NLC Strike Notice: FG Pushes for Fair, Sustainable Minimum Wage, Begins Talks with Labour

The federal government has commenced discussions with organised labour to try to forestall a looming industrial action by workers over alleged poor implementation of the fuel subsidy removal palliatives, including payment of N35, 000 wage award

Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, who confirmed the talks, said negotiations on the new minimum wage had also commenced. Onyejeocha said the negotiation would be gradual, adding that they would seek to address all concerns by the workers.

But the federal government urged the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) not to carry out their threat of industrial action. The government promised to resume the payment of wage award to workers this week.

Amid growing concerns over the unrelenting economic hardship in the country, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour and Employment, Senator Diket Plang, assured that the National Assembly would support any move to introduce a living wage for Nigerian workers.

Speaking at the Second National Labour Adjudication and Arbitration Forum organised by the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), held in Abuja, yesterday, Onyejeocha said, “We have commenced negotiation with labour on the minimum wage on Monday.

“In fact, I will say that we started the engagement with organised labour immediately after the Christmas holiday, when I visited the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress and that of Trade Union Congress in Abuja.”

Onyejeocha said the committee would adopt the principle of social dialogue and tripartite engagement to resolve most of the issues that might arise during the negotiation.

Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume, also said the federal government was desirous of a minimum wage that was fair, sustainable, and beneficial to all stakeholders.

Akume, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the SGF Office, Mr. Richard Pheelangwa, said the government was pushing for a new minimum wage.

On ways of resolving disagreements, the SGF said embracing alternative dispute resolution mechanism might sometimes provide a quicker way of resolving labour disputes, rather than the traditional conflict resolution method.

Akume said, “This forum coincides with the commencement of deliberations by the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage. This critical juncture underscores the immense significance of our gathering.

“It provides a crucial platform for open dialogue, constructive engagement, and the exploration of innovative solutions as we navigate the delicate process of determining a minimum wage that is fair, sustainable, and beneficial for all stakeholders.”

In commencing negotiation on minimum wage, Akume said there was need to embrace tripartism and social dialogue by recognising the fact that collaboration and mutual understanding between government, employers, and labour unions were paramount.

According to him, each party must actively listen to the concerns and perspectives of the others, and foster the spirit of compromise and cooperation.

He stated that while striving for a living wage for Nigerian workers, the committee must acknowledge the country’s economic challenges.

Akume said the panel should take into consideration issues such as “finding a sustainable equilibrium that protects worker well-being without jeopardising business viability and overall economic health is crucial”.

In addition, the SGF said in seeking to resolve labour disputes, traditional negotiation methods might not always yield the desired outcomes, adding that embracing alternative mechanisms, like mediation and arbitration, could expedite resolutions, minimise disruptions, and foster trust among stakeholders.

Akume urged the leadership of the labour unions to also recognise measures undertaken by government for public good as well as wider public serving obligations discharged by the government to cushion economic hardships, beyond the minimum wage.

On her part, President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, said she was of the opinion that alternative dispute resolution mechanism should be used in settling conflicts in the labour sector since it encompassed all the tenets of social dialogue.

Speaking on the brewing dispute with the federal government over non-implementation of agreements on wage award and modalities for new minimum wage, President of NLC, Joe Ajaero, said organised labour was not satisfied with the manner government was proceeding with the talks on new minimum wage.

Ajaero expressed fear over possible stalemate in the talks. He said labour believed that any governor or ex-governor that could not pay their workers the N30, 000 minimum wage had no business being on the new minimum wage committee.

“Of what essence is social dialogue or tripartite negotiation if the outcome will not be implemented?” he queried.

The NLC president said the agreement labour had with the federal government since October 16 last year was yet to be implemented.

Ajaero also spoke on the effect of the country’s galloping inflation on the wages of Nigerian workers, saying, “No matter what amount you negotiate in present Nigerian economy, in the next five years, it can’t buy a bag of rice.”

