Minimum Wage Review: You Don’t Understand the Issues, NLC Tells Oyegun

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Paul Obi in Abuja

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) wednesday said the comments credited to the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, showed that he did not understand the issues associated with minimum wage.

Oyegun at a briefing in Abuja this week told journalists that the dire economic situation in the country would not augur well for a new minimum wage put forward by the organised labour.

He had informed journalists that the demand for a new minimum wage “shouldn’t be a federal matter, states should be allowed to make their decisions based on their abilities to pay. The cost of living is not the same in every part of the country,” the APC national chairman said.

But labour on the other hand had argued that should government plug up the leakages in the system, halt corruption and harness the recovered looted funds, it will be in a better position to meet NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) demand for new minimum wage placed at N56,000.

Speaking with THSIDAY, NLC Secretary General, Dr. Peter Ozo-Ezon, debunked the claims by the APC national chairman that the demand for a new wage was not feasible, stressing that, he barely understands the issues of new minimum wage at stake.

“The demand for a new minimum wage is genuine; it is not focused on the federal government, the issue of minimum wage is not only a government issue, it is a wide issue on the economy, involving the private sector,” Ozo-Ezon said.
He told THISDAY that “the chairman did not understand the issues; he needs to understand the issues on how a new minimum wage can be arrived at.”

NLC Secretary General further argued that what is needed is not for the federal government to negotiate alone, but to rather constitute a tripartite commission or committee to include the three tiers of government on one side, organised labour and the private sector.

He added that “that’s the ILO convention for fixing minimum wage and Nigeria is a signatory to the convention, where it pledged to obey the rules.”

Ozo-Ezon explained that the tripartite commission in the negotiation of minimum wage is not new to the government.
He cited the last committee headed by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore (rtd) as a clear example.

The NLC chief scribe contended that any opposition to the proposed new minimum wage should be based on verifiable facts; adding that individuals or groups opposed to the proposal should “Support their argument with analysis, all these are matters of the process.”

Asked whether labour would soft pedal on the N56,000 wage bill and reduce it to a workable plan, Ozo-Ezon said: “We cannot be telling you whether we will reduce the amount we have put forward or not.”

Since labour proposed the new minimum wage alongside threats that it will go the whole hog to ensure that it stands, government has kept mute on the matter. Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, also kept silent when he represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the last May 1st Workers’ Day rally in Abuja.

All efforts to speak to Ngige were not fruitful as he was not available for comments. Neither did he return the calls put across to him.