To avert a nationwide industrial action by the organized labour, the federal government yesterday shifted ground with a new proposal for minimum wage consequential adjustment from 11% to 17% for workers on grade levels 7 to 14 and from 6.5% to 12% for those on grade levels 15 to 17. This new offer followed protracted negotiations between the workers and the government team.
However, the workers who had insisted on 29% wage increase for workers on grade levels 7 to14 and 24% for those on grade levels 15-17, did not immediately accept the new offer. The unions also last night shifted ground from 29% to 25% for levels 7-17 and from 24% to 20% for levels 15 to 17. The labour unions had threatened to embark on strike from today following the deadlock in talks with the federal government on consequential adjustment of the minimum wage.
Addressing journalists at the end of the six hours of talks yesterday, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, said the meeting had been adjourned till today to enable both sides to address contentious areas. He said the discussion was friendly, adding that there was no fight.
The federal government’s delegation was led by the Head of Service, Folasade Yemi Esan, who also told journalists that “we have a fruitful deliberation; both sides have made concessions. There are still some grey areas but by the grace of God everything will be resolved.”
Amaechi Asugwuni, Deputy President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), who led the labour delegation, said negotiations were ongoing, adding that adjournment became necessary to address some grey areas. “We will meet tomorrow (today). So, far there are signs of commitment but we believe that government will need to shift ground in order to meet our demands,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ngige has asked the unions not to contemplate any action that may adversely affect the economy of the country. He said the threat by labour to embark on industrial action would amount to forcing government’s hands, which would not work.
While receiving the leadership of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) in his office, Ngige said any national strike at this time would shut down the economy and further have a negative impact on Nigerians. “Labour should not try to intimidate government by threatening industrial action,” he stated.
The minister said the leadership of the organised labour should not misinform workers on what minimum wage consequential adjustment was all about, adding that the issue is clearly different from undertaking a wage structure review, which the federal government has already set up another committee to address.
Speaking on why the government may not accede to the demand by the Joint Nigeria Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), in approving 29% wage increase for workers on grade levels 7-14 and 24% for those on grade levels 15-17, the minister said the ratio of proposed recurrent expenditure to capital expenditure in the 2020 national budget is very discomforting.
According to the minister, recurrent expenditure in the proposed budget for 2020 stands at 76% while capital expenditure is 24%. He also put the amount budgeted to take care of the new minimum wage consequential adjustment for federal public service workers at N160 billion.
However, as part of efforts to break the deadlock in talks between the federal government and labour, the House of Representatives has promised to intervene. The Chairman, House Committee on Labour and Productivity, Mr. Ali Wudil Mohammed (APC, Kano) stated this during the inaugural session of the committee and a dialogue session with the leadership of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC).
The chairman told committee members that the labour leaders sent a letter informing the committee of their inability to honour the invitation. He added that the ongoing negotiation between the federal government and the organised labour made it impossible for the labour leaders to honour the invitation. Mohammed said the committee received a letter from the NLC asking them to reschedule the meeting for another day.
He said the intention of the committee was to meet with the leadership of organised labour to hear from them before meeting with Ngige, with a view to finding common ground and preventing a possible strike by workers. He therefore said despite the meeting not holding, the committee would make effort to meet with all the stakeholders to address the issues in contention.