NLC President Ayuba Wabba, speaks on the controversies around the proposed new national minimum wage, the governors’ position and what Nigerian workers would do. Moses John presents the details.
It’s not going down, it is just one stage. What we did is to make sure that there is a formal report from the committee. The formal report from the committee will have to go through brief administrative processes at the level of the executive, and what is expected is that the executive will transmit it into Executive Bill.
Then, how ready and prepared is labour for the process that would follow?
At all the levels, we are really on alert to make sure that we follow up on the processes. You are aware that at the negotiation table, there were a lot of hiccups even on arriving at one recommendation. After the conclusion of our collective bargaining negotiation process, the governors went ahead to throw up a figure, not on the table but to the media because they claimed they were not involved in the process of pronouncing their figure, despite the fact that they were on the negotiation table, opportunity was given to them, states were requested to send in memorandum, while 21 states sent in memorandum.
There was no basis for anybody to go and hide anywhere and throw up a figure. So, initially, those forces wanted to ensure that there was no even recommendation. But we thank God, we put up all the pressures we were supposed to put, we also did the needful and the report was completed. Even, along the line, people tried to change the narrative to say that there were two different figures.
Clearly speaking, that is why we say let us first cross this bridge and in crossing the bridge; a figure was recommended by the Tripartite Minimum Wage Negotiating Committee.
There is normal procedure; and this procedure is that the approving authority, the Executive, ably led by the President should receive the report. The report was received and we expect that the Executive process should not also take more than necessary. We would be very vigilant. We would be following up the process and we would also do the needful to put them under the necessary pressure as required of us.
From their level, we expect there won’t be further delay. I know as a matter of process, it would go through the FEC, and the National Economic Council. We have also lighten the work of the executive; because attached to the report is also a Draft Bill which we did to amend the existing National Minimum Wage Act, and we tried to improve on it and also inserted the figure into that bill.
So, what is expected is that the process of the Executive should be completed quickly and transmitted to the National Assembly. Even at the level of the National Assembly, we would not rest, because we would also follow up until it is promulgated into an Act and sent back to Mr. President for assent. These are the processes and therefore, we would follow it.
In the past, it is only at the level of implementation we had much issues not at the level of the committee. But this time, even on agreeing on a figure, there was actually a challenge. So, if anybody thought it is going to be a very smooth process, that mindset should be changed. We are not unmindful of that, because I have said that severally that it is on the basis of the fact that unions made a legitimate demand, we would also follow up all the processes to ensure that the minimum wage is delivered to Nigerian workers and that workers would be able to benefit from it.
Once the money is not in the pocket of workers, we are not yet there.
Importantly, even when the law is there, if we don’t follow up the process of implementation, it would also amount to not being there. Remember that the minimum wage law up till 2000, implementation was the main problem. We had to have a special NLC Executive Council meeting in Asaba in 2000, before we now pushed for implementation. So, it’s in stages, it’s in phases and therefore until the deal is done and until the money is in the pocket of Nigerian workers, there is no way we can say we have arrived. So, it’s a process that we would follow up and ensure that all those issues we would continue to follow up on them.
When a bill is transmitted to the National Assembly as important as the National Minimum Wage, our expectation is that it should receive an expeditious consideration. For the Organized Private Sector, we have no problem with them, we are on the same page. Even on the negotiation table, the Organized Private Sector has aligned themselves with the workers. They said they need to enhance the productivity of workers, they need to make them happy. If the workers are happy, they are sure that the businesses will thrive. Businesses are for profit and to make profit, workers must be able to align with you. So therefore, we are on the same page.
What of the governors, bearing in mind that what they proposed was N22,400?
We are aware of the position of governors and I am also sure that the National Assembly will be mindful of the fact that this is an issue that is at the heart of every Nigerian worker, and therefore we are ready for the contestation that is involved. Every member of the National Assembly comes from a constituency, every worker also has a constituency, so there would be engagement as usual to make sure that the law is enacted in good time.
But the bone and the substance of the bill is also important, and therefore, this is where we would also need to do the needful. Already, we have mapped out a lot of strategies, to follow up the remaining processes. We have strategised, and these strategies remain exclusive to us for now. You will only be invited when we are implementing those strategies and decisions.
So, this is where we are and I think it is where to go. There is no way we can say that we have arrived. Those forces are still at work. Even after the submission of the report, you have heard people like El-Rufai, saying that states should be able to pay what they can afford. But he has forgotten that in the case of political elites, it is not what they can afford they are paying to themselves.
In fact, they are paying higher than what is prescribed by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. Most of them are paying higher than the commission actually prescribed for political office holders. The issue of their severance package, that is so humongous is not contained in the commission. That amount is not there, therefore we will also follow up with this argument. It is a national minimum wage, it is not a state minimum wage. It is under the exclusive list of the constitution, therefore, no state can go outside it to pay ridiculous salary. It will be against the constitution, it will be a violation of the constitution and therefore, we would be ready to take them up at that time.
