New minimum wage: Battle shifts to states, private sector

After winning a protracted battle to get the Federal Government to approve a new minimum wage for them, Nigerian workers now face the task of ensuring the full implementation of the new wage at all levels. The challenge, however, is mostly at the state level given that the Senate has already approved the sum of N160 billion for the payment of the new wage to federal workers in the 2019 budget it passed last Tuesday. Also, President Muhammadu Buhari in his message to Nigerian workers during this year’s Workers’ Day celebration last Wednesday gave the assurance that the new wage would be fully implemented by his administration. There are however discordant tunes at the state level, signaling that a showdown between some governors and state workers is imminent.

Recall that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) began the push for an upward review of the minimum wage from N18,000 to N56,000 on April 27, 2016, when it presented its request to the Federal Government. They later raised their demand to N66,500. Their position then was that the wage was last reviewed in 2011 and by law it ought to be reviewed every five years. NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, had then acknowledged that the economy was not doing well but stressed that “workers should not be seen to be sleeping on their rights.” And so, for two years, 11 months and 17 days, they were in the trenches until the President signed into law the new minimum wage bill of N30,000 on April 18, this year.

Nevertheless, there are strong indications that the workers have only won the first phase of the ‘war’. Many states in the country couldn’t effectively pay the former minimum wage of N18,000 to workers and owe them backlogs of salaries. For instance, in Imo State, workers of Adapalm, an oil milling and palm plantation outfit owned by the state government are being owed 56 months salary arrears. The Imo State Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Austin Chilakpu, who made the disclosure during this year’s Workers’ day celebration, urged the state government to pay the workers without further delay.

Other state-owned establishments owing their workers include Imo State Action Committee on Control of AIDS (27 months); the Bureau of Due Process (10 months); and Judiciary (three months). Currently, workers are paid about 70 per cent of their total statutory monthly emolument since 2016.

In Abia State, Abia State NLC Chairman, Comrade Uchenna Obigwe and his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart, Comrade Sunny Onwuka, in separate addresses during the May 1, 2019 outing, also disclosed that workers of the State University Teaching Hospital were being owed 12 months salaries; those of the Hospital Management Board, nine months; secondary school teachers, 10 months; Abia Polytechnic, 13 months; College of Education, Arochukwu 15 months; Universal Basic Education Board, six months; local governments, two and half months; College of Health and Management Sciences, 13 months; and pensioners 19 – 25 months.

The story was not different in Kogi State where the NLC chairman, Comrade Onuh Edoka, revealed that workers were being owed salaries of between seven and 30 months depending on the category they fall into. He also said the local government workers and teachers had been collecting their salaries in percentages. In Ekiti State, it was also revealed that workers were being owed five months, while the local government workers were being owed six months.

These are not the only states owing their workers in the country as unconfirmed reports say only six states have been meeting their obligations to their employees effectively. With the new minimum wage, the states’ wage bill would certainly balloon. How they would meet the obligation is one big question that has been bothering many observers.

But the workers don’t care a hoot. They believe that the states have the funds to pay but have been frittering it on frivolities. And so, from Lagos to Kwara, Borno, Bayelsa, Imo, Enugu and all the 36 states, the workers urged the governors to fully implement the new minimum wage while celebrating Workers’ Day with them. Some governors pledged to heed the call, while others maintained that their states don’t have the fund to pay.

There is also a seeming disquiet in the private sector as employees in the sector say the law that stipulated a new minimum wage in the country is binding on all employers and must be obeyed. Meanwhile, some private companies have been battling to keep afloat in the face of the harsh economic situation of the country. With this reality, there are no doubt interesting days ahead concerning the new minimum wage as you will find from the reports across the states below.

Paying New Minimum Wage Might Be Tough In Imo

From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
From all indications, Imo State government workers would find it tough to be paid the N30,000 minimum wage. Presently, civil servants in the state are receiving 70 per cent of their statutory monthly emolument. Governor Rochas Okorocha had argued that he could not pay workers given that he was receiving about N2 billion from Federal Allocation whereas the wage bill was about that amount.

