•New regime expected to take effect April
Against the backdrop of the promise made by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his New Year address that his administration will implement a “national living wage” this year, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has raised a team to negotiate with the government.
The subsisting minimum wage, negotiated in 2018, expires in April 2024.
Each agreed minimum wage has a five-year lifespan. Therefore, the lifespan of the current national minimum wage will soon be over. Tinubu had said in the address: “The economic aspirations and the material well-being of the poor, the most vulnerable and the working people shall not be neglected.
“It is in this spirit that we are going to implement a new national living wage for our industrious workers this New Year. It is not only good economics to do this, it is also a morally and politically correct thing to do.” In this interview, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero, highlights the indices that will be looked at before arriving at an acceptable figure for minimum wage, hinting that the next minimum wage may not be less than N200,000 if Labour has its way. Excerpts:
The current minimum wage will be due for review soon. What is the situation on the setting up of the committee for the exercise?
The committee has not been set up but we have submitted all the names of the labour team. We thought that the government would have, on the first week of December 2023 or the last week of November, constituted the committee but, as of today (last Thursday), the committee has not been constituted. That is the situation but we have submitted the names, of those who are supposed to represent labour in the committee.
During the time Labour and the government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, there was a time frame for the minimum wage to lapse and a new one to take effect. What happened?
I am sure you have read our New Year message. The government virtually reneged in all the agreements including the N35,000 (petrol subsidy palliative) wage award on which they paid only one month. They are going to start the year with the payment of the arrears. That is where we will start from; we have to start from where we stopped moving forward.
Last time you spoke about the new minimum wage, you analyzed the economic indices and said that the new wage would not be less than N200,000. Do you still maintain that position or is there any change?
Well, I didn’t just say N200,000. I tried to figure out the value of $200 then. So, if you are looking at the constant variables from the point of view of two hundred dollars, you will discover that a dollar is around a thousand two hundred naira now. You have to adjust based on the prevailing circumstances.
Assuming you are meeting with the government, what will be your proposal?
These are some of our strategies, we don’t put our proposal on the pages of newspapers for the other parties to know, but I have given you a hint of what we are looking at. We are going to dust all that we have, it will be public knowledge when it is done; it’s not going to be abortion before pregnancy.
What are the things the Organized Labour would be considering while negotiating for the new minimum wage?
A lot. We have said it before. Cost of living, devaluation of the currency and the labour market vis a vis the countries that share the same value with us: The oil-exporting countries and some other countries that share the same economic indices with us. All those issues must come into play.
Looking at all the indices you have mentioned, what will be the proposal or projection of the NLC?
The projection is what I have told you. I have mentioned it to you. I have mentioned the value of the currency as of today. I mentioned about $200 and the value, we discussed it.
When is the new minimum wage supposed to take effect?
Well, it depends. Maybe it will take effect in April.
Is it the time the lifespan of the current minimum wage will expire?
How long does the negotiation between the government and Labour last now that the government has not set up the committee? Do you see the government and Labour arriving at a particular amount before April?
It depends on the seriousness of the government, but negotiations could be concluded within one week.
As of the first of January 2024, available information showed that the government had paid for only one month of the wage award of N35,000. Is there any guarantee that the government will pay any amount higher than the current minimum wage now that the wage award appears problematic?
The issue of wage awards is not problematic. It was not imposed on the government. It was willingly covenanted to but immediately they attacked me, from the Labour circle we don’t know whether it was deliberate, they reneged in almost all the agreements. But now that I am back from the hospital, I am going to take them up. It is an agreement and we have to respect the sanctity of the agreement. So the arrears must be paid. Whatever that might be the circumstances that they didn’t pay, they have to pay and from there, we move on.
Since the Federal Government reneged on the agreements, has Labour reminded the government to find out the reason behind its inability to pay?
Well, the issue of implementation varies. When you talk of Labour, it is wide. Labour includes so many sectors of the economy. Some are paying, some may not be paying. So it depends on the sector, those in the private sector, those in the public sector. There are unions in every sector. So if a union, maybe in the food industries their management is not paying, they must remind them, that it’s not a blanket thing, both private and public.
Maybe by this January, we will look at the whole aspect of it and know the percentage of compliance; it’s not a blanket thing. We are talking of three months now basically for those in the public sector. That is the situation.