It was cheery news for workers across the country as state governors Wednesday expressed readiness to pay the N30, 000 minimum wage recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
This was the major highlight of workers’ day, a day set aside by the United Nations Organisation to celebrate workers worldwide.
The ceremony, which held in various parts of the country, however, saw the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) fuming over the absence of Minister of Labour and Productivity Chris Ngige at this year’s edition in Abuja.
Speaking at the event in Abuja, the organised labour called on the federal government to quickly finalise the salary adjustment and implementation of the new national minimum wage for workers in the country.
He spoke on this year’s celebration theme; “Another 100 years of struggle for jobs, dignity and social justice in Nigeria.”
“We urge the government to quickly finalise the new national minimum wage salary adjustment across the payroll of civil and public servants.
“We have already wasted a lot of time arriving at the new national minimum wage; we should not waste a single more second implementing the new national minimum wage across board. We urge workers to remain vigilant till total victory is won,” he said.
The NLC president commended labour leaders for mobilising workers during the campaign for a new national minimum wage.
“We recognise the solidarity of some of our comrades and friends of Labour in the National Assembly who stood by us throughout the struggle for a new national minimum wage.
“We acknowledge the efforts of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for easing social dialogue between us and the government while this process lasted.
“We also applaud President Muhammadu Buhari for being a promise keeper. He promised to sign the minimum wage into law and even after securing a second term in office, kept true to his promise by assenting to the new national minimum wage bill.
“That was another demonstration of labour-friendliness by Mr. President. We will recall that it was President Buhari, who asked state governors ‘how do you sleep at night when you have not paid the salaries of workers?”
He, however, called on employers of labour and the three tiers of government to promptly remit all contributory pension deductions to workers’ Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs).
Wabba expressed disappointment over the withholding of contributory pensions deduction by employers.
He said incidences of unlawful and illegal withholding of contributory pension deductions from workers’ salaries and not remitting same to their PFAs still abound.
“In Ogun state, deductions from workers’ salaries were unjustly withheld for close to one hundred and five months.
“It took the mobilisation of workers in Ogun state and beyond to make the state government budge.
“We will never allow such unjust treatment of workers and infractions on their rights to linger that long. The unpleasant situations where workers retire from public service and are forced to wait for several months for their pension benefits to be processed still persist.
“The lethargic and non-payment for those who are already pensioners, especially by state governments, continue to militate against the smooth operation of pension administration in our country,” he said.
Also, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa state said his administration was ready to pay the state civil servants the N30,000 minimum wage approved by the federal government.
Speaking in Yenagoa during the celebration, the governor said as soon as the National Income, Salaries and Wages Commission worked out the modalities, the state would be among the first to pay.
Commending the civil servants for their impact despite what they had gone through in the last seven years, the governor said the state civil servants were the most organised and patriotic in the country.
He said labour “leaders are not the stooge of the government and I don’t want them to be stooges.”
Dickson accused politicians of thinking more of themselves than the state, stating that the job of repositioning the state had begun. “We initiated the policy of no work, no pay because comradeship is about workers doing their job well.”
Earlier, the state NLC chair, Comrade John Ndiomu, thanked the governor for declining assent to the Bayelsa state Assembly Life Pension Bill 2019, saying it showed he articulated the views of Bayelsans.
And from Minna, Niger state, came the report that Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello directed the state’s Head of Service to immediately stop the computer error that led to slashing of workers’ salaries in the last two months.
Speaking at the workers’ rally, the governor said he was not aware of the development until his mother drew his attention to it.
He also said the administration had commenced modalities for full implementation of N30, 000 national minimum wage, as government was in touch with organised labour in the state in this regard.
Sani-Bello described the slash and shortfall in workers’ salaries as unfortunate, particularly as it was happening at this period of economic hardship.
He said, “I was not aware until my mother drew my attention to the issue yesterday that some workers have issues of salary cuts. On inquiry, the Head of Service told me that it was computer error. I want to believe that this is true but you must stop the computer from making the same error. If it occurs again then it will be human error and I will not take it lightly.”
The complaints from workers, some of whom were said to have shortfalls in salaries between N17, 000 to N30, 000 in the month of April 2019, were said to have filtered into the ears of the governor’s mother, who, apparently disturbed by the development, informed her son.
In promising to implement the new minimum wage, Governor Sani-Bello said government was, however, faced with the challenges of some workers involved in sharp practices which had made the state wage bill to be static and over-bloated since 2015.
“It is disheartening to discover that one person is collecting the salaries of 10 people every month while a driver is collecting N500, 000 as salary. Those involved in these practices must stop on their accord as we have a window of amnesty for them, but if they continue and we caught them, they will face the wrath of the law,” he said.
Also, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano state said his administration had concluded plans to implement the new N30, 000 minimum wage to civil servants in the state.
