Minimum wage: Where’re the worker-friendly govs?

Some of the Governors

The welfare of workers in this part of the world largely depends on the personality of the presidents and governors. TOPE SUNDAY and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU in this report raise a poser that where are the worker-friendly governors?

Regrettably, the nation’s civil servants have to embark on strike to demand for a better welfare package, both at the state and federal levels.

However, it is easier for civil servants to press on for their demands and at the same time for the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to issue threats and in most cases, embark on strike in order to get approval for an increase in minimum wage across the country.

But this is very difficult to enforce because the governors determine who gets what. In doing so, many factors come to play, as such some workers in some states are being owed as much as eight month salaries; others receive half salary. Salaries of some of the Nigerian workers are not regular, while some get their salary regularly and even with other incentives.

Minimum wage issues in brief
Over the years, the minimum wage for workers has witnessed some level of increment under different administrations since the country returned to democratic governance in 1999. Between 1989 and 2001, the minimum wage went from N250 to N3, 000 and from N5, 000 to N7, 500. In 2010, former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan increased the nation’s minimum wage to N18, 000.

However, after series of protests, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and United Labour Congress (ULC) negotiated a new minimum wage with the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government. President Muhammadu Buhari on April 18, 2019, signed into law the Minimum Wage Repeal and Re-Enactment Act, 2019. By this Act, the new minimum wage is now N30, 000. The president assented to the Act and mandated all employers of labour across the country to pay workers a minimum of N30, 000 monthly wage.

FG yet to begin payment
Interestingly, the federal government has also not started paying the approved minimum wage to the federal civil servants. In order to achieve this, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, recently inaugurated a committee which task is to negotiate the “consequential adjustment in salaries arising from the new national minimum wage.”

He said: “Government has carefully appointed members of the committee under the chairmanship of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation with the SGF as alternate chair.

“Members of the committee from the side of government include the ministers of labour and employment; finance, budget and national planning; health; education, and the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice. Others are the director-general; budget office of the federation; secretary, federal judicial service commission; secretary, national assembly service commission and the chairman, national salaries, incomes & wages commission.

“On the side of the trade unions, ten representatives have been nominated by the joint national public service negotiation council as members of the committee.”

The SGF said the committee “has four weeks to amicably consider the issue of relativity and consequential adjustment with thoroughness, bearing in mind the welfare of the nation’s workforce vis-à-vis the current economic reality.”

States still owe old minimum wage
As at October last year, 17 states were yet to fully offset the outstanding amounts owed pensioners and civil servants despite the series of N1.8 trillion bailouts from the federal government.

A survey conducted by BudgIT, a civic organisation, and released for the media in the same month, indicated that 12 states were yet to offset the amounts owed secondary school teachers and that many states were threatening workers to keep the information away from public domain.

The report read in part: “Notable among states with outstanding liabilities to secondary teachers is Osun and Kogi state. Osun state has been paying secondary school teachers above Level 8 only a fraction of their salaries and entitlement for the last 30 months.

“Cumulatively, Osun state still owes secondary school teachers above Level 8 about 15 months’ salaries. Other states with outstanding liabilities to states include Abia, Benue, Bayelsa, Kwara, Imo, Ekiti, Oyo, Ondo, and Zamfara. Kogi state, for instance, owes teachers about 13 months’ salaries according to the response given by secondary school teachers during the survey.

“Midwives, whose responsibility includes attending to issues around pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, women’s sexual and reproductive health and newborn care – are also bugged down by issues including failure of some state to pay salaries and emolument as at when due.”

It further read: “Midwives were questioned during the survey across the 36 states. BudgIT discovered that 10 states owe midwives salaries as at close of business on September 24, 2018.

“Delta, Imo, Abia, Osun, Plateau, Bayelsa, Ekiti and 11 other states owe pensioners entitlements ranging from one month to 36 months. Almost all pensioners expressed how unhappy they are, their dissatisfaction with the government and how hard it has been for them to survive despite years of hard work up into service.

“BudgIT hereby asks states to offset outstanding liabilities to its workers and pensioners as funds in form of bailouts estimated to be in the region of N1.8 trillion have been issues to states to offset all outstanding liabilities owed workers.”

All eyes on new wage regime
Checks by Blueprint Weekend revealed that Nigerians are anticipating the implementation of the new minimum wage across the country. The checks further revealed that the expectations of the state and local government workers are very high on its implementation.

A staff of the Nasarawa state government, Abdullahi Danjuma, told this medium that he can’t wait for the implementation of the new wage regime.
He said, “I am anxiously waiting for the implementation of the N30, 000 minimum because by my calculation, my salary will be jerked up by almost 50 per cent. However, its full implementation is another concern to us because it may be implemented in a way that may not be favourable to us.”

