The Federal Government and organised labour in the country on Tuesday finally reached an agreement that the Presidency would send the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Bill to the National Assembly after three days of meetings.
The agreement came on a day that labour unions staged a nationwide protest over the non-transmission of the bill to the National Assembly by the Federal Government.
Unlike other meetings, the Tuesday meeting lasted for fewer hours.
However, President of Trade Union Congress, Kaigama Bobboi, warned that if the Federal Government reneged on the date it promised to transmit the bill to the National Assembly, labour would take action without any warning.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Nigige, who presided over the meeting, assured the labour leaders that the Federal Government would send the bill to the National Assembly on January 23, 2019 after members of the National Assembly must have resumed from their Yuletide recess.
He added that necessary meetings on the part of the Federal Government would be held next week to ensure the timeline was met.
The minister said, “As for the transmission of the executive bill to the National Assembly, the government will religiously implement all the processes that will enable us to transmit this bill within the stipulated time.
“We have a target time of January 23, 2019 and we hope that all things being equal, government will be able to do so. We will take all statutory meetings of the Federal Executive Council, National Economic Council and the National Council of State meetings to enable us to transmit the bill on the new national minimum wage. I thank the labour unions for their understanding and appeal to them that the threats should come down. Protests are no longer necessary.”
While thanking Ngige for his role on the issue, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, said workers had been patient with government for more than two years.
He added that after the submission of the report by the tripartite committee that deliberated on the minimum wage more that two months ago, it was expected that the Federal Government would have gone beyond the present stage of making effort to transmit a bill to the National Assembly.
He said, “We have finally been able to reach a clear understanding on the processes and timeline for this bill to be transmitted. We are committed to the process and hope that the timeline will be respected. We will put this across to our organs and give them all the details contained in the Memorandum of Understanding.
“You will recall that our demand is for the bill to be transmitted to the National Assembly. We want a firm commitment so that we don’t come round a cycle. We want the agreement to be documented and signed by government’s representatives. With that, we can follow up on the process.
“This thing has been on the table for more than two years and having submitted the report, we expect that the bill should have been submitted. The National Assembly will be back on January 16 from their recess so on or before January 23, the bill must have been transmitted.
“We know that the National Assembly members are desirous of making sure that Nigerian workers have decent wage, they will also be able to do the needful. We will shift our lobby to the National Assembly because once the bill is enacted; the money will be in the pocket of workers.
“Issues of industrial relations are always addressed at the negotiation table. We have been diligent in the whole process and workers have been patient, clearly we have carried them along, that is why whenever we want them to be around, they are always around. We are tired of stories and that is why we insisted on a timeline.”
Wabba, however, downplayed the agreement, saying that it was only one step taken out of many in making sure that a new minimum wage was paid.
“For us, it is a win-win situation but until the money is in our pocket, that is when we can talk of success. It is still work in progress and there are many more battles to fight. But once it is at the National Assembly, the half of the work is done. The next level is the implementation in the public and private sectors. But we are optimistic with the success of the bill at the National Assembly,” he said.
But while the meeting between the Federal Government team and the labour leaders was going on, workers across the country held nationwide protests to demand the implementation of N30,000 minimum wage.
The protests were held in many states including Lagos, Rivers, Osun, Ogun, Katsina, Bayelsa, Edo and Kaduna.
Before the meeting, Wabba had earlier on Tuesday morning led workers in Abuja in a protest march from the Labour House to the Federal Capital Territory Administration office.
Wabba said the present N18,000 minimum wage could no longer cater for workers’ basic needs.
He said most Nigerian workers were unable to eat thrice per day. According to him, workers should be able to take care of their family but, in reality, he said, reverse was the case.
Wabba noted that in South Africa, the minimum wage was over N120,000, stating that the political class in the country were not complaining unlike in Nigeria. He also said that Ghana’s minimum wage was better that what obtained in Nigeria.
The Head of Human Resources in the FCTA, Mr Lazarus Gaza, received a protest letter from the NLC president.
In Lagos, the protest by the organised labour caused gridlock on Lagos roads, while many commuters were stranded at the various bus stops.
The News Agency of Nigeria on Tuesday reported that the workers’ protest started from Maryland as early as 7am and ended at the Lagos State Government Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja.
The protest also resulted in gridlock on Ikorodu Road, Alausa and Ikeja.
The Vice President of the NLC, Solomon Adelegan, told the workers that the demand for a new minimum wage had gone beyond the negotiation stage.
A Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Mr Benjamin Adeyinka, told the protesting workers that the governor was not available. They shouted and insisted that the gate should be opened.
Adeyinka was not allowed to speak, as the protesters insisted that they did not want to hear from him but from Ambode.
In Oyo State, the NLC Chairman, Mr Waheed Olojede, and his TUC counterpart, Mr Emmanel Ogundiran, noted that the federal and state governments, labour and organised private sector had reached a compromise.
