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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We can’t pay minimum wage until 2012 –President Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan said on Monday that the Federal Government could not be committed to the full implementation
of the Minimum Wage Act 2011 till next year.

Reacting to the development, organised labour accused the government of insincerity and vowed to go ahead with the warning strike it had scheduled for Wednesday (tomorrow).

The President spoke through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, who led a Federal Government team to a meeting with organised labour in Abuja.

Anyim said, “The President said that we should not break the law. (He said) we should invite the labour leaders to let them know that we would pay (workers on) levels one to six and then include the funds for the payment of the relativity in the next budget, so that with effect from January, it can take off.

“We have no problem agreeing with labour; everything is clear, but we cannot go against the law. The only way we can raise money is through budgeting; another budgeting season is around the corner, so that we can commence the implementation of the law from January.

“The Federal Government has made budgetary provisions to pay the new wage to workers from grade level one to six, who are known to earn below N18,000. You have demanded that the Act should apply to all categories of workers in the country.

“I want to say that the Federal Government did not contemplate this position, and it did not make provision in the budget to implement this as everybody focused on the minimum wage.”

Minister of Labour and Productivity, Emeka Wogu, accompanied Anyim to the parley, while Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, led the state governments’ delegation.

President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwaheed Omar, and his Trade Union Congress counterpart, Peter Esele, led the labour team.

Organised labour had served the government a two-week ultimatum to either be committed to the full implementation of the new minimum wage regime or be prepared for a three-day warning strike, commencing from Wednesday, July 20. Stakeholders say the meeting is the last effort aimed at averting the imminent strike.

The strike, which appears inevitable now, is being coordinated by the NLC, TUC, and the Civil Society Coalition.

A labour leader at the Monday meeting which held behind closed doors told nigeria newspapers at the end of the meeting that it was deadlocked.

The source said the Federal Government insisted on its plan to pay the new wage to only workers on levels One to Six in the civil service to the exclusion of other categories of workers.

“That is what it did with monetisation, which took it three years to implement. They don’t want to pay all federal workers. They are limiting it to core civil servants only; and this is not acceptable to labour.

“So, there is a deadlock; and therefore, the strike will go on on Wednesday,” the source said.

Before the meeting went into the closed session, Anyim had said that the meeting was not to negotiate the wages and salaries of workers but to address the issues thrown up by the Minimum Wage Act.

He appealed to labour to consider government’s appeal to commence full implementation of the minimum wage from January 2012 because the budget provided funds for workers between salary grade levels one and six only.

The SGF explained that it was Jonathan’s position that the contentious issue of relativity would be effectively handled in next year’s budget.

But the representatives of the organised labour spurned the government offer.

Esele argued that the Federal Government, which had provided over N100bn for the Independent National Electoral Commission before the April polls, should in like-manner provide a few billions for the payment of the new wage.

He described the new wage as a national emergency, which workers were prepared to respond to effectively.

“We do not have to wait till January to implement this law. We are doing everything on behalf of Nigerian workers to make sure that this issue is resolved,” he said.

Earlier, Omar had expressed dismay over government’s latest interpretation of the minimum wage law.

He said the concern of workers who struggled for the minimum wage was not a benchmark but a salary review.

He, therefore, appealed to the government team to approach the resolution of the industrial dispute with the sincerity and transparency it deserved.

Omar said that with the turn of events, the three-day warning strike would go on as planned.

He said, “Nigerians are watching us as to where sincerity lies where it should be in this matter. I don’t think anything has changed.

“The same table of implementation which labour rejected is being presented to us. And even the evolution of that table was done mischievously.

“One thing that baffles me in this is that even the people we have negotiated with are now talking only about a minimum wage benchmark when they know we demanded a salary increase.”

In his remarks, Amaechi urged the labour leaders to reconsider their decision to go on strike because of its likely impact on the poor whom labour represented.

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