Minimum wage: FG plots to abort strike

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•Sets Oct 15 for reconvening negotiation •TUC warns against further delay

In a last-ditch effort to stave off looming industrial action, the Federal Government, yesterday, kick-started another round of dialogue with labour unions in Abuja.

On October 7, labour issued a warning that economic activities would be shut down on October 16, if the Federal Government failed to reconvene a meeting of the Committee on Consequential Adjustments relating to the new minimum wage.

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Implementation of the new wage has remained a problem, arising from the issue of relativity and consequential adjustments.

On May 14, the Federal Government inaugurated a committee on the relativity and consequential adjustment, which in turn set up a technical sub-committee to work out a template for the adjustment of salaries of public service employees.

However, government and labour have failed to reach an agreement over relativity and consequential adjustments for the implementation of the new minimum wage after President Muhammadu Buhari had signed the New Minimum Wage Bill into law on April 18, more than six months ago.

A statement from the minister’s office yesterday read in part: “The Honorable Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, (yesterday) met separately with the members of Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council, the leadership of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to resolve the impasse over the consequential adjustment of the National Minimum Wage.

“It was resolved, however, that each group would hold further meetings to sort out all outstanding disagreements before a high level conclusive meeting to wrap up all discussions scheduled for 15th October, 2019. This will pave the way for an equable implementation of the consequential adjustment of the minimum wage.”

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Those at the meeting were Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahme; Minister of State, Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba; Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN); Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folashade Yemi-Esan; director-general, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze; acting chairman, National Salaries Income and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta; and the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris. Also present were the deputy president of the NLC, Comrade Amaechi Asogwuni, the general secretary of the NLC, Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, Achaver Simon as well as representatives of the TUC standing in for labour.

A committee member who attended the meeting said the Federal Government was ready to increase the percentage at Tuesday’s meeting next week.

He said the minister pleaded with the labour leaders to accept whatever government was offering and not go ahead with the proposed strike.

A competent source close to the process said government may concede 5 per cent to labour.

This notwithstanding, organised labour, yesterday, continued mobilisation for a total nationwide strike after the Wednesday, October 16, deadline issued to the Federal Government to conclude negotiation on the the consequential adjustment of the N30,000 minimum wage.

In a bid to stop the proposed strike after the October 16 ultimatum, the Federal Government has fixed the resumption of negotiations with labour leaders for next week, Tuesday, October 15, a day before the deadline.

Labour said it was not swayed by government tactics, and would still go ahead with its mobilisation.

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Secretary general of the Joint Public Negotiation Council, who is also the secretary general of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Alade Bashir Lawal, said he was in Abuja to mobilise all the unions in the civil service and other agencies.

He said, “The essence is to mobilise our members towards the looming strike, if government does not accede to the demand of labour in respect of the consequential adjustment of salaries arising from the new national minimum wage.

“If you go through our communique issued last week, by TUC, NLC and Joint Public Negotiation Council, we are asking government to reconvene the meeting of the committee and, within one week, let the committee conclude the assignment.”

According to him, labour considered yesterday’s meeting as informal, noting that though labour was not averse to discussions, consultations or anything, the main meeting of the committee was most important for now.

“A minister is free to call us and we will go. We are hoping that maybe he wants to use the opportunity to talk to the two sides before reconvening the meeting. But what I am saying is that this one is an informal meeting and you cannot sign any agreement in such a meeting without the committee handling the negotiation of the consequential adjustment,” he said.

Lawal maintained that workers nationwide were aware of government’s antics and the leadership of labour would give directive to members nationwide on what to do, if nothing substantial is arrived at by October 16.

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He lamented that there has been no seriousness on the part of government in reaching an amicable solution since the negotiation commenced.

He dismissed government’s claims that it had begun partial implementation of the new minimum wage for levels 1 to 6, as a “divide and rule” system that would be vehemently opposed by labour: “What are they implementing? We are negotiating something and somebody went behind to start issuing one circular. As far as we are concerned, nothing has been done and if you want to look at it, levels 1 to 3 have been out-sourced. How many people are there? When you even look at the circular, it is full of errors. As far as we are concerned, no circular has been issued.

“You have a salary structure, you have a ratio between the minimum and the maximum, when the minimum was 18,000, you have what you have at the maximum, then you have tilted the minimum to 30,000, are you going to leave the table there?

“It is distortion. You don’t allow distortion and it’s not allowed anywhere in the world. That is why you do consequential adjustment.’’

Lawal pointed out that organised labour was not opposed to discussion, consultations or anything.

He said that what was worrisome was the delay in reconvening the meeting of the committee on consequential adjustment.

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