The Federal Government is leaning towards tackling the hardship caused by the removal of fuel subsidy with a twin agenda.
This, according to Vanguard and Empowered Newswire sources, includes the provision of palliatives to cushion the effects of the removal of subsidy and N200,000 minimum wage put forward by labour.
Vanguard learned that this might set labour and organised private sector on a collision course with the Federal Government, as their processes at arriving at minimum wage, which the government is not following at the moment.
It was also learned that the absence of a Labour Minister to drive the negotiation process might further compound the issue.
It will be recalled that the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, demanded this figure, against the current N30,000 minimum wage, which they described as too meagre to mitigate effects of fuel subsidy removal.
President and Secretary General of TUC, Festus Osifo and Nuhu Toro, respectively, had put forward labour’s demand: “Minimum wage should be increased from the current N30,000 to N200,000 before the end of June 2023, with consequential adjustments on the cost of living allowance, COLA, like feeding, transport, housing, etc.
“A representative of state governors will be party to this communiqué and all the governors must commit to implement the new minimum wage.
“Tax holiday for employees both in government and private sector that earn less than N200,000 or $500 monthly, whichever is higher. PMS allowance to be introduced for those earning between N200,000 and N500,000 or $500 to $1,200, whichever is higher.
“The exchange rate for retailing PMS in the country must be kept within a limit of two per cent for the next 10 years where the fluctuation is more than two per cent, the minimum wage will automatically increase at the same rate.
“Setting up of intervention fund where the government will be paying N10 per litre on all locally consumed PMS. The primary purpose of this fund is to solve perennial and protracted national issues in education, health and housing. A governance structure that will include labour, civil society and government will be put in place to manage the implementation.’’
‘FG disposed to N200,000 minimum wage’
But Vanguard gathered that though the Federal Government was disposed to paying the N200,000 minimum wage, governors have restated their inability to pay, as it happened when minimum wage was raised to N30,000 some years ago.
Consequently, it was learned that the government has set up a technical working group, led by Anambra State Governor Charles Soludo, to work out the technical details, with a view to resolving the issues.
A source told Vanguard last night that the matter was tabled and discussed at last month’s National Economic Council, NEC, meeting, led by the Vice President Kashim Shettima.
At the meeting, the source said the Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission assured that government could meet up with the responsibility of paying the N200,000 minimum, per month, citing money that could be saved from subsidy removal and the floating of the value of the naira.
The commission reportedly explained that with money to be saved from these policies, more money would be allocated to states to enable them pay the new wage.
But at the meeting, the state governors who make up the membership of NEC were said to have raised questions querying the proposal, insisting they might not be able to pay.
The source added that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was personally convinced that the demand of Labour was not unrealistic, pointing to his campaign promises as a proof of his readiness to pay.
Also recall that before his swearing-in on May 29, the President had on Workers Day on May 1 stated that: “In the Nigeria, I shall have the honour and privilege to lead from May 29, workers will have more than a minimum wage. You will have a living wage to have a decent life and provide for your families.”
It was learned this explained the reason the President was unperturbed when labour demanded the N200,000 minimum wage.
‘Need to know where money for this is coming from’ the governors at the meeting was Anambra State governor, Prof. Charles Soludo, who was said to have argued that before adopting the presentation to significantly raise the National Minimum Wage, it would be important for NEC to first understand where the money would come from, how much would come and what states would get.
This, according to a source, necessitated the explanation of the national salaries, income and wages commission.
It was also gathered that at the June NEC meeting, a sub-committee was formed to review the situation as was publicly announced.
The committee comprised governors, led by Kebbi State governor and six others representing the geo-political zones of the country.
According to a source, they include Anambra State Governor Charles Soludo (South East); Bwenue State Governor Rev Fr Hycinth Alia (North Central); Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed (North East); Cross Rivers State Governor, Bassey Otu (South-South); Kaduna State Governor, Uba Sani (North-West) and Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde (South-West).
In the Sub-Committee are the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, the Accountant-General of the Federation, and the representative of NNPCL.
Others include representatives from Organised Labour (TUC and NLC) and Ms Rukayyat El-Rufai,
according to a statement from the Office of the Vice President.
It was learned that the responsibility of Soludo’s technical working group, was to interrogate issues around a new minimum wage, with the understanding that both the federal and state governments would pay the new minimu wage.
Under Soludo’s leadership the TWG has met at least thrice last month — 24th, 27th and 30th; and it resolved that “negotiations with labour must be two-tracked between the federation on the one hand and the Federal Government on the other.
Vanguard gathered that later this month, NEC will meet to receive the report of the sub-committee and take a final decision on the National Minimum Wage which would then be forwarded to the President as an advisory.
Minimum wage to be reviewed in 2024
However, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Joe Ajaero, had at the recent 111th Session of International Labour Conference, ILC, in Geneva Switzerland, said what the Federal Government is working on does not amount to minimum wage, stressing that it is just an award, similar to the Udoji award of the 70s.
Ajaero had said: “Minimum wage will be due by early next year. And we will review minimum wage statutorily. Because they have removed subsidy without providing anything in the agreement we had with the government, that is why they are talking about minimum wage.
‘’Now, the Federal and state governments are talking at cross purposes. It is important that people understand the concept when they use minimum wage wrongly or rightly. We have proposed to them a wage award, which could be implemented immediately without waiting for the statutory period for the minimum wage law or for it to expire.
“What we are going to do is to look at the rate at which this wage award will be, whether it will be N100,000 or N200,000. This will not stop the review of minimum wage by early next year. It is good we draw this demarcation.
“There is wage award and there is minimum wage. Even early this year, the Federal Government paid some of its workers such money. They gave them a kind of wage award of about 40 per cent that has nothing to do with minimum wage. But it was to cushion the effects of the suffering effects of COVID-19 and others.
“Now that we are having the effect of this subsidy removal, we will look at an award that will cushion it. In this country, even in the 70s, we had the Udoji Award and others. Whatever we are going to come up with we will achieve, but not minimum wage.
“Why will you engage in minimum wage negotiations now because they remove subsidy. The ruling class, especially state governors, have not abided with the Minimum Wage Act and have not been able to convince anybody why they are not paying N30, 000 minimum wage.
“They are the people who are pronouncing the salary increase.
“For somebody that is still paying N18,000 when minimum wage is N30, 000, if you increase it to N100,000, what will he pay? Some of them are trying to prove that they don’t have any idea about the economy of the state. They are now saying there will be three working days and so on as a temporary measure.’’