As El-Rufai blazes the trail on minimum wage

The disclosure by the Kaduna state government to the effect that it will begin the implementation of the New Minimum Wage Act 2019 this month is indeed a trail blazer worthy of emulation by other state governments and even the federal government as well as employers of labour in the country. The gesture by the Kaduna state government is quite significant and exemplary, considering the fact that even the federal government that is the author of the legislation is still bickering with labour over its implementation about six months after its assent by Mr President.

According to Muyiwa Adekeye, media aide of governor of the state, Nasir el-Rufai, the decision to implement the new national minimum wage and consequential adjustments to civil servants with effect from September 1, 2019, was taken at an executive council meeting chaired by the deputy governor Hadiza Balarabe.

Balarabe was quoted as saying the development shows the commitment of el-Rufai to strengthen the public service. She said the council deliberated on the minimum wage memo and unanimously approved commencement of the implementation in September 2019.

“The Executive Council stated that commitment to the public service includes a desire to improve the standard of living of workers in the state. Pursuant to that, the Kaduna state government launched a pay review process early in 2018. A cabinet committee was charged with exploring how the Kaduna state government can sustainably improve public sector salaries,” Adekeye said in a statement.

“Guided by the twin principles of ability to pay and sustainability, the government considered several scenarios, bearing in mind the trend of internally generated revenues and allocations from the federation account. Several salary scenarios were considered, and one option was identified as most prudent. A final decision was suspended as negotiations for a new national minimum wage appeared to gather momentum. It was reactivated after the Federal Government announced the new national minimum wage in April 2019.

“Paying the new national minimum wage and consequential adjustments will increase the wage bill of the Kaduna state government by 33 per cent. Gross monthly salary outlay will rise to N3.759 billion from the current N2.827 billion.

“This almost N1 billion monthly increase in the wage bill means that salary and pension commitments will take the lion’s share of state government expenditure. Meeting these salary obligations while achieving development objectives for citizens will further raise the pressure to expand and deepen revenue sources and collections.

“According to the new wage structure, the lowest paid workers in the civil service enjoyed increments of as much as 67 per cent. Middle-ranking officers from Grade 10 to 14 were awarded increments of 60 per cent.”

It is noteworthy that although President Muhammadu Buhari had assented to the New National Minimum Wage Bill into law in April this year after series of discussions with stakeholders, including the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and having been passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, the law is still being observed in the breach over five months of its existence. This is in spite of the fact that the federal government had promised that the payment of the N30,000 minimum wage to workers would begin immediately, precisely on April 18, 2019.

 The law makes it compulsory for all employers of labour in Nigeria to pay to their workers the sum of N30,000. And this excludes persons who are employing less than 25 workers; persons who work in a ship which sails out of jurisdiction and other persons who are in other kinds of regulated employment which are accepted by the Act.

 It also gives the workers the right, if you are compelled by any circumstance, to accept a salary that is less than N30,000, to sue your employer to recover the balance and it authorises the minister of labour and any person nominated by the minister of labour, or any person designated by the minister of labour in any ministry, department or agency to on your behalf, take action in your name against such employer to recover the balance of your wages.

The Act also ensures and mandates the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission and the minister of labour to be the chief and principal enforcers of the “provisions of this law. And this law applies to all agencies, persons and bodies throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Unfortunately, governors of the 36 states, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, had expressed their inability to pay the N30, 000 minimum wage, explaining that the amount will force the states into bankruptcy. This stance probably accounts for why virtually all the states are yet to implement the new minimum wage. Meanwhile, the federal government had insisted on partial implementation of the Act, an offer rejected by the organised labour.

It is on the backdrop of this state of affairs that we commend the el-Rufai government’s decision to commence the immediate implementation of the new national minimum wage. The gesture will, to a large extent, ameliorate the hardship of workers, who have for too long been grappling with incessant hyper inflation. We urge other governors, the federal government and employers of labour to emulate el-Rufai. Nigerian workers deserve no less.

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