Every Nigerian worker would benefit from the minimum wage law through sectoral negotiations that would be spearheaded by the unions and state councils of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). Indeed, The Guardian can confirm that the NLC and TUC would not be involved directly on how much would be added to workers’ earnings over N30, 000, as such negotiations would be left in the hands of industrial unions, who would negotiate with employers on the behalf of their members, while state councils would negotiate the parameters that would be used to determine what accrues to levels 01 to 17, as the case may be.
It is, however, a bad news for domestic workers such as house-helps, gardeners and gate-men, who are not affected in the new wage structure, as the law applies to employers that have over 25 workers on their payrolls. Of course, such domestic workers might still benefit if their employers have over 25 of them.
General Secretary of NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, told The Guardian in Abuja yesterday that not only workers earning less than N30, 000 would benefit from the new wage law, explaining that all categories of workers would eventually benefit from the new salary scale that would be done to reflect the new law. His explained further: “Labour always argue that once a new minimum wage law comes into effect, it has ripple effects on other categories of workers who are currently earning above the minimum wage, because there is the need to maintain vertical relativity of the salary table, particularly for the federal and state governments workers. Therefore, some adjustments on salary tables would need to be effected.
“The issue of wage, generally, should be dealt with at the level of individual unions. Both the NLC and TUC lead the struggle for a fresh minimum wage, but the negotiation of how salaries are adjusted should take place at the level of industrial unions or state councils when dealing with governments.“In situations where the workers are not unionised, the minimum wage is a law that binds all employers. If there is no union in an establishment, it means there is no collective bargaining in determining wages, which poses some problems, in which case it is the prerogative of the employer to see what adjustments are needed to be effected.
“But ideally, labour believes that all establishment should be unionised, so that collective bargaining can collectively take place in determining wage issues. Employers that employ less than 25 people are, however, exempted from the law.“The new law put that exemption of employers who employ less than 25 people. This was part of what the tripartite committee recommended, that it should be removed, so that the law applies to everybody, including those that employ domestic workers.”
A former president of TUC, Peter Esele, noted that the organised labour must deploy its negotiation skills that is embedded in research to make the new wage a reality.He said: “The struggle to ensure employers pay this N30, 000 would succeed to the extent that labour deploys findings from research. The governors must be made to understand that N30, 000 of today is actually less than N18, 000 of 2011.
“In the 2011 negotiation, which I was part of, we based our negotiation on $12 a day, which was $120 per month, equaling N18, 000. What you have now is N30, 000 and if you base it on N360 to the dollar, what you will have is about $80.“Outwardly, the naira amount of 30,000 seems big, but in terms of the purchasing power, you are between 25 to 30 per cent less. We need to bring this fact to the attention of the governors.
“The other part of it is that labour should go the extra mile. They have research department, so they should engage in extensive research and look at the budget of the 36 states and pick out areas of wastages. They should then bring this to the attention of the public, because one thing the politicians are always afraid of is the public opinion.
“So, labour must emphasise this, use their communication and research skills and employ their dialogue and negotiation skills for maximum effect. That is the way I think they should go. Governors will always complain, but I am happy that about 15 states said they are ready to pay the minimum wage, remaining 21 of them.”
Esele urged labour to unleash their state councils on the governors, saying: “Now is the time for labour to use their various state councils to look at the budgets of the states and then point out to the public the wastages that abound in the budgets.” He called on the labour to resist new governors from hiring new hands as special assistants and other nebulous positions and ensure that newly-elected officials rely on the civil service to deliver quality service to the people, adding that time has come for the labour and the general public to scrutinise the budgets of state governments, who are the drivers of sustainable development.
“What is responsible for our growth and development are the state and local governments, but our attention is not on that. We prefer to focus on the federal. “My advice to labour now is that they should put attention on the state governments. Fortunately, labour has states councils, so they should inform them to focus on state government.”
Meanwhile, Nigerians workers are not expecting less than total compliance with the new minimum wage, arguing that inflation in the country and the harsh economic conditions calls for faithful implementation of the law. A senior tax accountant at Seven Energy International, Suraj Oyewale, said wage is the reward for labour offered and not a gift, adding: “Workers deserve good reward for their labour. To that extent, wage increase is a good development and increase in minimum wage will no doubt raise the recurrent expenditure, but if recurrent expenditure must be lowered, there are many other avenues to achieve that, not from the meagre sums workers receive. Let the elected and appointed workers cut their expenses, like travel bills.
“So, I do not agree that it is workers’ wages that should be sacrificed for capital expenditure funding.” A parliamentary staff, Okpabi Adole, feared that the new minimum wage might heat up the polity regarding the ability of employers to pay, noting: “The private sector might find it difficult to implement the new wage because they are capitalist in nature. “Government should, therefore, come up with good policies to improve the economy.”
For Bassey Blessed, a staff of Rockview Hotel, private firms have their limits, saying: “I am in the private sector, a comrade in the labour union and I know what it means to pay salaries. We have different unions who take care of those in the private sector.“All the union leaders have to come together and map out plans that will ensure that private companies implement the new wage law. I want to plead with those going for the negotiation to ensure that something good comes out of it.”
Another worker, who craved anonymity, accused government and politicians of deceit, adding: “The Nigerian government and politicians are known to say things to make workers happy, but the implementation is always the problem. It has always been the challenge we face in the country.“The impression they gave us was that the implementation is going to be immediate, but we have the habit of delaying issues that affect the common man most in this country. We hope that the government would keep its promise this time.” A civil servant, Paul Ameh, said the new wage would boost the welfare of the workers “because things are more expensive in the market currently compared to what we have before.
“As a family man, I understand better. Workers have families and kids to take care of and this new wage would at least help them to solve some aspects of financial challenges they face year in year out.“The new wage will also increase the capital base of entrepreneurs. People would have more money to spend. We should expect ripple effects, as the implementation of the new wage law begins.”
Auwal Adamu, who works in the private sector agreed, saying the new wage would boost the financial status of the workers. “It will affect the workers positively, especially if we have a corresponding improvement in our economy, and I know with this, we are going to have a better economic outlook.
“The federal government has done its best, what remains is for the state governments and other employers to begin its implementation.”Jesse Habila maintained that with the new wage, things would improve for workers, saying: “Even though we all know that prices of goods and services might increase, I strongly believe it is a good step in the right direction. However, my concern is in the area of implementation, which might not take immediate effect, because it has become a tradition in this country for government to always delay implementation of policies affecting the common people.”
A contractor, Emmanuel John, urged labour unions in the private sector to device means to ensure employers in the private sector implement the new wage structure, noting: “I work in the private sector and I think workers in the private sector must rely on the labour unions to ensure that we are carried along.
“The payment of the new wage in the private sector will not be easy, because even as we speak, there are firms that owe salaries and some pay in arrears. Our hope is in the union; they should understand that we are all workers and the private sector drives the economy of the country. The union must ensure that we are captured in the implementation of the new wage law to ensure that workers are more productive.”