Minimum Wage: Labour asks Tinubu to intervene as FG insists N497k will kill Nigeria’s economy

Organised Labour has urged President Bola Tinubu to personally intervene in the ongoing negotiation over minimum wage to avert the indefinite strike action scheduled to start on Monday.

This is as the Federal Government warned that the national minimum wage being demanded by labour could destabilise the economy.

Organised Labour had given a May 31, 2024 ultimatum on the new minimum wage.

On Tuesday, May 28, talks between the Federal Government and Organised Labour broke down after the government and the Organised Private Sector raised their offers to N60,000.

The government added N3,000 to its initial offer of N57,000 proposed last week, making the total figure N60,000. It was dismissed by labour at the meeting.

Several impeccable sources from both the Trade Union Congress and Nigeria Labour Congress, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH, stressed that the Federal Government and the organised private sector should not expect labour to accept anything less than a six-digit offer.

The unions said the government was not serious about the negotiations, adding that the shift from N48,000 to N57,000 was too meagre to be considered as ‘shifting grounds’.

They noted that the promise made by President Bola Tinubu when he became President and on Workers’ Day was that the Federal Government would pay a living wage, adding that N57,000 did not fall into that category.

On Friday, the Nigeria Labour Congress declared an indefinite nationwide strike, starting on Monday, June 3, 2024, due to the Federal Government’s refusal to increase the proposed minimum wage above N60,000.

The President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, announced that the strike followed failed negotiations between the government and organised labour.

Despite the government’s final offer of N60,000, which included a recent increase from an initial N57,000, the labour unions found the proposal insufficient.

At the meeting, labour revised its demand, reducing it by N3,000 from the initial N497,000 proposed last week, setting the new proposal at N494,000.

Despite this concession, the negotiations remained deadlocked as the government maintained its offer of N60,000, leading to the declaration of a nationwide indefinite strike.

However, speaking to our correspondent in a telephone interview in Abuja on Saturday, the Minister of State for Labour, Nkeiruka Onyecheoja, said the strike was unnecessary, urging the Organised Labour to return to the negotiation table for more discourse.

She said, “The government is still willing to accommodate them, to listen to words of reason and knowledge, and to know that the president is committed to the Nigerian workers and Nigerian citizens, all of us.”

Speaking on the N494,000 set by Labour, the minister noted that the government won’t be able to breathe.

She said, “By the time you do adjustments or anything, that means there won’t be…in short, the government will not breathe anymore.

“The government’s position is that the strike is unnecessary. If you say people are hungry, we know that people are hungry and that’s why we can increase the minimum wage, even when it’s not convenient.”

Also reacting to the decision of Organised Labour to embark on strike in protest, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said the sum of N494,000 national minimum wage demanded by organised labour, which cumulatively amounts to the sum of N9.5 trillion bill yearly was capable of destabilising the economy and jeopardiing the welfare of over 200 million Nigerians.

Speaking at a news conference in Abuja, the minister said the offer of N60,000 minimum wage by the Federal Government, which translates to a 100 per cent increase on the existing minimum wage of 2019, had been accepted by the Organised Private Sector, which is a member of the tripartite committee of the negotiations team.

Idris, according to a statement released by his Special Assistant (Media), Rabiu Ibrahim, on Saturday night stated further that labour’s demand could destabilise the economy, bring further hardship to over 200 million Nigerians and cause job loss in the private sector.

He said, “The Federal Government’s new minimum wage proposal amounts to a 100 per cent increase on the existing minimum wage. Labour, however, wanted N494,000, which amounted to 1,547 per cent on the existing wage.

“The sum of N494,000 national minimum wage which Labour is seeking would cumulatively amount to the sum N9.5tn bill to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“Nigerians need to understand that whereas the FG is desirous of ample remuneration for Nigerian workers, what is most critical is that President Tinubu will not encourage any action that could lead to massive job loss, especially in the private sector, who may not be able to pay the wage demanded by the Organised Labour.”

The Minister said even though Labour was keen on the take-home pay of about 1.2 million workers, the Federal Government was concerned about the welfare of over 200 million Nigerians based on its guiding principle of affordability, sustainability, and the overall health of the nation’s economy.

Idris appealed to the Organised Labour to return to the negotiating table and embrace reasonable and realistic wages for their members.

He said because of the commitment of the Tinubu administration to the welfare of workers, the wage award of 35,000 for federal workers would continue until a new national minimum wage was introduced.

However, speaking with Sunday PUNCH, the National Treasurer of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Hakeem Ambali, urged Tinubu to personally intervene in the ongoing minimum wage negotiation by calling all parties to a parley to avert the strike, insisting that the offer of N60,000 from the government was unreasonable, considering the current rate of inflation.

Ambali insisted that it was the duty of the Federal Government to avert the strike, adding that the government had a whole month to negotiate a reasonable minimum wage with labour to prevent industrial action.

