Minimum Wage Causes Tension Across States

NLC NLC •Confusion in Anambra •Akwa Ibom workers give govt 21-day ultimatum

Oct 8, 2011 – Confusion, tension and uneasy calm prevail in various states across the country as workers continue their clamour for minimum wage. 

In Akwa Ibom State, workers have given the state government a 21-day ultimatum to implement all outstanding sectoral wage increases alongside the upward review of  the minimum wage salary table or face industrial action from its unions. 

The unions, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC), said they would commence full scale industrial action after the expiration of the ultimatum on October 28, 2011. 

The state government and its workers have been at loggerheads over the implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage in the state. 

The state chapter of the NLC and TUC had embarked on a three-day warning strike to draw the attention of the state government to the plight of  workers in the state. 

The strike action was aborted after two days due to high-powered negotiations between the labour unions and the state government, which in turn produced the Salary Structure Table. 

The state government recently approved the minimum wage with a salary structure table after its meeting with the leadership of the unions. But the unions rejected the salary structure table, saying it fell far below their expectations. 

In a communiqué signed by the state NLC chair, Unyime Usoro, after the meeting of NLC, TUC and the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC), the unions said the suggestions made by the state government that workers should wait for all other Oil Producing States to implement the new national minimum wage before it could copy and implement it in Akwa Ibom State was unwarranted. 

In Anambra State, things seem to have fallen apart for the labour movement following the announcement by the Chairman of the TUC, Peter Okafor in Awka yesterday  that his group had suspended the two weeks strike, just as the NLC state chairman, Comrade Patrick Obianyo, described Okafor as a sell out and insisted that the strike action over minimum wage in the state must continue. 

Addressing reporters in Awka yesterday, Okafor alleged thatthe NLC had made the strike a political game. He said his group, the TUC, would no longer be part of the strike which had before now pitted the government of Mr. Peter Obi against workers in the state. 

Before the confusion set in yesterday, the workers had planned to wear all black outfits on Tuesday next week to mourn the state government. 

The NLC Chairman, Obianyo, however, urged the state work force to disregard Okafor’s purported suspension of the strike, adding that the strike could only be suspended by the NLC, which would not be in a hotel but at the state secretariat of congress in Awka. 

In Enugu State, the government and the workers are trading blame. While Governor Sullivan Chime insisted that he has complied with the minimum wage law, labour is accusing him of misinformation. Chime had in a recent radio broadcast said: “My mistake and, of course, offence is being the first to implement it in the South East.”

During the radio programme, the governor explained the rationale behind adding N10,000 to the salaries of those on level 01-06 and N5,000 on those on 07 and above. According to him, the Minimum Wage Act says “for the purpose of this law, workers here mean those on level 01-06.” 

The governor, being a lawyer, said he had to work within the precincts of the law, but to carry the other grade levels along (07 and above), he had to magnanimously add N5,000 to their salaries across board.

But labour leaders in the state were not impressed with the governor’s explanation. To them, in a statement signed by the NLC chairman in the state, Comrade Chumaife Nze, “We want to make it categorically clear that the Enugu State Government has not implemented the new minimum wage law, and its interpretation of the law is queer, awkward, deceitful, strange and  a calculated attempt to misinform the general public.”

Labour further maintained that “our doors are open for negotiation and dialogue. Unfortunately, government has shut its doors and foreclosed all avenues of peaceful resolution of the matter and embarked on cheap blackmail. The government should be blamed for  the present impasse in labour in the state.”

In Oyo State, workers were told to wait a little for the government. Instructively, the issue is being handled amicably in the state by both the Oyo State Government and Labour.

After disagreements over the mode of implementation of a living wage for the workers who were receiving the lowest pay in the South West until the new regime came in May, the workers and the government now enjoy a time of peace and cordial relationship. 

The Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in the state, Comrade Bashir Olanrewaju, told The Nation that negotiation had started on the N18,000 minimum wage. According to him, a meeting was held on Wednesday evening where the labour leaders insisted that only the Federal Government-approved N18,000 was good enough for civil servants in Oyo State. 

He, however, explained that the government’s negotiation team told them to give it time to convey their proposal to the governor, adding that the team would report back in one or two weeks.

Workers in Rivers State are also patiently waiting for Governor Rotimi Amaechi to make good his promise to pay the minimum wage.

Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, at a news conference on October 4, reitierated the Governor’s pledge as she assured that Amaechi’s government would pay the minimum wage.

Semenitari stated that the Rivers State Government was paying N17,500 as minimum wage, stressing that it would not be difficult to add just N500 to complete the N18,000.

In like manner, workers in Bayelsa State have remained hopeful that in no distant time the government would pay the N18, 000 minimum wages. But there has been some unease as it was being speculated that the state would not want to be the first state to pay the new wage but would rather watch the way it will go in other states. But there are indications that the patience by the workers may be running thin and that the new NLC chairman in the state, Mrs. Ebi Koku -Obiyai, is now ready to meet with other labour groups including TUC and Joint Negotiating Council, to give government a seven-day ultimatum to pay or face the wrath of workers in the state.

But the Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour, Jackson Suokiri, re-echoed government’s stance on the issue, saying: “He (Governor) has at different fora reiterated the commitment of his government to pay the N18,000 wage to civil servants. He has not said anything to the contrary.”

As for the workers in the 19 northern states, their fate seems to have been sealed since the governors of the region under the aegis of the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) declared in September that they would not be able to pay the minimum wage until “the economy of the states improves.” Daily Times