• Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Minimum Wage: Fate of workers now in Tinubu’s hands

Ajaero-and-Tinubu

With the federal government’s tripartite committee on minimum wage failing to reach a consensus, after months of negotiations, the fate of Nigerian workers now hangs on the shoulders of President Bola Tinubu, who will now use his discretion to determine a figure.

This is as the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) working with some top government officials, on Friday scuttled efforts by the organised labour to get a better deal for the workers, on their quests for a living wage.

Based on President Tinubu’s directives to Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, the federal government was considering a minimum wage proposal of between N75,000 and N80,000.

But just few hours into the submission of the government figures on Friday, the NGF issued a statement, that threw a spanner in the works after saying that “the N60,000 new Minimum Wage, proposed by the federal government is unsustainable”, as it was too high.

The new proposals which is expected to be submitted to President Tinubu this week, will go through the Federal Executive Council, before the President sends an executive bill to the National Assembly for enactment, thereafter, it will be brought back to the President for his assent before it can become a law.

Read also: Minimum wage: FG targets N65,000 as governors settle for N57,000

Halimah Ahmed, acting Director, media and public affairs of the NGF, stated this on Friday at the dying minutes of negotiation between the federal government and Organised Labour in Abuja.

The NGF’s position, coming on the heels of similar comment by George Akume, Secretary to the federal government, that he cannot afford N100,000 for each of his four drivers, provided clear indications for the reasons why the negotiations dragged endlessly.

At the end, a sharp disagreement forced the Organised Labour and federal government‘s team, to recommend different figures of N250,000 and N62,000, respectively.

Festus Osifo, President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), speaking for the Organised Labour, disclosed that both parties could not agree on a figure, forcing labour to forward a different recommendation of N250,000 to the President.

He said the union will try to prevail on President Tinubu to drop the paltry addition to the N60,000 earlier rejected by labour and give Nigerian workers a better wage offer.
“We will also reach out to Mr. President and to all the authorities to ensure that a better wage is given to workers,” Osifo said.

“The President having promised Nigerians a living wage as well, he will consider our position and our plight,” he said.

Prior to the NGF’s statement, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, had on Wednesday, hinted that the delays in arriving at an acceptable minimum wage was not from the federal government, but the Governors and the organised private sector.

The Governors’ comments on N60,000 minimum wage confirmed the Minister’s claims, as the Governors also revealed that they agreed with the submission of the ops on the minimum wage

The Labour union in response to the NGF‘s statement on Saturday, warned President Tinubu not to “allow the Governors push the country into a crises he can’t solve.

The union reminded the President how the Governors in 2011, pushed former President Jonathan to abandon the pump price, only to abandon him, when crises ensued.

Benson Upah, head of Information at the NLC said “We are very worried that history is about to repeat itself. Nigerians are very angry and we have tried very hard to hold them back. But we advise the President to be weary of these Governors

“We are alarmed by the statement credited to the Nigeria Governors Forum that state governments cannot afford to pay N60,000 as minimum wage as “a few states will end up borrowing to pay workers every month,” Upah said.

“We do believe the Governors have acted in bad faith. It is unheard of for such a statement to be issued to the world in the middle of an on-going negotiation. It is certainly in bad taste.

“As for the veracity of their claim, nothing can be further from the truth as FAAC allocations have since grown from N700 billion to N1.2 trillion making the governments extremely rich at the expense of the people.

“All that the governors need to do to be able to pay a reasonable national minimum wage is to cut the high cost of governance, minimise corruption as well as prioritise the welfare of workers.

“It is important to explain here that a national minimum wage is not synonymous with the different pay structures of different states. The national minimum wage is the lowest floor below which no employer is allowed to pay. The aim is to protect the weak and the poor.

“We are not fixated with figures but value. Those who argue that moving the national minimum wage from N30,000 to N60,000 is sufficiently good enough miss the point. In 2019, when N30,000 became the minimum, N300 exchanged for $1 (effectively making the minimum wage an equivalent of $100 or thereabout) while inflation rate was 11.40 percent,” Upah said.

