Ngige: FG, States Owing Workers Arrears of New Minimum Wage

Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige
  • NUPENG, TUC risk clampdown over violation of law

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has said that both the federal government and the states are already owing arrears of workers’ salaries by virtue of the N30,000 new Minimum Wage law which took effect from April 18, 2019.

The minister also disclosed that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) risk proscription for breaching an important aspect of the Trade Unions Act which deals with rendering annual account on workers’ check off dues.

Speaking in a interview with journalists in Abuja Sunday, Ngige said the federal government had constituted a committee with the task of working out a new template that will help make the consequential adjustments needed to commence the payment of the N30,000 minimum wage.

He also explained that negotiations would soon begin on the actual template to be used for the payment of the new wage.

According to Ngige, this is going to be worked out with the Joint Negotiating Council in both the federal and at state levels.

“Every state government is now owing workers if they have not started paying N30,000. They are owing workers effective from 18th of April, a new minimum wage. “We are in a committee working out a new template with which we will adjust upward the consequential adjustment upstairs for those already earning above N30,000. This is what we doing now,” he said.

The minister, who noted that the emphasis of the new minimum wage was on the vulnerable and those workers down the ladder, said that the government had set up a technical committee under the Salaries and Wages Commission to work out what the federal government will do for their workers and then advise the state governments appropriately.

Explaining the issues further, Ngige said: “You must consequentially adjust for the man on grade level two, grade level three, grade level four and five, because that man on GL 1 step 1 has overtaken them with his new payment.
“That is what we refer to as consequential adjustment. This consequential adjustment touches more the people on the lower ladder and we are working it out. The negotiation is going to be with the Joint Negotiating Council in both the federal and at the state level”. According to Ngige, what yhe federal government is doing is use the Salaries and Wages Commission to work out what the federal government will pay its workers and to also advise the state governments appropriately.

On the insistence by some state governments that they will not be able to pay the N30,000 minimum wage, Ngige said that the law on National Minimum Wage is a binding one and that no state can afford to disobey it.
“No, it is a national law and no governor can say he will not pay. The issue of National Minimum Wage is item 34 on the exclusive legislative list of the third schedule of the Nigerian Constitution. The issue of labour is also there and not on the concurrent list. If it is on the concurrent list, then they can make their own state assembly laws on that,” he said.

Responding to accusations by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that he was frustrating the speedy implementation of the new minimum wage, Ngige said that the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba was employing blackmail tactics.

He attributed the delay in commencing the payment of the new minimum wage to some bureaucractic bottlenecks which will soon be sorted out.

“I am the prime mover of the new minimum wage. If you ask anybody in the Federal Executive Council, they will tell you so and the president will also tell you so and he has said so many times. So, the President of the NLC is playing politics,” he said.

Speaking on what the state governments should avoid in the implementation of the new minimum wage, Ngige said that states would need to invite the workers’ unions to negotiate the consequential adjustments arising from the new minimum wage rather than applying the principle of percentage increase across board.

The minister recalled the mistake made in 2011 by some states when they applied the principle of percentage increase across board and ran into trouble, and were not able to pay.

He said that going by percentages, the N30,000 minmum wage translates to a 67 per cent increase.
“If a state government applies the same 67 per cent increase across board, there will be serious trouble; the same with the federal government and when there is that troublez there will be trade dispute, ” he stated.

The minister however allayed the fears of state governments, saying that there is an aspect of the labour law that allows for dialogue and negotiations on how each state graduate the wage bill to enable them fulfill their obligations to workers.

“If I am unable to pay and my workers know that I am unable to pay. We will sit down and agree on what I am able to pay. So, there is a baseline now as no worker in Nigeria should earn anything less than N30,000 provided that the establishment has more than 25 workers,” he said.

Speaking with regard to his query to the leadership of the TUC and NUPENG, Ngige said that both unions were found to have breached the provisions of the Trade Unions Act.

He said both NUPENG and TUC were in breach of Section 37(i) and that the Registrar of Trade Union invoked Section 40 of the Trade Unions Act Cap T.14(LFN) 2004 which gives him power to request that all the books of accounts of defaulting unions be submitted to the Registrar’s office for further scrutiny to make for accountability in the management of the unions’ funds, which are check-off dues of workers deducted at source from their salaries .

However, he said that while the TUC leadership had since made representation pleading for time to enable it meet up with the legal provision, their NUPENG counterpart has failed to give any explanation but rather chose to exhibit arrogance.