Minimum wage talks: Labour considers N100,000 as Tinubu issues ultimatum

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Organised Labour may settle for N100,000 minimum wage as the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage commences daily meetings for five days to reach a consensus.

Multiple sources in the labour movement told The PUNCH on Tuesday that the union leaders were willing to review their demand from N494,000 to N100,000, following the criticism and controversy that trailed their proposal which was considered outrageous and unrealistic.

In a statement by his media aide, Rabiu Ibrahim on Saturday, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said the proposed minimum wage would result in an annual expenditure of N9.5tn, a burden he described as untenable for the nation’s finances.

Despite the intervention of the leadership of the National Assembly, labour embarked on an indefinite strike on Monday, a development that grounded economic activities nationwide.

Banks, airports, public schools and courts were shut, forcing the Federal Government to convene an emergency meeting to find a way out of the impasse.

In a bid to move the negotiation forward, the unions on Tuesday announced the suspension of the industrial action for five days after President Bola Tinubu agreed to pay a national minimum wage higher than N60,000 and the tripartite committee pledged its readiness to convene daily until a new minimum wage is announced.

To show his commitment to the negotiation, the President on Tuesday directed the Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, to present the cost implications for a new minimum wage within two days.

Tinubu gave the order at a meeting with the government negotiation team led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

Speaking with The PUNCH in confidence because Labour had not formally presented its final offer to the tripartite committee, a senior NLC official confirmed that the unions would insist on N100,000 minimum wage.

Agenda setting

He stated, “Today’s (Tuesday) meeting as essentially to set an agenda and plan how to complete the assignment within the five days.

“The government representatives did not mention a raise in the N60, 000.  They just set the agenda on what to do and how to go about the negotiation. There was no mention of any increment. But labour planned to close the negotiation on N100,000 minimum wage.’’

The Deputy Head of NLC Political Commission, Prof. Theophilus Ndubuaku, also confirmed that the Tuesday tripartite meeting on minimum wage was to draw an agenda for the daily meetings.

“We met today (Tuesday) to draw up an agenda for the one-week daily meeting. We met today and drew the agenda because the agreement was that we meet daily for the meet one week and on our own, we said we are relaxing the strike not even suspending it.

“It’s more like putting everybody on red alert. It means we are not going to give any notice. Which means by this time next week, we are going on strike. There is a difference between relax and suspend. Relax is to stay on your duty post and put your hands on the trigger. It is tomorrow (today) that we are expecting the government to submit another proposal,’’ he explained.

The organised labour vowed to reject any little addition to the N60,000 offer by the tripartite committee on the new minimum wage.

The President of the Trade Union Congress, Festus Osifo, made this known on Channels Television’s Politics Today programme on Tuesday.

TUC warns

When asked whether labour would accept a few thousand naira additions to the offer, the TUC boss said,  “No, we also told them that it’s not that we’d get to the table and you start adding N1, N2, N3,000 as you were doing and we got some good guarantees here and there that they would do something good.”

Osifo added that labour was not fixated on N494,000 as the new minimum wage for workers in the country but the tripartite committee must show seriousness and offer workers something economically realistic in tandem with current inflationary pressures.

Though the union leader refused to mention a specific amount, he said the new minimum wage must be equal in purchasing power to the value of N30,000 in 2019 and N18,000 in 2014.

But disclosing to journalists the presidential directive to the finance minister, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said Tinubu during the meeting directed Edun to provide the financial implications of the new minimum wage in 48 hours.

He noted, “The President has just summoned a meeting of all those who negotiated on behalf of the Federal Government led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The minister of finance was there, the minister of budget planning, the minister of information, the minister of budget and national planning, the minister of labour, and the NNPCL GMD.

“We were all there to look at all issues and the President has directed the minister of finance to do the numbers and get back to him between today and tomorrow so that we can have figures ready for negotiation with labour.”

Presidential directive

Idris assured of the President’s readiness to accept the committee’s resolutions, adding that “The President is determined to go with what the committee has said and he’s also looking at the welfare of Nigerians.

“The government is not against or opponent of labour discussions; the government is not an opponent of wage increase but what is there is that government is always there to ensure that there is a balance between what government pronouncement is and what the realities are on the ground.

“And therefore, we will work assiduously to ensure that whatever promises the government makes are promises that will be kept. That is the idea of this meeting.”

Furthermore, he said President Tinubu had directed the government representatives to work collectively with the organised private sector and the sub-nationals to achieve a new affordable wage award for Nigerians.

Idris explained, “The President has given a marching order that all those who have negotiated on behalf of the Federal Government and all those who are representatives of organised private sectors, the sub-nationals to come together to have a new wage that is affordable, sustainable and that is also realistic for Nigerians.

“The wage is not just that of the Federal Government as I mentioned earlier, the sub-nationals are involved, the organised private sector is involved; it was labour that stepped out during that procedure. Now we have come back to the negotiation table.”

The minister assured that all hands would be on deck to present a new minimum wage for Nigerians in one week.

“All of us will work together assiduously within the next one week to ensure that we have a new wage for Nigeria that is acceptable, sustainable and also realistic,” Idris said.

Meanwhile, Labour said it had “relaxed” its strike for one week to enable fruitful negotiations with the Federal Government on minimum wage.

The NLC and TUC announced this in a communique on Tuesday, after a joint National Executive Council meeting.

The suspension of the strike followed a six-hour meeting between the leadership of organised labour and the National Assembly in Abuja on Monday night.

The Federal Government had expressed the commitment of President Bola Tinubu to raising the N60,000 offered as the minimum wage.

The agreement stated, “The President of Nigeria, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, is committed to establishing a National Minimum Wage higher than N60,000; and the Tripartite Committee will convene daily for the next week to finalise an agreeable National Minimum Wage.”

The organised labour also agreed to “immediately hold meetings of its organs to consider this new offer, and no worker would face victimisation as a consequence of participating in the industrial action.”

The resolutions were signed on behalf of the Federal Government by the information, Idris, and the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.

In its statement announcing the strike suspension, the unions said there was a greater need to create the right ambience for negotiation to continue unhindered.

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