He made the revelation more than two years ago when he wanted either to downsize the state’s work force or cut their pay. After much negotiation, the option of cutting the pay was agreed in the presence of the National Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba.

The workers, who received their March salaries just last Tuesday, told The Guardian that they received the old salary structure of 70 per cent of their monthly emolument. They wondered why the state government was yet to commence payment of the new minimum wage. With their April salary yet to be paid, it is evident that the incoming administration of Emeka Ihedioha would carry the burden. Nonetheless, the workers are hell bent on full implementation of the new minimum wage. 

The Imo State chairman of the NLC, Austin Chilakpu, stated that payment of the minimum wage was sacrosanct. He noted that as a union, they would play their part to ensure compliance.“Imo must pay, whether there is money or not. That is why we are a union. We are waiting for the circular to come out. It is yet to get to us. When we receive it, we prepare our salary table. When the time comes, we know,” he said.

The media aide to the governor-elect, Chibuike Onyeukwu, said Ihedioha would take a decision on the issue when he assumes office after consulting with relevant stakeholders. His words: “Until the time comes. Let His Excellency assumes office on May 29 first. He would consult with the relevant stakeholders first. Until he is sworn in, it is not something to say now. He will look at the issue with relevant stakeholders. I can assure you that he is going to be a listening governor, observing all the due process and rule of law.”

No Cause For Alarm In Plateau
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
Plateau State Governor, Simon Bako Lalong, has promised to faithfully implement the N30,000 minimum wage. Lalong who made the pledge at the state delegate conference organised by the state chapter of the NLC at the Hill Station Hotel, Jos, on April 25, said he had no justifiable excuse not to implement the new wage.

According to him, the workers of any nation constitute the backbone of government and therefore need genuine encouragement socially and financially in their duty.He disclosed his administration’s commitment and plans to motivate civil servants in the state by improving their welfare for greater productivity. “I will continue to do my best in improving welfare of civil servants in the state,” he noted.
Adding, he said: “My administration will continue to place priority on the payment of workers’ salaries, pension and other welfare of civil servants. My return to government as governor is a result of the immense support of the NLC; even my first tenure was facilitated by the labour union. I had an agreement with them to offset outstanding salary arrears of my predecessor, which I did, and you rewarded me with second tenure in office. I am indeed grateful.

“As mentioned about two weeks back during the farewell dinner of the immediate past chairman of the NLC, Plateau State council, and now my Adviser on Labour, Comrade Jibrin Kamga Banchir, I was a member of the national minimum wage committee representing the Governors Forum and I have pledged to stand by the resolution reached thereof. We would assiduously work hard with you workers to improve on the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state so as to meet up with the payment of the new minimum wage. With God on our side, we will definitely achieve our set objective for the good of all.”Former acting chairman of NLC in the state, Comrade Gunshin Yarlings, appreciated the governor’s gesture, saying it would not go unnoticed.

Bayelsa Awaits Details From Wages Commission, Says Dickson
Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State has said he was waiting for directives from the National Income and Wages Commission on the structure and template of the new minimum wage before implementing the N30, 000 minimum wage.The governor, who spoke at the Workers’ Day celebration held at the Isaac Boro Park, Yenagoa, last Wednesday, said he wasn’t afraid to pay the N30,000 minimum but was waiting for the wages commission to work out the modalities.

“The minimum wage is a topical issue, but let me tell you, I have been a believer of N30,000 minimum wage for long. I believe in it. The government of Bayelsa has announced to labour leaders that we are not against the N30,000 minimum wage in principle at a different forum. We are waiting for the National Income and Wages Commission to work out the modalities. We still have to wait for them to work out the details and send to different states.”Chairman of the state chapter of the NLC, Comrade John Bipre Ndiomu appreciated the governor for instituting programmes and policies geared towards improving the lives of not just the workers but the entire people of the state.
We’ve Never Failed Anambra Workers, Says Obiano
From Osibeeroha Osibe, Awka
Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, is eager to pay workers in the state the new minimum wage. Even before the NLC began to push for increase in salaries, he had promised to jerk up the workers’ pay whenever the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) base of the state improves. The governor has since set the record as one of the few governors that pay salaries regularly, earning him the title of “Alert Governor.”As workers across the country look forward to the new wage regime, Obiano has promised to become the first state chief executive to effect payment of the new wage.