I have repeated severally that aside the fact that we have six governors on the committee which is unprecedented in the history of minimum wage negotiation, we never had such a number on the committee before now. The first thing the committee did was to send out a letter to each of the 36 state governors, addressed to them specifically to say that send in your input to the Minimum Wage Tripartite Negotiation Committee on your position on what you think should be minimum wage, using empirical data.
That opportunity was given to them and 21 states responded. Even in law, you can decide to say no case submission, but you can also make submission. In that case, 21 states submitted, they also quoted figures. Those were the figures we used in negotiating and arriving at N30,00 because Labour also came with a figure of N66,500. Organised Private Sector also came with a figure, specialised agencies of government came with figure, Federal Government came with its figure.
So, all those figures were put in a basket through a process of collective bargaining, including ability to pay, including purchasing power parity, including all other factors as outline in Convention 131, and were used to negotiate and arrived at a figure of N30,000, and it was the same figure that was unanimously recommended to the Executive.
Nobody can turn around. Including El-Rufai himself, a customised letter was written to him. Whether he responded or not, the clear fact is that we have been able to discharge our responsibility in line with the provisions of the law, in line with the set out procedures of our meeting. Not only that, there was a public hearing; in fact, the public hearing for the North West took place in Kaduna, where the government of Kaduna was invited to speak to the issue. There was public hearing in six geo-political zones, one state per zone and all the states within that zone were written to make themselves available to speak to the issue.
President on the report
There are two issues involved. What was reported, the way I saw it is like once the report is made available today, the money will be made available tomorrow. No! All of us understood that there are some Executive processes that will go into it, and those processed will go into it and the final copy of the bill will be submitted to the National Assembly as an Executive Bill.
I also saw in the social media where people say the committee submitted two figures, that is not true. We submitted only one figure as a recommendation. What was submitted by the committee was a recommendation and that is the process.
N30,000. You are aware. The chairperson read the speech. Even some media houses and media platform said we submitted two figures which is false. Even, credible media houses reported that, which is not true.
I have also warned them not to play politics with our minimum wage. The clear fact is that minimum wage is not about politics, minimum wage is about the demand by Nigerian workers. Minimum wage did not start today. Even in 2011, at the eve of another election, minimum wage was due and was delivered.
Clearly speaking, this is our point of argument, it is valid demand, the demand needs to be met, we will hold people by their words. If there is any change in their words, we would remind them you made this promise and you must deliver on it. It is not a one way approach, because we know there are forces that are against the workers and you have seen them clearly emerging and making statement from both sides of their mouths.
Workers will also be mindful of that, we would put workers also on notice so that we would take note of those people and workers should not give them any support at any point in time. It is our responsibility and we can say that clearly without any ambiguity. Politics is about interest. Particularly, if any political leader will not be able to deliver on a promise that has been made, to deliver on minimum wage that will also assist the workers, what then, is the interest of workers?
The interest in politics is about taking care of your wellbeing and welfare. It is a straight forward issue, it is something every Nigerian workers is mindful of. You vote because your welfare, wellbeing and interest will be protected. In other climes, the contestation will be about issues, it should be issue-based contestation and minimum wage is an issue. Whether you like it or not, minimum wage is an issue for people to seek for election, even in an advance economic like America. Did you see the contestation between Obama and Mccain? Obama said I am going to deliver on the new minimum wage and he delivered on it in the midst of recession. Same with Sanders, same with Hillary Clinton.
Is N30,000 even ideal in the present economic reality with high inflation?
In the context of Nigeria, because of low wage, people are working but they are working poor. If you calculate N30,000 and divide it by 30 days, divide it by family of four we are living below $2 per day. So, we are poor, even those on the minimum wage of N30,000, if it’s four in a family, they are actually a working poor by the global standard.
Certainly. We want to say that reasonably, it shouldn’t take more than few weeks for the Executive to complete its works and transmit to the National Assembly. We also hope that at the National Assembly, it shouldn’t take more than one or two weeks to do that, all the processes. In the National Assembly, once it’s tripartite issue, you don’t even need public hearing, but it is at their discretion to do that. They have seen the way and manner the discussions had gone, and nobody in Nigeria today, a right thinking person who does not know that this is a topical issue and therefore, any delay, they also know the consequences of it. So we don’t think it should be delayed.
I say if it can be delivered tomorrow we are okay with that but we will be reasonable in our approach. We don’t want to put a date that will also influence their decision. We don’t want that, that could be counter-productive, that will be working against our interest. One thing is that we know what is reasonable and once that reasonability is not in place, we also know how to start our Labour procedure again.