THE government moved on Thursday to prevent workers’ strike over the implementation of the new minimum wage.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige, met with Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Quadri Olaleye, 24 hours after Labour issued a one-week ultimatum.
At the end of the meeting, both sides held on to their grounds.
While the government said paying the new minimum wage of N30,000 the way Labour is requesting is unrealistic, the TUC President said the government must make haste.
The TUC President told reporters after the meeting: “You are aware that the first burning issue in the country is the issue of minimum wage; we told the Vice President the need to take a quick action on the issue of minimum wage;
“We have given an ultimatum already to the Federal Government and you know Labour will not joke with that.
“So, we have encouraged him to also encourage the President to do something very urgent before the expiration of that ultimatum given to government.
“We also mentioned the issue of job creation; that mostly it is not the responsibility of government to create jobs; that it is the private sector , individuals that can create jobs; so, we have encouraged the Vice President that they should look at the retirees as a means of creating jobs; we have suggested the way to do that and we will submit paper.
“We also mentioned the issue of insecurity; we have mentioned the quantum of money spent so far on security in the country; we have advised that money should be used to revive the companies that have been closed down in this country especially the textiles and the money can also be used to create other companies that will create jobs instead of continuously spending this money on security when we are not achieving much.”
Olaleye said he could not say if the Vice president’s response was positive or negative.
“You know as the representative of the President, he will try to mediate with the unions to show understanding with the government.
“I am telling you that we will go further with the government to discuss on better ways to achieve this.” he stated
Ngige insisted that N580 billion is needed to meet the consequential adjustment to the minimum wage.
He said: “We are not talking about the implementation of minimum wage per se; what we are talking about is the consequential movements as a result of the minimum wage for the least paid worker.
“The minimum wage for the least paid worker today is N30,000; for the last man in the lowest rung of the ladder. So, if we do consequential adjustments and go up and do a 30 per cent raise across board on a sliding scale or do even the 25 per cent which labour is asking government to do, government will need to go and look for an extra N580 billion to effect that; and that government doesn’t have.
“And one of the cardinal principles of consequential adjustment negotiations which we call in labour parlance, Collective Bargaining Agreement, is ability to do; the wherewithal to pay; the capacity to pay.
“The maxim of cut your coat according to your cloth comes in place there and government has done the consequential movement budget in 2019 budget which is what government can pay in order to maintain the balance in the recurrent expenditure, otherwise, we will overshoot.”
He said meeting Labour’s demand would reduce capital expenditure in the budget to 15 per cent.
“You know that this government said that we will do 70-30 mix; 70 for recurrent expenditure, 30 percent only for capital expenditure. Today, with what labour is asking us to pay, if we pay that, it will translate to 15 per cent capital expenditure and 85 per cent recurrent and that doesn’t augur well with the country.
“It means we will abandon road construction; it means we will abandon refurbishment of airports, the rail that we are doing and even the schools that we are managing, the hospitals, everything will have to be abandoned and we will use everything to pay salaries and wages.
“Labour cannot go on strike; they are Nigerians; we will open up negotiations next week and we will lay our books open for them to see. It is government’s books; they will see it; it is part of negotiations,” he stated.
Speaking ealier during a visit by the leadership of the United Labour Congress (ULC) led by its President Mr. Joe Ajaero, Ngige urged the workers’ union to show understanding in view of the current economic realities.
He said the government was avoiding a situation where it would have to lay off workers, adding that this would add to the burden of the citizenry.
Ngige appealed to Labour to accept the consequential adjustment from levels seven to 17, adding that the government had only three months left to implement the new minimum wage.
He said the government would not tell the Labour leaders what it could not pay, adding that no worker deserved to be owed salary.
The minister said: “There is no problem with disagreement in the labour system. We can sometimes disagree to later agree, on the national minimum wage.
“The government cannot afford that kind of money now. Besides the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is more interested in the lowest cadre of workers which are those on GL 1 step 1 and GL 6 step 1, these are the ones who the N30,000 will have greater impact on.
“Government has done their own homework and brought out what they can use to defend this consequential adjustment. GL 1 to 6 does not have any problem, but GL 7 to 14 Band and GL 15 to 17 band, this is where we have the problem.
“So, if you push government to go and accede to an increment which its resources cannot accommodate, you are indirectly asking them to retrench workers so that the few that are remaining will get this ‘big big’ money.
“We don’t want that. From 2015 the President has made it clear that he is not out to inflict pains on Nigerians and that he does not want to create unemployment but even at that our increase in population is galloping and our resources are not consequentially increasing to meet up. That is why we have a lot of unemployed youths on the street today.
“We need to arrive at an agreement as soon as possible so that we can use the 2019 budget allocation to defray this consequential adjustment because it will be bad if we are unable to do it and we finish this financial year by December because the budget circle is going to return to January/December 2020 so we have three months only before this recurrent funds as well are swept back into government treasury, that is the law.”
He regretted the inability of the joint negotiating team of both the government and Labour to agree on the consequential adjustments, insisting that the new wage may become bloated by workers on GL 7-14 and 15-17.
Ajaero appealed to the minister for prompt payment of the new minimum wage, stressing that the private sector must also be compelled to pay the N30, 000 wage.