Speaking on the occasion of this year’s Workers Day in the state, the governor reiterated his determination to pay as soon as the payment template is clarified.Obiano said: “I have formally declared the intention of my administration to pay the newly-approved minimum wage in the state, and I will begin the implementation once the guidelines for the payment of the minimum wage are released by the Federal Government. All the demands tabled before the Special Committee on Labour Issues headed by my Deputy, Nkem Okeke, have been approved in principle. We have never failed to pay salaries, come rain come shine. We have cleared outstanding pensions that had accumulated for over 25 years, from the inception of our state.”

Obiano said his administration values the state workers, hence the gesture. “We believe in you. And we want the very best for the state,” he added.Close observers are, however, not surprised that Obiano is prepared to pay the new wage. When he took over in 2014, the state IGR was about N500 million per month. He had promised to double the amount within a year, saying his target was to generate about N.2 billion per month. Currently, the state generates about N17, 365,385,30.51 per annum and ranks among the top 11 states with improved IGR according to records obtained from National Bureau of Statics for 2018-19.The state chairman of NLC, Comrade Jerry Nnubia while also speaking at this year’s Workers’ Day rally commended Obiano for his worker-friendly disposition

Conundrum In Oyo State Over New Wage
From Rotimi Agboluaje, Ibadan 
In Oyo State, The Guardian findings showed that the state has paid salaries up to date except in some local governments where about two months salaries are being owed.Nonetheless, with the minimum wage law, the expenses of the state government will shoot up. The implication of this is that the current revenue profile might not be able to take care of the new financial responsibility.

The Oyo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Toye Arulogun told The Guardian that the state’s average monthly allocation is N4.4 billion, while its monthly IGR amounts to N1.6 billion.

Arulogun said the government would not able to state what the wage bill of the state would amount to with the new minimum wage until the Federal Government releases the modalities through the National Income and Wages Commission. But he added: “We will wait to cross the bridge before deciding the appropriate line.”

Meanwhile, the governor-elect of the state, Seyi Makinde, recently granted an interview to journalists in Abuja on the sidelines during the induction programme for returning and newly elected governors, where he stressed that states as independent federating units should have been allowed to determine their minimum wages.“I personally believe that individual states should have been allowed to negotiate this because conditions of living in Lagos are obviously not the same as living in Ibadan. And I will definitely say without fear or favour that it’s part of the reasons why we are thinking restructuring. That’s a federal system of government. We have a federation but the state governments I believe, are no subordinate to the federal government. They are coordinate governments. Then, when the federal government makes a law that says ‘well, we are going to pay 30,000 as minimum wage,’ what’s the condition in my state? Can we support it? I don’t think so. We are going to engage the Nigeria Labour Congress in my state and we see how we go from there,” he said.

Organised labour in the state are however convinced that that the state government and others employers of labour can pay the new minimum wage. They pointed out that as a law, the new minimum wage was binding on all employers of labour in the state.Comrade Tijani Jelil Babatunde, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), Oyo State branch, said: “By God’s grace, Oyo State is going to pay it. I believe the governor-elect will pay the N30,000. He will be among the first states to pay the money. The issue of being buoyant or not depends on how we manage our state. Accepted that they take allocation from the Federal Government, there is IGR in the state which can be used to complement what they get from the centre. If we can manage these sources very well, I believe we can pay it. During his campaign, he told the people of Oyo State that he would pay N30,000 even if other states would not pay it. I believe he will pay it”.

The state Trade Union Congress (TUC) chairman, Emmanuel Ogundiran, also said it was compulsory for all employers to pay the new wage. He pointed out that the law enforceable even in the private sector, saying every employee has the right to sue his/her employer if shortchanged.“Minimum wage is on the exclusive legislative list; salaries and pensions are on the first line charge. Nobody should play politics with our welfare. The law has been signed and it has become enforceable. We are not working with the incoming government now but we should be realistic with what we say. N30,000 is the minimum wage; no employer should pay less,” Ogundiran said.