He said, “For a whole month, we have been going forward and backward between FG and Labour. Labour shows concern and perseverance. You will recall that on May 1, Labour gave an ultimatum that we would embark on strike after the last day of May. Those in government should have done what was needed to avert this. As of today, labour has taken a decision.”

Ambali, however, noted that President Tinubu could avert the strike if he personally intervened in the negotiation with Organised Labour.

He said, “Within 24 hours, the FG and Mr President can avert the strike if he (Tinubu) shows direct interest. He has the final say. The buck stops at his table.”

He also disagreed with the argument that the FG had done enough by doubling the minimum wage from N30,000 to N60,000, noting that the rate of inflation was much higher than the announced increament.

He said, “If the PMS price was increased by 100 per cent, then the 100 per cent increment would have been reasonable. What is the percentage ratio? It was N165 to N700. All the macroeconomic indices pointed to it that the inflation rate had increased dramatically. For Nigerian workers to be able to cope with this inflationary trend, something reasonable should have been done. When you look at 2019 when that N30,000 (minimum wage) was agreed upon; you will agree that it was looking good with the dollar equivalent then. What is the dollar equivalent of this N60,000 now? Is it not $45 or so?

“If you look at that, you will realise that the government still has the obligation to give a reasonable wage to workers. From our calculations, to feed a family of six, a worker needs N90,000. So, what are they saying? The government should show understanding. A well paid worker is an asset to national growth and development.”

Ambali also disagreed that the demand for higher minimum wage by labour would affect the economy negatively, stressing that it would rather have positive impacts.

He said, “Once workers are well paid, the purchasing power will increase. All the local manufacturing companies, the SMEs, and patronage will increase, and that will grow the economy. The government will also generate huge amounts of taxes from the workers.

“If the government shows that they are reasonable, Labour is ready to move. But, the peanut increment is as if we are not serious. Anything lower than six digits may not be reasonable. As an insider in the negotiation, I know that Labour will shift ground, but there must be commitment and seriousness from the government.”

Also reacting to the demands by Organised Labour, the Special Adviser on Information and Strategy to the President, Bayo Onanuga, said the Organised Labour should be reasonable in its demand, except if it was using the declared strike to display its frustration over the loss of the Labour Party in the 2023 presidential election.

“Labour leaders need to be reasonable and not paralyse our economy unless they are using the strike as a continuous ventilation of the frustration they had when their party lost the 2023 presidential election.

“Can you pay your driver or cleaner N500,000 a month? Let’s not befuddle the issue. The government is not saying it is not reviewing minimum wage, it is saying it will pay something affordable and sustainable. N500,000 or N615,000 is out of it,” Onanuga wrote on his verified X handle on Saturday.

No money to stock food– Workers
State and federal civil servants on Saturday had mixed reactions to the indefinite strike declared by Organised Labour in response to the Federal Government’s refusal to raise the proposed minimum wage from N60,000.

Speaking in separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH yesterday, some civil servants said even though the indefinite strike was long overdue due to the government’s insensitivity to labour’s demands, they did not have money to stock food in their homes ahead of the industrial action.

Speaking with our correspondent, a vice-principal in a public secondary school in Ibadan, Oyo State, identified only as Mr Olowojebutu, noted that even though the indefinite strike was long overdue due to the Federal Government’s mindlessness to workers’ welfare, he did not have money to buy foodstuff when the industrial action takes off on Monday.

He, however, said he was prepared for the strike, praying that the two parties (Organised Labour and the Federal Government) would eventually reach a befitting agreement after the strike.

Also, another civil servant, Joseph Ade, said surviving during the strike might be tough for his family, because he did not have any money to buy foodstuffs, because the notice of the industrial action was short.

“They should do everything to stop this strike. We don’t have money, the cost of fuel is high, food prices are high and now strike. They want to worsen the situation of Nigerians, and God will not allow them,” he said.

A government worker identified as Omobola Atilade in the Federal Capital Territory also supported the strike, but said she might not buy enough foodstuffs for the period due to lack of adequate funds.

“On this strike, I agree with the NLC because the Federal Government failed to reach an agreement with them. How will the Federal Government say they can only pay N60,000 as the minimum wage during this economic crisis?

“On Sunday, I will go to the market to buy some food items because no one can tell how long the strike will take. Although, I don’t have enough money to do that, I will manage the little one I have with me,” she told Sunday PUNCH.

However, a public servant based in Anambra State, Chima Uchenna, dismissed the seriousness of the announced strike, saying he didn’t believe it would affect businesses.

He said, “I don’t take NLC seriously. I am not bothered about the strike and I have no intention of stocking up because of it. The market will still be on as usual. I think it will be a sketchy strike.”

Source: The PUNCH

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