Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige, has said that he would meet with President Muhammadu Buhari Friday to brief him on the progress made so far on the negotiations for a new minimum wage.
He said that the Presidential Committee charged with task of working out details of the new wage package had almost completed its assignment except that agreement on figures for new minimum wage were yet to be reached.
While addressing journalists in his office in Abuja on Thursday over the 14-day ultimatum issued by labour unions to commence nationwide industrial action, Ngige said that he and the committee will be meeting with the president to inform him of what had been done so far.
He said that the unions were misrepresenting facts over the ongoing negotiations and were trying to introduce threats.
According to Ngige, the Federal Government is still within the timeframe for Implementation of New Minimum Wage.
He said that the committee set up by the president had been able to conclude deliberations on many of issues within the September deadline given to it.
The minister blamed the apparent slow pace of negotiations on the labour union and some state governments, adding that the practice whereby the organised labour proposes figures and withdraws it only to propose another one is not helping matters.
Giving further details on the negotiations, Ngige said that members of the Orgainised Private Sector had earlier proposed N42,000 as what they could pay but later came down to N 25,000 blaming their action on the prevailing harsh economic situation.
He also said that state governors had proposed varying amounts which they also stepped down.
While deploring the threat by labour to embark of industrial action, Ngige described the labour unions’s move as an act of blackmail and an attempt to intimidate the other partners in the negotiations.
He said: “International Convention for minimum wage negotiations does not allow for threats or I regard the labour unions threat of strike as a blackmail and subtle intimidation which does not augur well for the negotiation of the new minimum wage,” he said.
The minister also said that the labour union’s 14-day ultimatum was uncalled for and amounted to crying wolf where there was none.
“Labour unions are trying to overheat the polity and this government has never retrenched any worker, if any thing the government has been employing more workers.
“We have now in our service over half a million newly employed workers and we have paid out over N7 billion on promotion arrears to workers,” he said.
The minister said that President Buhari had shown sufficient interest in the welfare of workers, which was why he set a presidential committee to address the minimum wage issue.
He said that the president was quite interested in the progress being made on the minimum wage issue, adding that he has been monitoring every stage of the negotiations.
Ngige said that he briefed the governors on Wednesday on the need to fast track the negotiations.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has began mobilisation of its affiliate unions in preparation for a nationwide workers’ strike to press home their demands for a new minimum wage.
Addressing a press conference Thursday in Abuja, the NLC President Comrade Ayuba Wabba said that the umbrella labour body will sensitise member unions and the workers to know the plans for strike and to be ready to support it as long as it lasts.
Apart from the lingering issue of new minimum wage, the NLC president lamented the mounting arrears of salaries being owed workers by some state governments.
He said the Congress was not happy with the conduct of these debtor states which, despite receiving huge amount from bail out funds and Paris Club refunds, were still not able to offset the salary they owe workers.
“Sincerely speaking we are going to assist and support our members in diverse ways. Part of what we try to emphasise is that the unions should try to sensitise their members for them to be on same page.