By NBF News
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President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwaheed Omar

Barely 24 hours after federal and state governments reached an agreement with organised labour on the full implementation of the Minimum Wage Act 2011, indications emerged on Wednesday that governors might have decided to renege on a key term of the agreement.

The governors, investigations revealed, might have resolved not to pay arrears to workers earning above N18,000 before the Minimum Wage Act. If the governors eventually do this, they will be in breach of the last-minute deal agreed by both parties on Tuesday to stave off a national strike.

Under the agreement sealed between government and labour, arrears of salaries from March, when the law was enacted, are to be paid to workers by August 31. Labour had called off its planned warning strike on the strength of the agreement. The agreement provides that the arrears will be paid to all categories of workers.

A communiqué read by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwaheed Omar, on Tuesday, shows that the representatives of the two parties signed the agreement. The communiqué was signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; Minister of Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu; and the Head of Service, Prof. Oladapo Afolabi. Omar, and the President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Peter Esele, signed for workers.

Sources told our correspondent in Abuja on Wednesday that the governors had already informed President Goodluck Jonathan that they would only pay the arrears to workers earning below N18,000 before the Minimum Wage Act was enacted.

Our correspondent gathered that some governors met in Abuja to discuss the issue on Wednesday.

After their meeting, at about 9:30pm, they reportedly moved to Aso Rock, where they met the President and demanded that the revenue allocation formula must be reviewed before the states could pay the new minimum wage.

Our correspondent also gathered that the governors had resurrected their old argument that only an upward review of the federal allocation formula would make them embrace the new minimum wage regime fully. Before this week's deal, governors have agitated for a review of the federal allocation formula in a manner that would see states receive more funds.

But reacting to the governors' new conditions, the Acting National Secretary of the NLC, Owei Lakemfa, last night told our correspondent it was not part of the agreement between labour and government.

'There was no such agreement. All workers will get the arrears irrespective of their levels,' Lakemfa said.

But a governor, who confirmed that governors might indeed dump the contentious term in the agreement, told our correspondent on the condition of anonymity that 'governance is not only about paying salaries.'

The governor said, 'Well, there is no way we can pay arrears to all the civil servants in our states and we would still be expected to work and deliver the dividends of democracy to our people.

'There is the need to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and that is why we are only going to pay arrears to only those earning lower salaries before the increment.

'We must know that governance is not only about payment of salaries alone. Apart from the payment of salaries, we should be able to develop our states.'

The governors' new thinking, stakeholders said, might lead labour back to the trenches, making the three-day warning strike that was called off on Tuesday inevitable.

Curiously, the template for the agreement between labour and the Federal Government to commence the full implementation of the Act in August was first worked out by labour and the governors.

At a meeting between labour leaders and the Federal Government team on Monday, government had said it could not commence the full implementation of the new wage law till January 2012.

It argued that the 2011 budget had no provision for paying all workers the enhanced wage.

The Federal Government, it was gathered, only conceded to start the implementation in August primarily because state governors had agreed to commence payment.