Ngige: FG, States Now Owe Arrears of New Minimum Wage

Minister of Labour and Employment, 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 both the federal and state governments are already owing arrears of workers’ salaries by the 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 an interview with journalists in Abuja at the weekend, Ngige said the federal government had constituted a committee with the task of working out  a new template that would help make the consequential adjustments needed to commence the payment of the N30,000 minimum wage.

He also explained that negotiations would soon commence 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.

He said: “Every state government now owes workers if they have not started paying the N30,000. They owe workers arrears effective from April 18-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 are doing now.”

The minister, who noted that the emphasis on the new minimum wage is on the vulnerable and those workers down the ladder, said 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 worker on grade level two, three and four and five, because his is on GL 1 step 1 and has overtaken them with his new payment.

“That is what we refer to as consequential adjustment. This consequential adjustment touches more on 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 state level.”

According to Ngige, what the federal government is doing is to 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 the law on National Minimum Wage is a binding one and that no state can afford to disobey it. 

 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 the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, was employing blackmail tactics.

He attributed the delay in commencing the payment of the new minimum wage to some bureaucratic 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 (FEC), they will tell you so and President Muhammadu Buhari will also tell you so and he has said so many times. So, the president of the NLC is playing politics,” he said.

“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, the minister said 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 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.