A ray of hope flickered last week in the impasse between the federal government and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on the national minimum wage, following the intervention of the Council of State. The Council, at a meeting in Abuja, approved N27,000 for state workers and N30,000 for federal government workers as minimum wage. Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige said at the end of the meeting that N27,000 wage also applies to employers of labour with a minimum of 25 workers. He said the new minimum wage structure was approved by Federal Executive Council (FEC), National Economic Council (NEC) and Council of State.
Ngige said “issue of national minimum wage prescription is in the Exclusive List, second schedule, item 34 and being on that list, it cannot be done by the executive alone. So, a bill will now be transmitted to the National Assembly that will amend the 1981 Act and 2011 Act. The figure of N27,000 monthly has been approved for transmission to the National Assembly. The frequency of the review of the bill is five years to get it in consonance with pension law of the federation as enshrined in the constitution. Exemptions to this bill will be establishments that are not employing people up to 25 people. Various times prescribed have also been altered in the bill.”
But NLC, after a meeting on Friday, rejected the N27,000 wage for state workers, insisting on a uniform N30,000 proposed by the Ama Pepple tripartite committee. That committee had proposed N30,000 for all workers in the country but the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) said it could not pay that much. NLC president Ayuba Wabba said the union would engage the National Assembly, which has already commenced work on the bill, to ensure that N30,000 figure is respected. He said “going by the convention of the International Labour Organisation, the figure that was agreed by the tripartite committee cannot be changed by any of the parties except through a process. Government as an employer cannot unilaterally change the figure.”
We commend the Council of State for intervening in this matter which has dragged on for so long and we hope that all parties will latch on to the recommendation and move forward on this matter. This matter requires compromise on all sides. For over six months, NLC has battled state governors and the federal government on this matter. It has gone on strikes and has threatened more strikes if its demands are not met. We commend the NLC for its steadfastness in pursuing the welfare of workers across the country.
While the Council of State may not be the best discussion forum on minimum wage, but it stepped in as a council of eminent persons to bring to an end to the impasse. NLC may be right that all workers are equal, whether under state or federal governments, but we have to work with the reality on ground. At the moment, the federal government receives a disproportionate share from the Federation Account. As at today, some states are in arrears of the N18,000 minimum wage and continually blame it on lack of funds.
It is one thing to increase salaries but workers will happier if they get paid at the end of the month. The situation is not ideal, but if NLC can get state governors to strongly commit to pay the N27,000 minimum wage and ensure that workers get it as and when due, we urge the union to compromise and accept the offer for now.
The amount is only a kick-off point and we urge states that can afford to do more, to do so. To avoid this kind of problem in future, states should intensify their revenue generation drives so that they can be more viable economically. We also urge for a review of the revenue sharing formula in favour of the states. That might eliminate salary disparity in the short run.