The union noted that the exchange rate is at N1,500 to $1 while inflation hovers at 33.7 percent, with food prices surging 40 percent year-on-year. This puts the value of the minimum wage at $37.5 for a family of six.

“This is happening at a time costs of everything rose by more than 400% as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy. This is an extreme bad news for the poor.

“Government’s policies of fuel subsidy removal, mindless devaluation of the naira, energy tariff hike by 250% and interest rate hike to 26.5% will continue to hurt the economy, especially manufacturing sector, and the poor.

“Already manifesting is the mass incapcity of Nigerians leading to overflowing warehouses of the productive sector of the economy. The downward trend will continue except the capacity of workers and businesses is enhanced.

“Paying a miserable national minimum wage portends grave danger to not only the workforce but the national economy as in truth, economies of most states are driven by workers wages.

“In light of this, we urge the governors to do a re-think and save the country from a certain death,” Upah concluded.

Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), Executive Director of the Civil Society and Legislative Advocacy Center, chided the Governors over their comments on the minimum wage issue, drawing copiously from reports of the Debt Management Office (DMO), which show that states had enjoyed more resources since the fuel subsidy removal by President Tinubu

“A report in February this year, showed that the states received over 50% higher revenues since June 2023, after the fuel subsidy was removed,” Musa said.

The Civil rights activist queried “ what are the states really doing with these funds, apart from living large, siphoning funds abroad and spending lavishly on their families

“We know that about 13 States are said to have borrowed N226.8 billion from the domestic and external sources, for the period between June and December, 2023.

“This is despite the fact that have also enjoyed increase in the distributable revenue N786.16 billion in May 2023 to N1.9 trillion in June 2023 and it doubled in July 2023.

“These are states that also got N2b each as fall out of the fuel subsidy removal approved for them by President Bola Tinubu in July, to help in meeting payments of salaries and pension arrears.

“These states cannot claim that they do not have the money to pay their workers. They have never had it so good,” he said.

“For example, but for the investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, Nigerians would never have known that Yahaya Bello, the former Kogi state Governor paid $845,852 as school fees for his children, from the coffers of the state funds, from September 2021, until the bubble busted in 2024.

Reports also show that 16 other state governors received loans totaling N509.3bn with domestic and external debt of N243.95bn and $298.5m.

The states, which include Benue, Cross Rivers, Katsina, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Zamfara, and the Federal Capital Territory, got N115.57bn from domestic creditors, while governors of Ebonyi, Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states borrowed $125.1m (N111.24bn) from external sources.

Bassey Otu of Cross Rivers state, is reported to have taken the highest loan, with N16.2bn from domestic and $57.95m from foreign creditors between June and December 2023

Recent reports by the EFCC also showed that a total of N2.2 trillion was looted from various states by about 58 Governors, since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democratic rule.

But Mamman Mohammed, Director General,
Press and Media Affairs to the Yobe state Governor, Mai Mala Buni, said that each state should be allowed to negotiate with its workers to arrive at realistic minimum wage, rather than being forced to accept figures agreed by the federal government.

“In Yobe State, we have been very up- to- date with salary payments. As a matter of fact salaris are paid on 24th of every month,” Mohammed said.

“Only recently, the Governor approved the employment of over 2700 graduates of various institutions into the state civil service,” Mohammed said.

Mohammed, while highlighting the peculiarities of the state, noted that Yobe is just coming out of years of crises, caused by the Boko Haram insurgency, adding that the state was struggling to rebuild basic infrastructure destroyed by the Boko Haram.

“These are the infrastructure that affect all Yobe citizens, the Governor also has introduced universal healthcare services that has also made it completely free to access healthcare,” he said.

“We still have very low internally generated revenue is very and whatever resources we get from the center is subject to the unstable inflationary rate and this also affect our infrastructure development

“States should be allowed to negotiate with their workers,” Mohammed said.

He noted that the state government has been working hard to ensure that the resources are deployed in the most honest and transparent manner to ensure better living conditions for its citizens.