Addressing workers who converged on the Sani Abacha Stadium Wednesday, Ganduje stated that enhancing the welfare of civil servants in the state had been his major cardinal thrust and that nothing would serve as a clog in the wheel of his resolve to forge ahead.
He, however, said in its effort to boost the morale of civil servants, the state government had abolished the dichotomy between degree holders and HND holders working in the state.
In his remarks, the state Chairman of the NLC, Comrade Kabiru Ado Minjibir, applauded the state government for enhancing the welfare and working conditions of civil servants in the state.
He appealed to the state government to implement payment of allowances for workers of state tertiary institutions as is applicable to their colleagues in the federal civil service.
Minjibir urged the state civil servants to reciprocate government’s gestures by being committed to their assigned responsibility towards effective service delivery.
The occasion was graced by labour unions, stakeholders and the public.
And in the course of celebration of their day, workers in Cross River received their May salary alert, and instantly called on Governor Ben Ayade to stop it, saying the early payment of salaries wasn’t helping their finances.
Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state, Comrade Clarkson Otu, said this while addressing workers at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar.
He said the leadership of labour was unhappy over the early payment of salaries by the state government.
The labour leader said, even though the government meant well for the workers, labour was nonetheless not happy with the situation in which they received two months salaries within one week.
“As labour leaders, we do not support it (early payment). We have told His Excellency that it is not proper. April salary was paid only last week and on May 1st he pays May salary. We are surprised he still paid early this month in spite of our protest. We will continue to engage him on that,” he stated.
Also, the state NLC chair, Comrade Ben Ukpepi advised government to put a stop to it, saying the leadership of labour under him would engage with the governor with a view to putting an end to early payments of salaries in the state.
Meanwhile, Governor Ben Ayade has expressed his administration’s readiness to implement the new minimum wage recently passed into law once the necessary modalities were sorted out by the federal government and made available to the state.
Speaking through the Secretary to the State Government, Barrister Tina Banku Agbor, the governor said despite receiving the least revenue allocation from the federation account and being third most indebted state in the country, the state ranked workers’ welfare as top priority.
He said even with the new minimum wage, his administration would not owe salaries.
Ngige shuns celebration
However, at the Abuja version of the event, NLC President Wabba said Ngige was not at the event because of the mischief he engaged in at the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) over the controversial reversal of Frank Kokori as chairman of the NSITF board.
“Comrades, distinguished guests, a number of you might have followed our recent exchanges with the Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige over his several manoeuvres since 2017 to prevent the inauguration of the NSITF Board under the chairmanship of Chief Frank Ovie Kokori.
“In all our years of dealing with ministers of the Federal Republic, we have never come across one as dishonest and deceitful as Dr. Ngige. From our account of what has transpired since September 2017, it is very obvious that the minister has been bent on manipulating the situation and bringing up one deceit upon another to enable him remain the sole manager of the NSITF, as long as he remains minister of labour and employment.
“It is, however, the most dishonourable thing for a minister to tell barefaced lies like this. It is also very disrespectful of Mr. President to lie so blatantly that the president never approved Chief Kokori’s appointment as NSITF chairman. During the ceremony honouring the heroes of June 12, 993, at the Aso Rock Banquet Hall, President Buhari openly assured Chief Kokori that his appointment as NSITF chairman stands!
“The minister wants Nigerians to believe that Chief Kokori does not have what it takes to lead the NSITF. This is a very laughable claim, because chairmen of parastatals and agencies have nothing to do with the day-to-day running of these organisations. They are appointed to ensure that the Board performs its oversight function of the management of these organisations. The executive management of these organisations are made up of all requisite professional to run the organisation successfully.
“The above notwithstanding, Chief Kokori ran one of the most complex trade unions in Nigeria, to national and international acclaim. Chief Kokori got a Masters degree in Development Studies from the prestigious Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands, 35 years ago, in 1984. The Minister was surely only engaging in mischief by trying to cast aspersions on the ability of Chief Kokori in this regard.
“We wish to conclude this segment of the speech on this NSITF saga by saying that we have tolerated Ngige and his antics long enough. From this May Day, we will henceforth not allow him to toy with the funds of NSITF which are contributions on behalf of the toiling workers of Nigeria in the private sector. Enough is Enough!”
However, in a two-paragraph statement issued by the minister, and titled: “Why the Hon. Minister of Labour/Employment Was Absent at Worker’s Day Rally,” he said the NLC’s claims were false.
The statement read: “Contrary to uncivilised attitude and barefaced lies contained in the address of the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, I wish to state for the avoidance of doubt that the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment Senator Chris Ngige was absent at today’s Worker’s Day rally for reasons of ill health.
“The minister has been down with flu since last Sunday. He met his doctors last Monday and has since been at home recuperating.”