He said there was need to tinker with the law providing for five years renegotiation of national minimum wage to allow for yearly adjustment of wages based on the level of inflation and value of the naira.

“This is important because people have been coming up to say that if we increase salaries it will affect inflation, but should we leave salary to be constant while variables continue to grow?” Ajaero asked. He added that workers were displeased with the poor implementation of the wage award by the government.

The NLC president wondered why it took the president less than 24 hours to implement the removal of fuel subsidy, but he had been unable to decide on measures to manage its effect eight months after.

Ajaero stated, “It took you 24 hours to say fuel subsidy is gone and it is taking you more than eight months to decide what to do with it and you are telling us to give you more time.

“It took 24 hours to remove fuel subsidy but more than eight months no single CNG bus is on the road.”

Ajaero said it was better for him to be in jail than see workers earn poor wages that were less than what prison dogs consumed.

Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, said dialogue and peaceful relationship between government and labour promoted development.

Fagbemi assured that government was going to implement all key recommendations from the NECA forum.

While welcoming participants at the forum, NECA President, Taiwo Adeniyi, said the organisation would ensure that priority was given to the welfare of employers.

Adeniyi said employers and employees, along with government, were encouraged to engage in social dialogue to improve industrial harmony in the country.

Meanwhile, the federal government urged NLC and TUC not to carry out their threat of industrial action, and promised to resume the payment of wage award to workers this week.

Onyejeocha made the plea in Abuja, at a meeting with the leadership of the two labour centres. It followed labour’s ultimatum to the federal government on the implementation of the 16-point agreement reached with it on October 2, 2023.

In a statement signed by Director, Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, the minister appealed to the labour organisations to withdraw their 14-day ultimatum. She assured that government had stepped up efforts to complete the implementation of the agreement.

The minister had convened the meeting in order to brief the labour centres on progress in the implementation of the agreement, and to reaffirm government’s commitment to the agreement.

She said, “It is true we entered into an agreement, but the government has shown good faith, and considering the urgency of the issue at hand, I called this meeting because dialogue has always been the best way out. And we are all for the well-being of our people.

“I am here to show good cause on why some agreement has not been met.’’

On the CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) buses programme, Director and Chief Executive of the Presidential CNG Initiative, Michael Oluwagbemi, who addressed the meeting virtually, stated that the government had made 70 per cent payment for the procurement of new CNG buses and CNG kits.

Oluwagbemi said while some of the buses were ready, they were expected to start assembling others locally, including the tricycles, between March and April

The meeting agreed on an immediate joint inspection visit to the Port Harcourt Refinery for labour to confirm the reported progress made in getting the refinery back to operation.

Onyejeocha noted that while the reaction of the labour organisations was not unwarranted in the face of government’s non-completion of the agreement, bearing in mind that some items in the agreement could only be achieved in stages, she hoped that the discussion would lead to the rescinding of the ultimatum by labour.

She assured them of the president’s sincerity of purpose and unflinching dedication to the implementation of the agreement, adding that he would leave no stone unturned in seeking to satisfy the demands of the labour organisations.

The minister promised that the government would keep working towards the complete implementation of the agreement.

Onyejeocha told the labour leaders, “I plead with you to sheath your sword. We have been showing good faith; it is just that it is not commensurate with your expectations. But I promise you that we will surpass your expectation this time, and I believe that everything will go well.”

Ajaero enjoined the federal government to be committed to beating the 14-day ultimatum, which started on February 9, by ensuring the implementation of the agreement.

He declared the labour unions’ resolve to stand by their ultimatum, stating that every party to the agreement should endeavour to live up to expectation for the interest of Nigerians and the government.

First Deputy President of TUC, Dr. Tommy Okon, echoed similar concerns, and criticised the government’s gradual approach to implementation of the signed agreement.

Okon said, “We have a lot of respect for you, Minister, that’s why we are here. We don’t need to beg government to do what is right. Let me tell you, we, the organised labour, are the ones managing crisis in this country for the government; if not, we wouldn’t be here today discussing these issues.”View gallery (4)

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