Comrade AbdulWaheed Omar, NLC President
President Goodluck Jonathan last Friday signed into law the new national minimum wage bill that will pave the way for the implementation of the N18,000 monthly pay for Nigerian workers, THISDAY can report.
A top government official told the newspaper Sunday night that the new Act would allow state governments to negotiate what they could pay their workers.
The government official said President Jonathan did not want to make an "open show" of the signing which had been a subject of controversy.
There were reports that some state governors who do not want to pay the new wage were mounting pressure on the president not to sign the bill until after the April polls.
The signing of the bill generated controversy recently when the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Abdulkadir Muhammed, said that the president had signed the bill into law.
However, the president has called for a meeting with the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Tuesday in Abuja to discuss the update on the new national minimum wage.
A labour leader, who confirmed the parley to THISDAY, said the meeting, which would hold at the Presidential Villa, will among others discuss issues bordering on the new national minimum wage.
“The president has invited us for a meeting in the Villa on Tuesday afternoon. There is no doubt that the issue of the N18,000 new minimum wage will top the agenda. But other issues will be discussed,” the labour official said.
Labour leaders had threatened to disrupt the general election billed to commence on Saturday over perceived delay by the president in signing the bill which was passed by the National Assembly early this month.
President Jonathan had earlier promised to give the bill an accelerated assent once the two chambers had given approval.
The wage bill was passed by the Senate on February 23 and the House of Representative on March 2 this year.
The two labour centres in the country - NLC and TUC - had in February 2009 presented a demand for a N52,000 minimum wage to the Federal Government with the argument that the present wage could no longer cater for the needs of civil servants in view of the present economic situation.
The last time the minimum wage was reviewed in the country was in 2000 when the then Obasanjo-led administration jacked it up to N7,500.
Apparently in a bid to forestall a labour crisis, the Federal Government had in May 2009 set up a tripartite committee headed by Justice Alfa Belgore to look into the national minimum wage issue.
The committee, which had eight members drawn equally from the government, labour, and employers concluded negotiations in March last year and submitted its recommendations to the government.
The committee had earlier proposed a minimum wage of N22,500 per month as the appropriate figure for workers. However, it observed that the economy would not support the amount and after extensive deliberations, negotiations, it was agreed that the new wage be pegged at N18,000.
In order to ensure compliance by all stakeholders, the Belgore committee recommended sanctions for anyone who failed to comply with the new National Minimum Wage Act when passed by the National Assembly.
It said Section 8 of the 2000 National Minimum Wage Act, which prescribes a fine not exceeding N500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both such fine and imprisonment should be amended to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both such fine and imprisonment.
The Belgore committee had also recommended that: “In order to forestall any possible industrial crises that might arise as a result of the new national minimum wage, the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity as a matter of expediency convene a meeting of the social partners (NLC, TUC and NECA) to agree on the broad guidelines for the implementation of the new national minimum wage in the various sectors of the economy including the public service”.
However, there are reports that some governors were mounting pressure on the president not to sign the bill into law until after the general election.
This decision may not be unconnected with the threat by labour to disrupt the April polls should state governors refuse to implement the new wage after it has been signed into law.
The labour leaders had also threatened to campaign against any governor that fails to pay the new wage after President Jonathan has given assent to the bill.
In reaction to the delay by the president to sign the bill into law, the leadership of the NLC had considered the option of declaring a national wide strike this week.
The National Administra-tive Council (NAC) of the NLC had at its meeting last week handed down a one week ultimatum to the Federal Government to sign into law the wage bill or face the wrath of Nigerian workers.
NLC President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, who served the ultimatum at a press conference in Abuja, said the Central Working Committee (CWC) would meet Monday so that the larger house would take a definite stand on the wage issue which has continued to drag on for over two years.