Olojede, who spoke on the workers’ behalf, urged both the federal and state governments to implement the report of the tripartite committee.
The state Deputy Governor, Mr Moses Adeyemo, who addressed the workers, said, “Bearing the current economic condition, it is not too much for an average Nigerian to request N30,000 as minimum wage. The governors are sympathetic and acknowledge that N18,000 may be inadequate.”
Members of the NLC in Rivers State called on the Federal Government to implement the agreement it reached with the union.
The Chairman, NLC in the state, Mrs Beatrice Itubo, said any governor that refused to implement the minimum wage would be voted out.
The workers, who marched to the Rivers State Government House, were addressed by the Chief of Staff Government House, Emeka Woke.
Woke said the governor had earlier promised to implement the new minimum wage as soon as the bill was passed into law.
However, the NLC and the TUC in Ogun State urged the state Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, to pay N35, 000 as minimum wage.
The state chairmen of the NLC and TUC, Akeem Amabali and Bunmi Fajobi respectively, made the demand while speaking with journalists during a rally embarked upon by the unions in Abeokuta.
Both Fajobi and Ambali said the payment of N35,000 would make the state to be different from other states.
Workers, who stormed the Government House in Katsina, Katsina State capital, told Governor Aminu Masari’s Special Adviser on Labour Matters, Ahmed Jibia, who received them that any governor who failed to implement the N30,000 minimum wage should forget workers’ votes.
They also said there was no going back on their demand for the payment of N30,000 as minimum wage.
Jibia received a letter brought by the workers on their demands, promising that it would be delivered to the governor.
A national officer of the NLC from Abuja, Marwan Adamu, who is also the National President of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, led members of the organised labour.
Civil servants in Osun State led by the Chairman of the NLC, Jacob Adekomi, and his counterpart in TUC, Adekola Adebowale, held a peaceful protest in Osogbo to demand N30,000 minimum wage.
The protest began at the Nelson Mandela Freedom Park, Osogbo, from where the workers moved through major streets of the state capital.
The Edo State chapter of the NLC threatened to boycott the 2019 general elections if the N30,000 minimum wage bill was not transmitted to the National Assembly.
The state Chairman of the NLC, Mr Emmanuel Ademokun, stated this in Benin, when he led a protest march to the Government House.
Responding, Governor Godwin Obaseki, reassured them of his administration’s readiness to pay whatever amount was passed into law.
Organised labour in Bayelsa State said that the new national minimum wage would largely determine the electoral preference of workers during the 2019 elections.
The Bayelsa State Chairman of the NLC, John Ndiomu, and his TUC counterpart, Mr Tari Dounana, stated this in Yenagoa during the minimum wage protest.
Ndiomu urged the federal and state governments to make workers’ welfare their priority.
The Chief of Staff, Bayelsa Government House, Mr Talford Ongolo, who received the labour unions on behalf of Governor Seriake Dickson, said the state government was in support of the N30, 000 new minimum wage.
Also, civil servants in Ondo State, during the protest urged Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to ensure payment of the N30,000 minimum wage.
They urged President Buhari to submit a bill to the National Assembly for the implementation of the N30, 000 minimum wage for workers.
The Secretary to the Ondo State Government, Mr. Ifedayo Abegunde, who addressed the labour unions on behalf of the governor, said the welfare of the workers in the state was paramount to the government.
But in Cross River State, Governor Ben Ayade assured workers in the state that his government would pay the N30,000 national minimum wage.
He gave the assurance on Tuesday when labour leaders led workers on a street rally to his Diamond Hill office in Calabar to present a letter of commitment to him.
According to the governor who was represented by the Commissioner for Local Government Affairs, John Ulafor, “the N30,000 minimum wage is just alright. It is not beyond the government to pay. It is your right.”
In Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom said if he had the capacity, he would pay the state workers above N30,000 as minimum wage.
Ortom stated this on Tuesday in Makurdi while addressing members of the NLC.
NAN quoted Ortom as saying, “If I have the capacity, I will not hesitate to implement the new minimum wage even above N30,000.”
The NLC state Chairman, Mr Godwin Anya, called on the governor to consider the workers’ plight and stand on their side by accepting to pay the proposed minimum wage.
In Kaduna State, the Chairman of the NLC, Adamu Ango, and his TUC, Shehu Mohammed, urged the workers “to remain steadfast and vote out anybody who is anti-labour during the February elections.”
He also asked the various state governors to cut their huge expenditures and hearken to the voice of the people over the new minimum wage.
Also in Imo State, the NLC called on Buhari, to intensify the process of implementing the N30,000 minimum wage.
The protesters who marched through the major streets in Owerri, the state capital,said it was high time the Federal Government took the welfare of the workers seriously.