Collaborating Danjuma’s position, another civil servant in the service of the Benue state government, who gave his name simply as Ben, said there “are mixed feelings over the full implementation of the new wage regime in the state because the payment of the N18, 000 old minimum wage is a problem.”

“For me, I am not too happy about the N30, 000 minimum implementation in our state. The old N18, 000 minimum wage is a bit problematic. Now, how sure are we that the new wage will be implemented fully?”

‘States need to cut cost, avoid waste’
A development economist and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, while suggesting how the states will be viable to pay their workers the new minimum wage, said they should cut cost and avoid waste.

Mailafia, in an interview with Blueprint Weekend in Abuja, said the new wage regime will boost the country’s economy and urged the governors to jettison the idea of appointing people whose their impact will not be felt in their administration, saying that appointment of 300 advisers by a governor is a waste of the public fund.

He said, “I welcome the new minimum wage in our country. I think we need it to ensure that workers have a decent wage. There has been an old debate among economists as to the desirability or otherwise of the minimum wage. I believe that debate is fairly well settled by now. There is a consensus among economists that, far from being harmful, a minimum wage can spell positive good for the economy.

“Providing workers with a living wage is not only good for welfare, it is good for equity and social justice. It can also boost aggregate demand which has positive spill-over effect on business and industry. It can actually enhance the circular growth of the economy. Of course, timing and frequency matter. We need to implement a minimum wage in timing and frequency that does not fuel inflation, which itself can be harmful for the poor and for long-term sustainable growth.”

On how to ensure that state governors pay, he said: “We have recently heard of some scary amounts of about N2.29 trillion being bandied about as the total ball park figure required to pay for the new minimum wage. I have my doubts about this figure.

“For the federal government alone, we have an estimated 870, 000 personnel. If the amount of N30, 000 is shared out to all of them, what we have as expenditure for the whole year would amount to N672.1 billion. In any case, no such amount will be shared to everyone, minus the small adjustments that would have to be made for those above the minimum wage bracket.”

He further said, “One of the things we hardly talk about in our public discourses is cost-saving. I believe that there is a lot of waste and haemorrhage in the public service. Cutting costs and avoiding wastages will save us a lot of money. Such money could then be used to pay for the new minimum wage. In addition, you find a situation where, a governor, for example, employs 300 ‘advisers’ who are mostly redundant. They have no real tangible jobs that they are performing.

“And yet they are on the payroll. When such a governor is confronted with the new minimum wage bill they complain to high heavens that they cannot afford it.

“When you stuff the entire state civil service with your clansmen and women who are mostly redundant you surely cannot find the money to pay the minimum wage. We, therefore, need some sort of human resource audit for the public service. We must link jobs to performance and role. Those who are redundant should be cashiered off. Executives can also reduce the cost of their entourage, with all the retinue of cars and hangers-on. This will also contribute to saving funds that could be used to pay the minimum wage.

“As these things go, the immediate impact will be rather inflationary. We are already seeing signs of this, although another factor is the Ramadan season, which has also contributed to ratcheting up food prices. With time, it will level out. We see it as a positive development that will improve marginally the living conditions of the poorest workers.”

IGR, the way out?
An economic analyst, Emmanuel John, told Blueprint Weekend that from the statistics from most of our agencies it is obvious that some states cannot pay the new minimum wage.

“From data made available by the Nigeria Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) which shows that 28 states would be unable to fund their 2019 budgets from revenue realised in 2018 and 2017. It is clear that some for obvious reasons will not pay the new minimum wage.

“Some newly elected governors who promised to pay will likely change their minds, not because they want to deceive the civil servants, but because some of these states presently owe huge amounts as salary arrears and with their economy genuinely overburdened by debts. So, it is doubtful if they will be able to pay.

“The way out is that governors of some of these states that are highly indebted should work hard to improve their states’ Internal Generated Revenue (IGR). If this is done, it will create ways to pay minimum wage and make available monies for some meaningful development within their various states,” he said.

Ehindero’s views

Comrade David Kayode Ehindero, the executive director/lead strategist of the Nigerians Workforce Strategy and Enlightenment Centre (NIWOSEC), told Blueprint Weekend that governors who don’t implement new wage don’t have conscience.

“Governors that do not implement the new minimum wage don’t have conscience. It is unfortunate. Let me tell you, most governors are governors of the poor people and I don’t know how they are taking pride in being governors of the poor. They are the only rich people in the midst of so many poor workers and that is why the information in the arena is so spurious. Governors have their pride as being the governors of the poor and if it so.”

As Nigerians await the implementation of the N30, 000 new minimum wage regime, the big question is where are the worker-friendly governors?

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