Nigerian labour minister’s current stance on minimum wage could be in sync with earlier demands of NLC

Vanguard Nigeria reported that the country’s Labour and Employment Minister, Senator Chris Ngige, has told the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) not to trade words with state governors who claim they cannot pay the N18,000 minimum wage due to stringent economic conditions. The minister suggested that the governors were only playing politics with the minimum wage and had no right to reduce it regardless of the challenges they were facing economically.

“Anybody who wants to talk about minimum wage should go to the National Assembly or ask the president to send an executive bill which can be discussed and it will be a public hearing. Please let a sleeping dog lie, because this country is going through a very difficult time now and requires your prayers and support. Nobody can reduce wages now. If anything, if you have more money, you pay higher”, Ngige said.

For the last month, state governors have insisted that they cannot afford to pay the N18,000 minimum wage to Nigerian civil servants. The aforementioned amount was instituted in 2011, by the National Council of State under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. At the time, the media reported that the council agreed to support the president’s wage plan because, “it was in the interest of workers and the Nigerian economy.” Then governor of Gombe state, Senator Danjuma Goje, told newsmen at the time, he believed the N18,000 minimum wage will help civil servants live decent lives.

“Council deliberated extensively on the issue of the national minimum wage for the Nigerian workers and council resolved to advice Mr. President to send a bill to the National Assembly asking the National Assembly to enact the N18,000 as a minimum wage for workers because it has to be revisited. Our workers will live a very decent life. With this, I believe the problem between the government and the labour will be resolved finally, this is the position of the Council,” Goje said.

The above statement was made five years ago but a lot has changed in since then. Nigeria could be headed for a recession due to the collapse of the Naira against the dollar as well as the fall in oil prices, meaning the country’s coffers are not as buoyant as they used to be. Despite the current situation the country is facing, the NLC indicated interest, earlier, in seeing the minimum wage increased regardless of these challenges.

In July 2015, the NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, told the Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki, that the labour congress believes it is time for an evaluation on the minimum wage as it has become overdue for an increase.

“As we also indicated in this year’s May Day address, the five-year circle, during which the National Minimum Wage is due for review, is here. The devaluation of the Naira from N150 to $1 to about 242 to $1 today underscores the grim situation for salary earners in the country, against the fact that our economy is import driven. The devaluation, in simple economic terms, means that the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerian wage earner is grossly devalued.

The 18,000 Naira minimum wage is no longer realistic as minimum wage. As a result of this grim economic reality, Congress will soon submit a new minimum wage demand, which we hope will be negotiated by the tripartite negotiating team. Our hope is that when the end product of that negotiation is brought before the National Assembly for legislation, it will be treated with dispatch”, Wabba said.

Bottomline, however, is whichever way the pendulum swings, the NLC seems committed to the increment of the minimum wage but the real question is- are the Executive and Legislative arms of government ready for that?

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