The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) plans to approach the negotiation of the new national minimum wage with an open mind, NLC President Ayuba Wabba has said.
He dismissed insinuations that it was uncharitable for all states to be tied to same minimum wage despite the economic viability of states.
He said what the workers were demanding is a minimum wage to be paid across board to all workers respective of whether they work in the government or the private sector. The minimum wage, he stressed, is different from wage increase.
Wabba said the minimum wage should be the least salary a worker should earn. The states, he said, will be free to determine what they can pay, using the minimum wage as a benchmark.
He said: “Everybody knows that it is a process which everybody should be committed to. This is not the first time that we have followed up the process and so, our members know the process and we are committed to the process.
“I cannot speak on the timeline now until we hold the first meeting. The President has actually has said he wants the process completed within a very short time and when we hold the inaugural meeting, we will be able to come up with a time line.”
On states saying all states should not have equal minimum wage, Wabba said: “Minimum wage is different from wage increase. We are talking about the minimum that should be obtainable and this is not about government alone. It also involves the private sector. It is about law. Convention 131 and 96 of the ILO convention says that there should be a minimum. So, what we are reviewing is the minimum. That confusion is arising as a result of the mischief by some of them.”
Wabba said the congress expected the committee to consider the plight of workers and pensioners in view of the purchasing power of Nigerians.
Wabba said: “We hope that after the inauguration the committee will commence work immediately so that we can cover some mileage and also cover the time that has been lost because this is something that workers have long anticipated. We look forward to a speedy process because the issues are quite obvious.
“If you look at the exchange rate, you discover that we virtually import most of the things we use and if you look at the exchange rate when the N18,000 minimum wage was negotiated and an agreement signed in 2011, you’ll discover that it was almost equivalent of N110 to a dollar.
“Today, N18,000 is less than 46 dollars and the reality of the situation is that the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerian worker has dropped drastically. Our expectation is that the tripartite committee should look at the conditions of the Nigerian worker and pensioners and arrive at something concrete for them.
“Let me tell you that there are places where pensioners are receiving less than N4000 and that calls for urgent consideration so that the whole issue of social imbalance and the issue of inequality and the widening gap of poverty can be addressed because you also know that there is lack of employment. Therefore, workers have a lot of burden, taking care of their dependents.
National Union of Textiles, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria General Secretary Isa Aremu praised the President for inaugurating the committee, which he said was long overdue. “It is better late than never”.
Aremu said he was particularly impressed with the directive of the President to state governors to pay outstanding salaries before the end of the year, pointing out that the President’s address to the committee is a clear indication that he is a Labour-friendly president.