MINIMUM WAGE STRIKE UNSTOPPABLE - LABOUR

By NBF News
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 NLC President, Alhaji Abduwahid Omar
Organised labour, and a coalition of civil society groups, on Sunday insisted that the three-day warning strike scheduled to begin on Wednesday would go ahead, notwithstanding the recent pledge by the Nigerian Governors' Forum to pay the new N18,000 minimum wage.

The Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Coalition, at a joint press conference in Abuja, said the NGF's promise was not 'assuring.' The groups threatened that the forthcoming strike would be total and advised Nigerians to stockpile foodstuffs from Monday (today). They also added that there would be no flights and the supply of electricity to homes and businesses would be disrupted.

The Vice President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Promise Adewusi, who read a joint statement issued by the groups, said workers were no longer satisfied with 'mere promises.' What the NLC and the TUC wanted, he said, was a signed agreement that would comply with the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act.

He said, 'The governors' pronouncement that they will obey the Minimum Wage law has changed nothing on the ground and has advanced nothing in reality. And if the Federal Government follows suit, it will not change workers resolve to go on the three-day warning strike from Wednesday July 20, 2011.

'What the NLC, the TUC and the Nigerian working people demand is a signed agreement between the federal and state governments on one hand and the NLC and the TUC on the other stating that:

'The New National Minimum Wage of N18,000 will be implemented across board based on salary relativity that will not distort the payment table at the Federal, State and Local Government levels.

'The payment of the new Minimum Wage will take effect from March 23, 2011, the day President Goodluck Jonathan signed the New National Minimum Wage into law.

'The arrears from the Minimum Wage will be paid within three months.

'Workers will not be victimised over the Minimum Wage by way of mass retrenchment, increase in tax or in any other form (of punishment).'

The NGF Chairman, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, on Saturday had said that the governors at their meeting 'resolved to comply with the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act and further agreed that individual states should commence implementation modalities.' The governors' pronouncement had given rise to hopes that the strike would be shelved.

The governors' promise is one of the major highlights of a dispute that started shortly after the Wage Bill became law. Until Saturday, governors had, since the signing of the Minimum Wage Act in March, complained that they could not afford to pay the new wage with their current allocations from the federation account. They had asked for the restructuring of the federal revenue allocation formula to put more money in the coffers of the states. Stakeholders, however, say that the strike could still be averted if a crisis-resolution meeting scheduled for Monday (today) is fruitful. The demands listed in the joint statement, THE PUNCH gathered, would form the crux of labour's argument during today's meeting with the Federal Government.

But Adewusi warned that while the unions were open to negotiations on the pending implementation of the new law, the organised labour and their civil society counterparts would not honour any invitation from the government for dialogue 24 hours to the expiration of the deadline of the planned warning strike.

He said that labour and the civil society coalition would ensure that economic activities were brought to a total halt during the three days.

He said, 'It is our hope that the government does not allow this strike to go on from Wednesday. Indeed from midnight of Tuesday, no aircraft will be allowed to fly; the ports will be completely shut down; the roads will be deserted; there won't be any university that will be opened; and the banks will be closed.

'We, therefore, call on all Nigerians so that between Monday and Tuesday, they can stockpile foodstuff, they can go to the banks to collect money; even PHCN as erratic as it is, will not work.'

He said labour was surprised that states such as Abia, which had proposed a minimum wage of N46,000; Kwara, Imo and Kebbi, which had recommended N30,000; and Anambra which had offered to pay N25,000 would turn round to resist the payment of a minimum wage of N18,000.

He also wondered why statement governments which had proposed, on the average, N21,800 later showed reluctance to pay the new N18,000.

According to him, federal agencies like the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission; the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research; the National Productivity Centre; the Central Bank of Nigeria; and the National Bureau of Statistics proposed N34,200, N41,000, N22,000, N20,216.01 and N18,036.73 respectively. He accused the FG of attempting to cause a major industrial crisis over the new minimum wage regime.

In his remarks, the representative of the Civil Society Coalition, Mr. Tunde Aremu, described attempts by elected officials to prevent workers from earning their pay, 'when they (elected officials) cart away their wages in bags,' as 'irresponsible.'

He said it would be impossible for the nation to progress without the proper remuneration of workers who created her wealth.