MINIMUM WAGE SHOCKER

By NBF News
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Facts have emerged on why state governors, who a few weeks ago were adamant to yield to the demand of the organised labour for the implementation of the National Minimum Wage Act 2011, which stipulates N18, 000 as minimum wage, bowed to the wishes of the workers.

The organised labour, made up of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), was to embark on a warming strike on Wednesday but backed down when governors, five day earlier, suddenly agreed to pay N18, 000 to the least of their workers.

A week earlier, all the parties had taken an extreme position. The Nigerian Governors Forum had argued that they would not pay such wage unless certain conditions were met. The conditions include removal of fuel subsidy and review of revenue allocation formula, among others. These demands hit the rocks, as the protest against increase in fuel price had started building up, even as the Federal Government is keeping mute on the review of revenue sharing formula.

When it dawned on the government that the labour union's threat was real, following security reports on how each chapter of NLC had set up strike monitoring team, for total success of the warming strike, the governors ate their words and promised to yield to the workers' demand.

Sources have revealed why the governors made the U-turn. It was gathered that insecurity, infiltration of labour, planned mass sack, embargo on employment and planned delay/non-payment of salaries influenced the governors' decision to pay N18, 000 minimum wage.

The security angle
Checks revealed that one of the reasons the government capitulated is the looming insecurity in the country, caused by the Islamic fundamental sect, Boko Haram. The sect has been carrying out spate of bombings in the North, especially Borno, where it's based. Last month, Boko Haram hit the nation at its belly, when, reacting to the statement of Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim, to crush the group within the shortest possible time, it bombed Force Headquarters, killing and injuring many people. Scores of vehicles were destroyed too.

Boko Haram bombings have continued unabated, especially in Borno, forcing over 10 state governments to hurriedly evacuate their indigenes in the state. This ugly situation made elder statesman and former Nigerian ambassador to United Nations, and an indigene of Borno, Shetima Ali Mongoro, to declare that Boko Haram menace was worse than civil war. He said that Nigerians have been badly traumatized by the group's activities.

Security sources told Saturday Sun that in the face of Boko Haram menace, state and federal governments reckoned that a nationwide strike would further threaten peace in the country. More so, there was the fear by state governors that some opposition or roughish elements could cash in on the strike to unleash mayhem in their respective states, thereby making the states ungovernable for them. A source revealed that governors were afraid that a strike could spark off a mass action similar to what happened in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, in North Africa, which could lead to further breakdown of law and order.

Cracks in the ranks of governors, labour
Another factor that caused the governors to succumb, it was gathered, was a seeming crack on their rank. At first, the Governors' Forum spoke with one voice on the issue of minimum wage. Later, some governors started saying something different. It started when Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, who rode to the throne on the crest of unionism, being a labour leader, agreed to implement the minimum wage Act. Governors of South East followed suit as well as Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola. A day before the commencement of the shelved strike, Lagos State government, through its head of service, Adesegun Ogunlewe, had directed its workers to shun the strike, since the state government had begun implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage.

Also, the ranks of labour was infiltrated by governors. As a result, some labour leaders worked for the government instead of governors. In Oyo State, for instance, workers suspended their leaders for not briefing them on negotiation with government. The workers feared that their leaders had sold out.

The removal of oil subsidy option
Sources revealed that governors are surreptitiously thinking of revisiting the removal of fuel subsidy, which would lead to increase in pump price of domestic petroleum products. The governors' plan is that in the fullness of time, when frayed nerves are soothed and workers enjoying their new pay packet, the government and beneficiary stakeholders in the oil sector would mount a campaign to justify the need for increase in petrol pump price. The new wage is seen as a future palliative, in the event of increase in price of fuel.

Agitation for review of revenue formula
Check revealed that governors plan to, in the coming months, mount pressure on the Federal Government for comprehensive review of revenue allocation formula that has seen the Federal Government getting about 53, while the states get about 27. The local governments get 20 per cent revenue allocation. Currently, it was gathered that the governors are individually talking to members of the National Assembly, with a view to initiating another round of constitution amendment. Also, they would mobilize members of the state Houses of Assembly to also get set to support agitation for the review of the constitution, especially the aspect that has to do with revenue allocation.

Mass sack looms nationwide
A shocker that awaits the nation is systematic mass sack that may be unreleased in the states. Sources revealed that some governors are already looking at modalities to reduce workforce. Recently, Ekiti State sacked about 5, 000 workers. It is believed that this is the sign of things to come in other states.

Embargo on employment
Although most governors promised employment and creation of jobs, it was learnt that owing to the increase in wage bill, they will not implement this. One governor revealed that he would not employ new staff, as paying the current one is 'problematic.' He said that there is no point increasing staff strength when the payment of salaries of those already employed is difficult.

Delay/non-payment of salaries
With lean resources, governors have resolved that whenever they have money, they pay workers and when they can't, they owe. Sources revealed that some states may adopt the policy of paying for one month and owing workers in the next month. In the event of this, some state governments are going to enter to a new regime of salary arrears to the civil servants, just as it applies to teachers in some states.

Checks revealed that the governors opt for this because such practice cannot lead to a national strike. A source said their thinking is that localized strike would easily be handled, believing that the workers would return to work when they don't get support from their colleagues in states which are probably paying salaries.