By Shola Abayomi.
The Federal Government has maintained its stance on the N30,000 new minimum wage, saying no state governor can choose not to implement it.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, stated this in Abuja yesterday as he insisted that payment of the new wage started from April 18, when President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Minimum Wage Amendment Act Bill into law.
Ngige reminded all employers of labour in the country that the new minimum wage is a national law, and it is necessary for them to comply with the legislation in order to avoid accumulating arrears. The minister also explained that a committee was constituted to derive a new template for upward consequential adjustment for those already earning above N30,000.
He said, “It is a national law and no governor can say he will not pay. Issue of national minimum wage is item 34 on the exclusive legislative list of the third schedule of the Nigerian constitution.
“Issue of labour is also there and not on the concurrent list. If it is on the concurrent list, then they can make their own state Assembly laws on that. Every state government is now owing workers if they have not started paying N30,000.
“They (employers) are owing workers effective from 18th of April, a new minimum wage. We are now in a committee working out a new template with which we will adjust upward the consequential adjustment upstairs for those already earning above N30,000.
“The minimum wage is for the most vulnerable down the ladder and that is the man on grade level one step one. So, you must consequentially adjust for the man on grade level two, grade level three, grade level four and five, because that man on GL 1 step 1 has over taken them with his new payment.
“That is what we refer to as consequential adjustment. This consequential adjustment touches more the people on the lower ladder and we are working it out. The negotiation is going to be with the Joint Negotiating Council in both the federal and at the state level.
“What we are trying to do now with the Salaries and Wages Commission is that we have a technical committee working out what the federal government will do for their workers and advice the state government appropriately.
“In 2011, there was a mistake in the consequential adjustment in some states when they applied the principle of percentage increase across board and they ran into trouble and were unable to pay. What this N30,000 translates into is that there is a 67 percent increase.
“If a state government applies the same 67 percent increase across board, there will be serious trouble, the same with the federal government and when there is that trouble, there will be trade dispute because the principle of ability to pay will come in and ILO encourages us to apply those principle in our discussion.
“If I am unable to pay and my workers know that I am unable to pay, we will sit down and agree on what I am able to pay. So, there is a baseline now as no worker in Nigeria should earn anything less than N30,000 provided that the establishment has more than 25 workers.”
Reiterating on when workers in different sectors would begin to enjoy the new minimum wage, Ngige said, “They will enjoy it. Infact, they have started enjoying it. Employers in the private sector adjusted immediately because it is easier for them to do. In the government sector, the bureaucracy and bottleneck of government is responsible for the delay.
“You know that you must budget for it. That is what is causing the delay. But whenever the encumbrances are removed, they will pay arrears with effect from 18th April, 2019.
“So, the sooner an establishment start paying, the better for you so that you don’t take a huge backlog that you cannot take. If you pay in piecemeal and start going, the better. So, i advice all employers of labour in Nigeria, including state government to immediately set up their Joint Negotiating Councils so that whatever we get from here, we give it to them and they will look at it based on their peculiarities.
“There are no two states that are the same in terms of the revenues coming from the federations account and internally generated revenue. So, when the template from the federal level is given to you, you put it on the table with the Joint negotiating Council and discuss how it suits you and cue into it as much as possible with the finances available to you.
“Luckily, today, finances of states are known. Everybody know what the state is coming from FAAC with. The IGR of most state governments are also known now. So, it is a pleasant situation that we are all in now.”
The minister accused the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, of attempting to blackmail him and “play politics with workers” by accusing him of frustrating the implementation of the new minimum wage. He boasted that contrary to the NLC president’s claim, he (Ngige) was the power source of the new minimum wage.
“I saw the NLC President on Television saying so. But that was when they were trying to picket me and I pitied him because he was trying to blackmail me in the wrong direction.
“I am the prime mover of the new minimum wage. If you ask anybody in the Federal Executive Council, they will tell you so and the President will also tell you so and he has said so many times. So, the President of the NLC is playing politics. But he can’t play politics on workers like that. If he wants to play politics, he should leave labour unionism because the Labour laws do not allow labour leaders to play partisan politics,” he said.