The Nigeria Labour Congress on Tuesday said the N200,000 minimum wage it had earlier suggested to the Federal Government is no longer feasible, given the country’s current economic situation.
The congress’s National Vice President, Tommy Etim, made this remark in response to the inauguration of the Minimum Wage Committee by Vice President Kashim Shettima on Tuesday.
In an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, Etim stressed that the congress would negotiate the national minimum wage based on the current economic reality, not on what it had previously proposed.
He said, “You are aware that when we opted for the N200,000, the socio-economic challenges were not as biting as they are now. And when you now look at the exchange rate, it was not what it is now. The naira rate not been devalued as it is now. So, N200,000 is no longer tenable.”
Etim also said that the congress did not have a fixed amount in mind for the minimum wage, but it would definitely not be N200,000. He said, “We are not going there with a fixed amount, but definitely not N200,000. By the time we get there, we will decide based on the socio-economic situation. That’s what we are going to base our national minimum wage discussion and negotiation on.”
The Federal Government had earlier urged the 37-member wage committee to expedite its deliberations and submit its recommendations as soon as possible. It also directed the Ministry of Finance to provide adequate funding and logistics to the committee and called for good faith and adherence to contracts in the collective bargaining process. It also encouraged the committee members to consult widely with various stakeholders.
The committee, which comprises representatives from the federal and state governments, the private sector, and the organised labour, is tasked with recommending a new national minimum wage for the country.
President Bola Tinubu, who was represented by the Vice President, said that the committee must consider the affordability and sustainability of the new wage for all tiers of government. He also asked the committee members to complete their assignment on time.
He said, “The committee is anticipated to conclude its deliberations promptly and submit its report and recommendations.
“This timely submission is crucial to initiate the necessary processes for implementing a new National Minimum Wage.
“The Honourable Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy has been instructed to allocate the essential funds and logistics to the Committee, facilitating the timely completion of its assigned task. I hereby inaugurate the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage and extend my best wishes for fruitful deliberations,” the President said.
The inauguration of the committee came after months of protests from organised labour, who were dissatisfied with the FG’s delay in setting up the new national minimum wage committee as agreed during negotiations last October.
In May 2017, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Minimum Wage Act to mandate a review of workers’ remuneration every five years.
The Minimum Wage Act 2019, which was signed by former President Muhammadu Buhari, gives the committee the power to deliberate and present a consensus wage to be approved by the National Assembly after due legislative scrutiny.
Buhari had also signed the Minimum Wage Act that increased the minimum wage to N30,000 for federal and state workers in the same year. However, Tinubu announced the end of fuel subsidies on May 29, 2023, which led to a sharp increase in the cost of living.
Although the administration approved an additional N35,000 wage award for six months (starting September 2023) to alleviate the impact of the subsidy removal, the organised labour maintained that this was only a provisional solution and called for a complete review of the minimum wage in 2024.
The President said his administration hopes to surpass the basic Social Protection Floor for all Nigerian workers, considering the sustainable payment capacity of each tier of government and other employers or businesses.
He explained why: “I express this viewpoint because the minimum wage represents the least amount of compensation an employee should receive for their labour, and as such, it should be rooted in social justice and equity.”
“I hope that the results of your deliberations will be consensual and acceptable to all parties involved,” the President told members of the committee.
He reaffirmed his administration’s promise to improve the welfare of Nigerian workers and, by extension, the entire nation, saying, “The labour force stands as the cornerstone of the progress of every nation, and ours has been the enduring engine of our pursuit of development.”
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume, urged the committee to give its best, noting that the task before it carried the hopes and aspirations of millions of Nigerian workers.
Akume said the new panel fulfilled the promise of the Tinubu administration to embark on a comprehensive review of the minimum wage for the average Nigerian worker.
On his part, the Chairman of the tripartite committee, Bukar Aji, assured the President that the committee would do justice to the task assigned to it.
“We shall, by God’s grace, carry out extensive consultations with key stakeholders to arrive at a new minimum wage that is fair, practical and implementable,” Aji, a former Head of Service of the Federation, said.
Meanwhile, Governor Mohammed Bago of Niger State, who is a member of the wage committee, told journalists that he foresaw no challenges in the next two months of the committee’s assignment.
“We don’t want to preempt the outcome of this meeting, but you need to understand that the sub-nationals also have challenges and that the Federal Government, in its own wisdom, has brought the sub-nationals into perspective and this discussion will be done together with the sub-national, so I’m not sure we’re going to foresee any challenge,” he said.
On his part, The Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Humphrey Ngonadi, argued that raising the minimum wage would make no difference if the prices of essential commodities kept soaring.
“I thank God for this initiative that the government is taking at this particular place, but I’m still worried. We may remember some time long ago, there was the Udoji Award and that was the first time salaries of workers were increased and immediately after the increment, the commodities in the market ran up to meet.
“So while we increase the salary of the workers, let the government work on bringing down the prices of commodities in the market.
“If a worker is paid N1m as the minimum wage and a bag of rice is N900,000, the N1m still has no meaning. So what I think is while we are thinking of minimum wage, to hike the salary of the worker, the government, on its side, has to think of how that money will have value,” Ngonadi argued.
The 37-man tripartite Committee has six Governors, some cabinet Ministers, representatives of the organised labour and the private sector among its members.
The governors include Bago of Niger State, representing the North Central; Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, representing the North-East; Dikko Radda of Katsina State, representing the North-West; Charles Soludo of Anambra State, representing the South-East; Ademola Adeleke of Osun State, representing the South-West, and Otu Bassey of Cross River State, representing the South-South.
The ministers are the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun; the Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Atiku Bagudu; the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. (Mrs) Yemi Esan, and the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.