•FG, Labour playing on our intelligence –Stakeholders

There are fears that the unending negotiation between the Federal Government and organised Labour on the new minimum wage might be a deliberate ploy to deny workers in Nigeria, the opportunity of having an improved wage package before the end of the year.

Sunday Telegraph learnt that the Federal Government might not be totally committed to the idea of a new minimum wage, given its insistence that it could not afford it throughout the period of negotiations. Similarly, the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), a major influential group, which the Federal Government surreptitously brought to the negotiation table, also orchestrated the non-affordability theory apparently to frustrate the process.

Some labour unionists who spoke to Sunday Telegraph in confidence, have equally expressed fears that the Federal Government and top echelon of the three Labour Centres might also be playing on the intelligence of Nigerians, given the long route the minimum wage agitation had travelled since the journey began a year ago.

The conspiracy theory has further been fuelled by the way the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, suspended the planned nationwide strike last Tuesday on the premise that Labour had concluded negotiations and received assurances on minimum wage of N30,000, only for the Presidency to deny the figure the following day.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, in November 2017, set up the 30-member Tripartite Committee on new minimum wage. The committee comprised of the government (including one governor from each geopolitical zone), organised labour and employers of labour from the private sector.

All was well with the committee’s assignment until the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, announced that the earlier timeline of end of third quarter (September) for the conclusion of the committee’s work and onward transmission of a new adopted figure by the tripartite committee to the President would no longer be feasible. This  created the first suspicion of non-commital on the part of the government and spurred an agitation by organised labour.

Consequently, a seven day warning strike was declared by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, to ground economic activities nationwide until the Federal Government reconvened the meeting of the tripartite committee to enable it conclude its work.

In a bid to halt the warning strike, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, held a meeting with the labour leaders a few hours before the commencement of the industrial action but the meeting did not produce the expected outcome and between midnight of Wednesday, September 26 and Friday, September 29, the country was shut down.

However, the strike was suspended on the third day, to honour government’s promise to reconvene the tripartite committee on October 4 and 5th.

“We are resuming precisely on Thursday, October 4, and the meeting can spill over to October 5. All the processes have been put in place and labour leaders know; they are now expected to communicate such to their organs; so we don’t have any need for a strike.

“The government is still consulting with other stakeholders; part of our consultation means the economic management team would have something to work on. Already, they are working on it, the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission is working on it and it is expected that before the October meeting, they would have been through with work and a bill would still have to go through the National Assembly after approval by the Federal Executive Council,” Ngige said.

In suspending the warning strike, Wabba had said that labour took the decision following a “firm and formal invitation” by the Federal Government to reconvene the tripartite committee on national minimum wage on Thursday.

However, things took another twist after the committee reconvened and concluded its work. The supposedly agreed figure of N30,000 as new minimum wage has been a bone of contention as the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) had insisted on N22,500; Federal Government pegged it at N24,000 while organised labour had insisted on the N30,000 agreed, adopted and signed by the tripartite committee. This ding-dong affair is what has raised further suspicion that the process might be a scam and a new minimum wage, a mirage.

Apparently fed up with the situation, the NLC had warned the presidency and governors to desist from advancing figures outside the N30,000 mutually agreed and signed by the tripartite committee at the end of its negotiations, or risk a revert to the initial demand of N66, 500 as new wage for workers.

In an interview with newsmen in Abija, Wabba recalled that the six governors who were part of the negotiation process refused to give any figure because they said they would accept any figure agreed upon by the tripartite committee. He said that it was therefore curious for them to now kick against the N30 ,000 recommended by the committee.

Labour leaders appear to have resolved to watch the next moves of the Federal Government as the latter has now passed the buck to the National Economic Council, National Council of States and the National Assembly, a process that would further task the patience of the average worker whose take home pay cannot take him/her beyond the bus stop.

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