Speaking on behalf of the organised private sector in the state, the Executive Secretary of Ibadan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Joseph Adebanjo, said many private organisations in the state would pay the minimum wage. He, however, explained that with the economic situation of the country and high cost of production, which erodes profit of companies, some might find it difficult to pay.

Uncertainty In Bauchi As Gov. Sets Up Committee
From Rauf Oyewole, Bauchi
In Bauchi State, the outgoing Governor, Mohammed Abubakar, has promised to inaugurate a committee, which would look into possible ways to ensure the payment of the new minimum wage. The Head of Civil Service in the state, Adamu Umaru Gokaru, who represented the governor at the May Day celebration last Wednesday said: “This administration will soon constitute a committee that will make recommendations on the new minimum wage.”

The Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ibrahim Umar Sade, had earlier said the administration was ready to implement the new minimum wage, noting, however, that he doesn’t know whether the incoming administration can pay or not. “The governor has been agitating for the increment and he is ready to do it. The governor has been paying salaries of workers promptly because he has the issue of the workers at heart but you know we are now in a transition period. We don’t know the stand of the incoming government on it.”

Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Bauchi State governor-elect, Dr. Ladan Salihu, has said the incoming administration of Senator Bala Muhammed could not guarantee the payment of the N30,000 minimum wage until he looks into the treasury of the state.Ladan, however, explained that Mohammed would not betray the trust reposed on him by the people.“The current economic reality of the state has created a gap between theory and practice (on the new minimum wage). In principle, we will key into the minimum wage but in practice it will be determined by the economic imperative on the ground,” he said.

Traders Allay Fears Over Possible Hike In Price Of Goods
By Maria Diamond
Traders across the country have said they don’t have any plan to arbitrarily increase the prices of goods as a result of the implementation of the new minimum wage. They however stressed that market forces would determine the prices of commodities. Obinna Nnamdi, a trader at Trade-fair market along Badagry Expressway, Lagos, said: “It has little or nothing to do with us really. Except there is cost increment by the producers or manufacturers, we would not for any reason whatsoever increase our prices.”

Mrs. Chinwe Agu, who sells wholesale beverages and provisions in the market, said: “How much is the new minimum wage that anyone would increase market price? N30, 000 right? Please what can that money do for a family? Even if minimum wage were N50, 000, it still wouldn’t sustain a family of one-child let alone a family of three and more. So, those of us in the market do not see the big deal about the new minimum wage to now consider increasing the price of goods. In as much as there is no increment from producers, we would never attempt such.”

Mrs. Zainab Jelili sells turkey, chicken and fish at the open ground in the market, she said: “An average Nigerian spends time negotiating the already expensive fish and others. Sometimes we have to sell below market price for those who couldn’t afford it. At other times, people wait till late in the evening when they know we would have no choice than to reduce our prices before the market shuts down for the day, so that we don’t return with our wares unsold and end up incurring loss. So, the situation is already frustrating. If this new N30, 000 will relieve the frustration we see on the faces of people while buying foodstuffs, then why would we increase the prices? We don’t have plans to do that because we are part of the system and we would also somehow pay the consequences of such unreasonable increment too.”

Mrs. Ruth Ezekiel sells tomatoes and pepper in the market. For her, N30, 000 is nothing compared to the needs of people. “In a nutshell, we do not have plans to increase the prices of goods because we are in the system and we know what the people are going through on a daily basis,” she said. Also, traders in Imo State said they would sell their goods according to the dictates of market forces. Chioma Okoro, who sells foodstuffs at Relief Market, Owerri, said she would not jack up prices, because it would also tell on her children and other members of her family.

“What I will sell would be determined by the interplay of market forces. If I buy higher, I will adjust price upwards accordingly. In the market, we do not consider upward review of salaries, we consider the cost price,” she said. Okoroigwe Mgbaramuko, who has a provision store along Douglas Road, Owerri, also said he would adjust prices of items according to the cost price. “Inflation has always been there. I must make my profit. That is the fulcrum of business. If we witness such as a result of the upward review of minimum wage, we comply,” he noted.

(The Guardian)