President Muhammadu Buhari has said the new minimum wage for workers in the country must take into consideration the ability of each tier of government to pay its workers.
The president, who made this remark monday at the State House, Abuja, while inaugurating a 30-man National Minimum Wage Committee saddled with the responsibility to come up with a new minimum wage for Nigerian workers, was also swift to add that the government has a responsibility to ensure that Nigerian workers live above discomfort and enjoy improved living standards.
Membership of the committee was drawn from both the federal and state governments, employers’ association and the organised private sector.
Buhari who described the Nigerian worker as a vital element in the growth and development of modern nations recalled how a technical committee had earlier been set up following the increase in pump price of petrol in May 2016, to come up with recommendations aimed at cushioning the effects of the fuel price hike on both workers and the citizenry.
Describing the committee chaired by a former Housing Minister, Ama Pepple as all encompassing, Buhari tasked the committee to thoroughly discharge their responsibility with a view to ensuring that the welfare of workers and Nigerians at large is well addressed.
He said government decision after the committee submits its report would be transformed into an executive bill that would be sent to the National Assembly with a view to giving it a legal backing.
“Considering the scope of the membership of this new National Minimum Wage Committee, we can see that it is encompassing all stakeholders. My hope is that the outcome of the deliberations of the committee would be consensual and generally acceptable. I therefore urge you to amicably consider the issue of a National Minimum Wage and all matters that are ancillary to it with thoroughness and concern not only for the welfare of our work-force but the effect on the country’s economy.
“The subject of a National Minimum Wage for the federation is within the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Accordingly, we should aim to go above the basic Social Protection Floor for all Nigerian workers based on the ability of each tier of government to pay.
“I say this because minimum wage is the minimum amount of compensation an employee must receive for putting in his or her labour and as such should be anchored on social justice and equity.
“Government’s decision after considering your final recommendation will be sent as an Executive Bill to the National Assembly for it to undergo appropriate legislative scrutiny before passage into law,” he said.
He said drawing some members of the committee from state governments and private sector employers would ensure ease of implementation of the expected minimum wage as he expressed hope that “the principles of full consultation with social partners and their direct participation would be utilised by the committee,” in accordance with core provisions of the International Labour Organisation Minimum Wage Fixing Convention No. 131 and Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention No.26 (ratified by Nigeria).
“Accordingly, conditions of genuine social dialogue should prevail in the spirit of tripartism and collective bargaining agreements . I therefore enjoin you all to collectively bargain in good faith, have mutual recognition for each other and always in a spirit of give and take,” he added.
The president tasked the committee to complete its assignment and submit its recommendations within a short period to enable the government put in place other necessary machinery for the implementation of a new minimum wage.
In his remark, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who gave an account of events leading to the emergence of the committee, defined minimum wage as the least wage an employer must pay his employees in a given country.
According to him, minimum wage, as stated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is meant to eliminate “poverty pain” which he said usually occurs when a worker’s earnings could not guarantee him a good living.
“Today is a remarkable day because this is a journey we started in May 2016. In May 2016, the Federal Government of Nigeria decided to do appropriate pricing for petroleum products and because of that, the pump price of petroleum and kerosene and others had to take their real pricing.
“Coincidentally, some weeks before then, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and National Labour Congress (NLC) served the government a notice that the minimum wage would last in the next one month. They made a proposal to Mr. President on what they think will be the realistic national minimum wage. At the time the fuel price was increased, there was disquiet, resulting in industrial dispute between the labour unions on one side and the government on the other side.
“Government therefore decided to set up a committee to look into how the effect of that pump price increase will be cushioned with the result that a technical committee was set up. The technical committee among other recommendations for palliatives also recommended that the national minimum wage be reviewed in consonance with the request earlier demand of the labour unions.
“Those recommendations came to council and council approved them and set up a 30-man minimum wage committee. Mr. President, it’s important for us to know that the minimum wage is the lowest wage any employer is allowed to pay in any country because the issue of minimum wage is on the exclusive federal government list. Item 34 on that list is the issue of exclusion, giving the federal government through executive and the National Assembly the right to fix the minimum wage for the country, the minimum wage is a wage that is aimed at removing the problem of what the lLO calls poverty pain which is a pain that exists when earnings from paid work do not result in a living wage and thereafter fail to push people out of poverty and this concurrently will result in decent work deficit.
“Mr. President, that committee has been constituted and government is playing a double role in this instance. It is playing the role of an employer of labour and a protector of the element of tripartism. The committee has been drawn from three areas of tripartite negotiations as enunciated by ILO – government on one side and even the government on one side is sub-divided into the federal and state governments, that is why you have the governors here. The governors are employers of labour in their respective states.
“You also have on the other side employers in the private sector, employers of labour association. We also have the wages committee. Other members of organised private sector OPS are represented here. MAN, NACCIMA, Small and Medium Scale Industry. Mr. President, this committee is balanced, exhaustive and will do the work in consonance with ILO social dialogue and collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is one of the measures between employers and workers. Very hopeful that your choice and approval for this committee is not in a wrong direction at all,” he said.
Meanwhile, during the inauguration, Buhari, while making routine greetings before his remarks, turned to the national chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, and said “accept my sympathy for losing a senior member of your party”.
Although, he did not mention any name, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was the latest senior member of the APC to have left the party.
Atiku last week announced that he was resigning because of the party’s failure to fulfil its promises to Nigerians.
The president joked even more as he read out names of attendees.
Also, during a session for group photograph with members of the committee, Buhari joked with the governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, by wondering how the governor was not “properly dressed” as opposed to his counterpart from Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu.
Before a shocked Aregbesola could recover, the president pointed to the Armed Forces Remembrance emblem on the chest of Bagudu, which was missing on the Osun governor.