Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, Thursay attributed the challenges being experienced in reaching agreement on full implementation of the new minimum wage increase, caused by the present impasse over the consequential adjustment of the minimum wage for Grade Levels 7 to 17, to the wrong interpretation of the increase by the organised labour.
The minister, while receiving a delegation of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) who visited him in Abuja, accused labour of interpreting the minimum wage to suit its purpose.
He said: “Consequential adjustment of the minimum wage is the main issue . It is not synonymous with total wage review. It is an adjustment you do consequentially – moving the last man at the last rung of ladder to N30,000 and by so doing, impinging on other salary Grade Levels, therefore must consequentially move them up too. But the consequential movement up doesn’t mean you do a percentage of the former minimum wage to the present minimum wage, which is 67 per cent . The issue is that they mistakenly lumped the two things together – the issue of consequential movement upstairs and the issue of total wage review.”
The minister also said the five-member Presidential Committee on Review of Salaries of Federal Public Servants would conclude its assignment by December.
According to the minister, the presidential committee has the Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning as its chairman and himself as the co-chair.
He added that the committee, which will submit its report to President Muhammadu Buhari, was given additional mandate to guide government in implementing an overall structural wage review.
According to him, due to the new minimum wage, the federal government’s personnel cost has risen astronomically from N1.88 trillion in 2016 to N3.08 trillion.
He said it was in anticipation of the adverse consequences that Buhari recently set up, the five-member committee to “evaluate all the earnings in the public service.”
He said part of the mandate of the committee was to make sure that “the quantum of work vis-a-vis quantum of money were synchronised in such a way that productivity would also come into play.”
“We have instances of people who have the same degree – some have First Class Honours , Second Class Honours (Upper Division) but you have another person who has a Third Class . The one with Third Class finds himself in public establishment where he is earning X amount and another person with Second Class Upper is in the core civil service and earns X/3, which is one third of X. It doesn’t make sense. So, that is the essence of that particular presidential committee and we have been given the mandate to finish our work by 9thof December 2019,” he added.
While explaining the enormous financial burden being borne by the federal government, Ngige said the annual personnel cost had risen astronomically since this administration came into office from N1.88 trillion in 2016 to N3.08 trillion in the 2020 budget proposal.
He added that the amount, which is inclusive of the new minimum wage, workers promotion arrears and pension, does not, however, include personnel cost of government institutions that get their allocation through the first-line charge like the judiciary and the National Assembly.
Commending NECA for the patriotic role it played during the negotiations for the minimum wage, Ngige solicited its assistance towards its faithful implementation in the private sector, noting that the sector has over the years been on self-adjustment towards the N30,000 base earning for workers through its collective bargaining agreement policy.
Ngige urged NECA to intensify efforts in re-invigorating professional unions of employers who have been passive so as to enable workers’ unions in such establishments to be active enough to benefit the values of unionism.
He told the NECA leadership that labour inspectors from the Inspectorate Division of the ministry would as from next year commence inspection of factories and industries to ensure compliance to the national minimum wage, occupational safety as well as enforce expatriate quota and stop capital flight.
He further urged the organisation to open branch offices and operations to all the zones of the country.
Speaking on the disagreement between federal government and public sector unions, NECA Director General, Timothy Olawale, said both sides should intensify dialogue as a means of resolving the matter.
He added that under prevailing circumstance, what federal government did by ordering payment of junior workers on grade levels 1 was right.
Olawale urged organised labour to shelve the proposed October 16 national strike over the consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage and exhaust all mechanism of social dialogue.