Nigeria: NLC's Warning Strike

Officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in conjunction with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) said they would order their members to commence a three-day warning strike this Wednesday to press home demand for the 'full implementation' of 18,000 naira minimum wage by state governments.

They also condemned statements by the federal government clarifying its position that the minimum wage law applies only to workers on grade levels 1 to 6.

The National Minimum Wage bill was passed by the National Assembly earlier this year and subsequently signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan last March.

However, state governors who hitherto endorsed the new wage in the heat period of their electioneering ahead of the April, 2011 general elections appeared to have reneged on its implementation.

They had argued that under the current revenue sharing formula, they cannot afford to pay the minimum package unless the federal government removed existing fuel subsidy on petroleum products or, alternatively reviews the revenue sharing formula.

But, the NLC in its quest relied on Section 2 (1) of the National Minimum Wage Act which states that: "As from the commencement of this Act, it shall be the duty of every employer to pay a wage not less than the national minimum wage of N18, 000 per month to every worker under his establishment." According to the NLC, the governors' excuse amounted to insincerity and undue politicisation of the issue. Attempt by the leadership of the House of Representatives to mediate over the matter failed last week as both parties maintained their stand on the issue.

However, the governors at the weekend pledged to implement the law.

The minimum wage issue should not be controversial if federal government officials involved in negotiating it had made it clear from the outset that it was not a salary review for workers.

The recent pronouncement by the federal government that only the specified cadres of workers would be affected, though timely, seemed to have caused more confusion. That is why the apparent disappointment of the NLC and indeed other workers who believed that minimum wage concept mean across-the-board salary increment is understandable.

This could have stemmed from the incompetence of the government's negotiating team to put the package in clear perspectives, or the greed of politicians seeking elections and would make unrealistic promises to get over the hurdle. However, this does not obviate the logic of the federal government's position as clarified in the statement on the law's applicability. Indeed, that clarification may have informed the governors to change their own position and agree to implement the minimum wage law.

It is important that all parties should embrace dialogue in ironing out outstanding issues to avoid creating another source of tension in the country. These governments, federal and state, have just gone through elections, and should be given room to concentrate on the socio-economic transformation of the country at all levels.

The NLC has been commendably flexible on the minimum wage issue, first agreeing to cut its demand from N25, 000 to N18, 000 and then calling off a warning strike prior to the conduct of the April general elections in deference to appeals by eminent Nigerians. In this case too, flexibility on its part is called for, not least because there is no reason to call workers out on strike. Negotiation was for a minimum wage, not for salary review.

NLC leaders should therefore reconsider their warning strike proposal, especially now that the governors have said they would implement it.







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