a common figure.
“National Salaries and Incomes and Wages Commission has also done the scenerio for the government and presented to the economic management team, so discussions are still ongoing and that is where we are.
“This information becomes very pertinent because I saw all your papers, the dailies yesterday awash with the news that we have all agreed on N30,000, that is not true, the federal government has not agreed on N30,000.
“The federal government is also carrying the states along with them because a lot of the workers are in the states and it’s a very sensitive matter. We cannot, because the issue of minimum wage is item 34 and an exclusive legislation by the federal government through the National Assembly, to go and fix an amount which the state governments will find difficult to pay, resulting in retrenchment of workers in the states.
“This government doesn’t want any retrenchment and Mr President has always reiterated it that no worker should be retrenched for as long as this administration is on; no worker will be denied his promotion for as long as this administration is on and recruitment to replace people who have retired or people who are dead should continue to be done so that we face the issue of unemployment and do what we can through such recruitment. So this is the situation.”
Asked while the government cannot bend and agree with the two groups out of the three that make up the tripartite committee and pay N30,000, he said it would be unfair to foist on government an amount it would find difficult to pay.
He said: “It’s true that the organised private sector moved from N25,000 to join labour for N30,000 per month. However, it is good I point out one or two things. The organised sector, led by NECA, that is Nigeria Employers Consultative Assembly and Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and NACCIMA, represent just about 40 percent of the employers in the private sector.
“I do remember that at our last meeting, even the Small and Medium Scale Industries Association refused to be part of the N25,000 figure.
“Again, the informal sector forms the preponderance of the private sector or the ones you can call unorganized private sector. The people who own small shoe factories, the tailoring industries, the people who are doing bakery are the informal sector. It is not cast in stone because two groups have agreed, then it becomes binding on everybody, no.
“It is a collective bargaining agreement and it is done by consensus, it is not done by voting, if it is done by voting, the government people are more in number but it is not the spirit of discussion and it is never done because you don’t foist on somebody an agreement he cannot implement.
“You don’t make a law that people find difficult to implement. The issue of National Minimum Wage is a national law that will bind everybody. Informal sector, private sector, organised and unorganized sectors, the federal government, state governments and local government.
“So if the local and state governments are saying we are not capable, we cannot carry this, you can’t foist it on them, that is why it is a consensual discussion and I don’t want you people to start saying that the discussion was deadlocked, we are still discussing.”
Asked how long the negotiation would take to arrived at an agreed figure, the Minister said: “The issue of how long it will take, we are discussing it informally, by tomorrow (today), we are going to meet again with the leadership and look at everything.
“As I told you, the ability to pay, the capacity to pay is the guiding principle because it is going to be a national law, you don’t make a law that ab initio people will breach.”
On the stand of the cabinet at the FEC, he said the “cabinet as a group, stands on where they were standing before that it is the Economic Management Team that knows the finances of the federal government and even to some extent, the finances of states that will give us our government figure and I have told you what our government figure is, and for now, there is no change.”
Also briefing, Suleiman Hassan, the Minister of State, Power, Works and Housing, said FEC approved a road contract of N5.202 billion in Sokoto State to make way for ferrying of agricultural produce to neighbouring countries of Niger and Benin Republic.
He said: “This afternoon, we approved the award of contract for the construction of Kagigi, Jaro, Goraye, and Takwaco road in Sokoto state. This is a 28.75 kilometer road joining Sokoto and Zamfara states. It is in a very good agricultural zone.
“It will able to ferry agricultural goods and human traffic between these two states and onto the neighbouring countries of Niger, and Benin Republic.
“This contract is awarded to messrs Sky Technical and Construction company limited at the cost of N5.202 billion.”