National minimum wage and govt’s inertia




Wage as defined by National Minimum Wage Act 2019 (as amended)  is a minimum total amount of money an employer of labour is required to pay the lowest paid worker or employee monthly in his establishment.  Every employer should comply with the government-approved wage except those exempted by the law. The Act exempted establishments in which workers are employed on part-time basis, an establishment at which workers are paid on commission or on piece rate, an establishment employing less than 25 persons, workers on seasonal employment such as Agriculture and any person employed in a vessel or aircraft to which the law regulating merchant shipping or civil aviation apply.

 Nigeria is a consumer nation and we are all subjected to inflationary forces. Consequently, the Act provides that minimum wage should be reviewed every five years to reflect the economic realities. The last review was in 2011 and the next should has been in 2016. President Mohammadu Buhari ascended the amended the belated bill four months ago. There was accusation and counter- accusation between organized labour and the federal government on why the implementation was not started.

 It amazes me why successive governments have a blind spot on issues of workers’ wages and salaries. From the time of the late President Shehu Shagari to date, there was never a time when Nigerian workers get pay rise on a platter of gold. It invariably follows confrontation with the authorities. The former President Olusegun Obasanjo in year 2000 raised minimum wage from 3500 to 5500 and 7500 for state and federal workers respectively with the promise that there would be 25 per cent increase in 2001 and 15 per cent in 2002. The promise never saw the light of the day. Late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua raised tripartite committee under former chief Justice Alfa Balgore following protest and March by labour union and civil society organisations. The committee recommended 18000 naira as minimum wage. However, it took 15 industrial actions before the administration approved the recently expired minimum wage. The present administration after endless negotiation agreed to pay N30, 000, but more than four after signing the bill, Nigerian workers are yet to palpate the increment.

Plight of Nigerian workers paradoxically ceases to end with ascension of the bill. Currently, some state governments are not paying the expired N18, 000 minimum wage despite being part of the bargain – tripartite committee broker salary increment with the stakeholders. The committee as contained in the Act comprises the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Minister of Labour and Employment, Minister of Finance, Minister of Budget and National Planning, executive chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Committee, a governor from each of the six geopolitical zones, representative of organised labour and representation of organised private sector. The overall idea of having such an all-encompassing committee is to make execution of recommendations seamless.

A disturbing trend that surrounds salary increment in Nigeria is the government propensity for introduction of parallel policies that neutralises the wage increase. For instance, the current government mulled the idea of reviewing our VAT earlier albeit the decision has been rescinded at least for now. The government’s insistence on selective implementation is part of the reasons that prolong the quagmire. The fragmented increment is illogical because the rebound inflation knows no divide. The big question is why do successive governments subject its workers to undue tension and stress in the name of salary increment? Salaries and Pension are becoming nightmares for Nigerian workers.

Nigerian workers are foot soldiers that drive government reforms. They are in all sectors of the economy. They are in finance, hospitals, schools, universities, agriculture etc. They deserve a living wage not a minimum wage in order to have a decent standard of living. Living wage ensures that workers live above poverty level. The primary concern at the moment should be that could the new minimum wage feed a family of three per month in the contemporary Nigeria?  The delay for commencement could possibly be due to the heavy wage bill of the new increment, however it is pertinent that they release template for implementation as it paves way for state governments’ and private sectors’ workers to kick-start their negation too.

Salary increment stimulates economy, improves people purchasing power and workers’ productivity. It has a net positive effect on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and since the periodic increment has become a law, there is need for the powers-that-be to put machinery in place that will ensure automatic adjustment at the appropriate time without passing through the strenuous and cumbersome negotiation process. Government at state and federal levels should begin to pay serious attention to workers’ welfare and treat wage matters with uttermost importance it deserves.

Mohammed writes via [email protected]




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