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NLC rejects Aji’s stance on minimum wage, Senate leader seeks truce on FG’s offer

Guardian Nigeria 2024/7/25
Minimum wage stalemate

.SERAP threatens legal action if Tinubu sends ‘woeful bill’ to N’Assembly 

New shots were fired in the lingering battle for a new minimum wage, yesterday, as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) rejected the plea by the Chairman of the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage, Goni Aji, calling on the former to rethink its demand.

NLC asked Aji to, instead, advise the government to be realistic in its approach to negotiations, adding that the government’s offer must reflect the truth about economic conditions and cost of living faced by workers.

This came as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) threatened it would take legal action if the Federal Government sent any bill to the National Assembly that failed to meet the requirements of international standards.

NLC President, Joe Ajaero, told The Guardian, yesterday, that it was not the figure put forward by organised labour that was unrealistic. Rather, it was the government’s offer that failed to align with marketplace scenarios.

He maintained that a realistic and fair minimum wage must be grounded in current economic realities, which the N250,000 demand by organised labour affirms.

Aji, in Abuja yesterday, had prayed labour to reconsider its stance, given economic constraints and non-monetary incentives which the Federal Government had provided to workers.

According to Aji, the incentives included N35,000 wage award for all treasury-paid federal workers; N100 billion for the procurement of gas-fuelled buses and conversion-to-gas kits; N125 billion conditional grant; financial inclusion to small and medium-scale enterprises; and N25,000 each to be shared to 15 million households for three months.

He said the committee agreed that where major and small businesses were closing down with consequent loss of jobs, the outcome of a new minimum wage should be such that it would not trigger further massive job losses.

He added that linking the strike to electricity hikes was not fair to the negotiating parties.
Ajaero, however, said it was disappointing that the offer of N62,000 by the government and Organised Private Sector (OPS) showed that its proponents were out of sync with market realities.

“When we requested a breakdown of what constitutes the government’s offer, the response was not forthcoming. This lack of transparency suggests that the government is perhaps aware that its offer does not meet the basic economic needs of Nigerian workers, thereby undermining its credibility.

“Perhaps, the government might be ashamed of the paltriness of the offer it was making to Nigerian workers, hence it was too heavy for them to mention,” he said.
The NLC chief said a nationwide survey conducted by labour delineated the stark economic realities of the average Nigerian family.

He lamented that the cost of living has escalated dramatically, driven by governmental policies that led to increased prices of petrol, higher electricity tariffs, and a significant devaluation of the naira.

These policies, Ajaero said, have created a situation where the basic needs of workers are increasingly unaffordable.

He explained: “Our demand for a national minimum wage of N250,000 is not arbitrary but is firmly grounded in the economic realities dictated by the current market prices of essential goods and services. The prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed, and the purchasing power of the average Nigerian worker has been severely eroded. It is crucial to recognise that NLC’s demand is based on comprehensive data reflecting the true cost of living in Nigeria today.

“We may wish to remind the chairman that a bag of 50kg rice is about N80,000, a decent tuber of yam is about N7,000; garri is N3,500 for a half paint bucket, bread is N2,000 per loaf, meat is about N6,000/kg, oil is about N2,000/75L, electricity is about N50,000/month, while transport is about N3,000 daily to and from Gwagwalada to Berger in Abuja, and N4,000 from Ipaja to Lagos Island daily.”

Ajaero added: “The chairman should know that our wages are supposed to meet these basic needs and others, and these are some of the realities that he asked us to base our demands on, which we have done since the beginning of the negotiation exercise.”

Meanwhile, justifying its threat to sue, SERAP said: “Human rights are not a matter of charity. Upholding Nigeria’s international obligations regarding the right of workers to an adequate living wage would protect the purchasing power of workers in poverty.

“The preparation of the executive bill provides you and your government an important opportunity to respect, protect, promote and advance the rights of Nigerian workers to an adequate living wage and fair remuneration.”

Recall that the President, in his Democracy Day Speech on June 12, had said the government would soon send an executive bill to the National Assembly for a new minimum wage.

In a letter at the weekend, signed by Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP said: “As you and your government know, Nigerian workers face many human rights challenges. Most of the people living in poverty work, yet they do not earn a wage sufficient to afford an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families.

“Any proposed minimum wage that fails to guarantee a life in dignity for Nigerian workers and their families would be entirely inconsistent and incompatible with international standards.”

The rights body lamented that successive governments had persistently and systematically violated these guarantees as millions of Nigerian workers remain poor due to low wages and a lack of social security and social protection.

This came as Leader of the Senate, Opeyemi Bamidele, yesterday, pleaded with the NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to accept whatever the Federal Government offers them above N60,000 as the new minimum wage.

He made the call in an Eid-el-Kabir message.
Bamidele said the Federal Government “has conceded to N60,000, which obviously translates to a 100 per cent increase. However, the organised labour turned down the 100 per cent increase offer, the highest wage increase since the birth of the Fourth Republic.

“In the interest of public welfare, the Federal Government has agreed to make more concessions in this respect. As the Federal Government reveals its new offer, I plead with the organised labour to accept it in the national interest.

“The economy will not remain in this condition forever. Collectively, we are taking multi-pronged measures to reverse negative economic indicators.”

The Senate Leader further assured that the current administration would leave no stone unturned in alleviating the economic hardship most Nigerians “are currently grappling with, and ensure stability in our macroeconomic environment.”

He added: “The administration might have taken some measures affecting nearly every citizen. The measures were not meant to subject citizens to hardship and penury. Rather, they were taken in the best interest of our dear country. But with courage and tenacity in implementation, the measures will soon yield desired outcomes.”

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