NLC Lists Seven Demands Ahead of Workers’ Day, Eyes New Minimum Wage

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As Workers’ Day approaches on May 1, 2024, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has set forth a list of seven critical demands from the Federal Government, highlighting the urgent need for a new minimum wage among other significant changes.

The announcement comes at a time of heightened anticipation, with expectations that President Bola Tinubu may announce the proposed new wage standards during the celebrations.

Key among the NLC’s demands is the establishment of state and local government police forces, aimed at addressing the escalating insecurity challenges across the nation.

Furthermore, the NLC insists that the new minimum wage, once ratified, must be uniformly implemented across all states, local governments, and the organized private sector.

This unified approach is deemed essential to ensure fairness and alleviate economic disparities across different regions and sectors.

This year’s Workers’ Day is particularly significant as it follows a tentative agreement by organized labour to set the new minimum wage at N615,000 per month.

This figure was determined prior to the recent increases in electricity tariffs by the Federal Government, which has added to the cost of living pressures faced by Nigerian workers.

An anonymous member of the Trade Union Congress’s National Executive Council shared with Punch that the wage figure was agreed upon after careful consideration of the current economic realities and the impact of governmental policy changes on the workforce.

The source said, “We are going to have another round of serious conversations with the government. Mind you, the tariff increase is also very good for us, because they (the government) did it when the new minimum wage process had not been concluded. So, it is going to be a good ground for us to ask for more money.”

The N30,000 subsisting minimum wage expired three days ago, as its five-year lifespan ended on April 18.

Former President Muhammad Buhari had signed the N30,000 Minimum Wage Act into law on April 18, 2019.

The tripartite committee, comprising representatives of organised private sector, organised labour and government, for a national minimum wage negotiation, follows the International Labour Organisation Convention 131.

In January, the president, through his Vice President, Kashim Shettima, had, on January 30, set up a 37-member panel at the council chamber of the State House in Abuja.

With its membership cutting across federal and state governments, the private sector, and organised labour, the panel is to recommend a new national minimum wage for the country.

In his opening address, Shettima urged members to ‘speedily’ arrive at a resolution and submit their reports early.

Chairing the panel is a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Bukar Aji, who, at the inauguration ceremony, affirmed that its members would come up with a “fair, practical, implementable and sustainable” minimum wage.

The inauguration followed months of agitation from organised labour who expressed concerns over the FG’s failure to inaugurate the committee as promised during negotiations last October.

From the government’s side, members include the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, representing the Minister of Labour and Employment; Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, who was represented by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Lydia Jafiya; the Minister of Budget Economic Planning, Atiku Bagudu; Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Yemi Esan; and Permanent Secretary, GSO/OSGF, Dr Nnamdi Mbaeri, amongst others.

Representing the Nigeria Governors Forum are Mohammed Bago of Niger State, representing the North Central; Senator Bala Mohammed, Governor of Bauchi State- representing the North East; Umar Dikko Radda of Katsina State, representing the North West; Prof Charles Soludo of Anambra State, representing the South East; Senator Ademola Adeleke of Osun State, from South West; and Otu Bassey of Cross River State, representing the South-South.

From the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association are the Director-General of NECA, Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde; Chuma Nwankwo; Thompson Akpabio; as well as members from the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture— Michael Olawale-Cole (National President); Ahmed Rabiu (National Vice President), and Chief Humphrey Ngonadi, National Life President.

From organised labour are the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, and President of the TUC, Festus Osifo; his deputy, Tommy Etim Okon, among others.

Ajaero had announced N1m as the new minimum wage, owing to the rising inflation in the country which, according to him, had pushed many of the NLC’s members into poverty.

This led to several controversies, including experts saying that the suggested wage was unrealisable and unsustainable.

Speaking to Punch in Abuja, the NLC’s National Treasurer, Hakeem Ambali, listed seven demands the congress had made from the federal and state governments.

He said, “First, we expect that there should be improved labour government industrial relations, full implementation of minimum wage across the board for the federal, state, local government and private sector workers.

“Settlement of pension arrears, the establishment of compressed natural gas conversion centers in all senatorial districts, fixing of Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries.

“Creation of state and local government police, granting of local government autonomy, granting of infrastructure support scheme to all local governments.”

Speaking further, Ambali noted that the Congress was still awaiting an invitation to the next meeting of the tripartite committee on minimum wage.

Meanwhile, a former two-term president of the TUC and one-time president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Peter Esele, had warned against the arbitrary fixing of a new minimum wage.

Speaking with Punch, Esele noted that the Federal Government and organised labour should agree on a new minimum wage before it is announced by the president on Workers’ Day to avoid another round of protests and strikes.

He said, “First, I will be surprised if organised labour says the Federal Government should announce the minimum wage. Probably the unions are hoping that by then, they will have concluded negotiations with the government. But for me, if the negotiation is not concluded by that time and the Federal Government goes ahead to announce the new national minimum wage, it is also possible that organised labour will dispute it. And what we are going to have is another round of protests and strikes.

“So my expectation for the labour unions is to put what they want on the table, while the Federal Government also puts theirs on the table. They should then both agree. But, suppose the Federal Government goes ahead and unilaterally announces a new national minimum wage, labour would oppose it, which, as I said, will lead to another round of industrial actions.

“It will be strange if the Federal Government announces the new minimum wage on Workers’ Day. However, I believe the governments are also smart enough not to make such a move unless they reach an informal agreement with the organised labour, and the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association.”

Esele also ruled out the possibility of problems arising if organised labour and the Federal Government fail to reach a concrete agreement on the new minimum wage by May Day.

He said, “The fact again remains that if both parties are still on the negotiation table by next month, it does not prevent the proposed new minimum wage from taking effect that month. What it simply implies is that whenever the agreement comes, the government will pay arrears.

“Even in the organised private sector, that is what we do. You can go on negotiation for even six months, but once an agreement is finally reached, and the last collective bargaining has expired, for whatever is agreed whether in six months or a year later, the arrears will be paid by the employers, which is the government in this case. So if the agreement is in place, it doesn’t matter whether they announce it on May 1 or not, the salary arrears must be paid.”

Meanwhile, the NLC is also demanding for the creation of state and local government police.

This demand is coming a few weeks after 16 state governors submitted reports expressing their support for establishing state police to the National Economic Council.

In the report, they also recommended changes to the constitution to allow for the creation of state police.

The reports were part of documentation received at the 140th NEC meeting presided over by Vice President Kashim Shettima at the Aso Rock Villa on Thursday, March 21.

Special Adviser to the Vice President on Media and Communications, Stanley Nkwocha, revealed that in a statement titled, ‘NEC endorses take-off of $617M i-DICE programme across states.’

According to the statement, NEC is still awaiting reports from 20 states. It expressed confidence that others would support it.

Disclosing discussions at the NEC meeting, Nkwocha said, the “Secretary to NEC (Nebeolisa Anako) made a presentation on submissions by states on the state policing initiative. Reports have been received by 16 states on the establishment of state police. 20 states have yet to send in their reports. All states across the country expressed their support for the establishment of state police.

“States made presentations in support of the creation of state police. They also recommended changes in the constitution, and the current policing structure to enable the operationalisation of the initiative.”

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