THE 36 state governors have said that they can no longer pay the N18,000 minimum wage that was signed into law in March 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, owing to the poor state of the economy. Organised labour in its immediate reaction, however, kicked against the governors’ stance, saying workers are ready to shut down the country, if the governors push them into it.
Rising from a crucial meeting that ended at the early hours of yesterday, at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja under the umbrella of Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, the governors said that dwindling prices of oil had drastically affected their states’ income.
Specifically, they said that the burden of the wage was lighter when oil sold at $126 as against the current $41 per barrel.
They, therefore, sought audience with President Muhammadu Buhari on the economy, resolving that the only way out of the quagmire was to diversify the economy towards agriculture and mining.
Reading the communique issued at the end of the meeting, Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari said: “We resolved that we must look at ways to enhance revenue generation and at the same time look at ways to cut our overhead costs, especially the political office holders’ salaries and other overhead expenses.
“The situation is no longer the same when we were asked to pay N18,000 minimum wage, when oil price was $126 (per barrel) and we continued paying N18,000 minimum wage when the oil price is $41, while the source of government expenditure is from oil, and we have not seen prospects in the oil industry in the near future.
We can no longer pay — Govs
“We will diversify our economy in the area of agriculture and mining. But at the same time, we should understand our situation where some of us (states) today are taking N100 million as monthly allocation and then have salaries of over N2 billion to pay.
“We, therefore, agreed here to take this suggestion to NEC in our meeting today (yesterday) so that we can find ways to tackle this problem.
“We are also looking at coming together to have discussions with Mr. President and his team, technocrats and experts in the economy to see how we can tackle this problem. We are working harder to deal with it.
Supporting the NGF position, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State told journalists that there was no way the country could continue with a situation where expenditure was more than income.
“We are faced with a situation where we either have to reduce cost through salary reduction or downsize. All these we don’t want to do
In their reaction, leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, warned that if the governors wanted workers to shut down the nation because of the issue, workers would gladly do so, saying “the governors should not think the Nigerian workers do not have the capacity to retrench them.”
Wabba said: “We reject it totally. Nigerian workers will never accept it. We all know that it is a reality that N18,000 can no longer take the workers home and cannot sustain any family. Many countries are reviewing their minimum wage upwards to meet the current realities. In Nigeria, there is even greater need to increase the minimum wage because our currency had been devalued; inflation keeps rising among others.
“What is the relation of the Nigerian currency to the Dollar or what is value of the N18,000 to the Dollar? We are going to reject the move with all our might. We are not the cause of the problem. They should think out of the box to find solution to the problem. When there was excess crude money, the workers did not benefit and so, we cannot bear the brunt. If the governors want us to close down the country, we will do that.
“What about their outrageous salaries, bloated overhead cost, inflated contracts and others? NLC is meeting tomorrow (today) on the organ of the Central Working Committee, CWC. This issue is going to feature prominently and we are going to come with a strong statement on it. Obviously we cannot bear the brunt. They governors should think how to generate revenue instead of depending on oil money and allocation from Abuja.
“The governors should know that the N18,000 minimum wage was not just negotiated, it was a product of a tripartite process involving the governors, employers and organised labour. It passed through the National Assembly before former President Jonathan signed it into law. If any party wants to breach or renege on such agreement, they should be prepared for the consequences.
“We know there are challenges, but the governors should face reality. The problem is the cost of governance and too many frivolities. Today, with crazy bills from electricity providers, increase in fuel price, school fees, hospital bills, and other utilities, N18,000 cannot take any worker to the bus stop. We want to know their salaries as approved by the Revenue and Fiscal Mobilisation Commission, that of their commissioners, advisers and others, their security votes and others.
There is unity in the NLC, at least on this one issue. Wabba’s counterpart, Mr. Joe Ajaero, dismissed the governors’ resolution as an empty threat. He said most of them were ignorant of the process that brought about the N18,000 minimum wage, warning the governors not to start a battle they could not sustain because Nigerian workers had the capacity to retrench them.
He has a radical counter proposal as strong medicine that may cut the cost of governance to ensure the continuation of the N18,000 minimum wage. He suggests that because of the falling oil prices, sole administrators should be appointed in the 36 states and Abuja and the office of state governors should be abolished. The sole administrators should not have one single commissioner or adviser. They should also not receive any salary or allowance because we are in a belt-tightening period for us to survive.
The day the governors say they can no longer pay the N18,000 minimum wage, that is the day they should vacate office as governors.
So here is a curious situation. Both the Governors and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) agree that the N18, 000 minimum wage is unrealistic. Yes, they are in perfect agreement on this. But here is where they differ. While the governors want the wage to go down, TUC wants it jacked up.
On his part, Secretary-General of the TUC, Mr. Musa Lawal, said labour would never accept the Governors’ position and it would be rejected and resisted with all powers available.
According to him, the governors cannot say they can no longer pay the minimum wage. “If they do, we are going to reject and resist it with whatever it takes. Though we will meet to react appropriately, but we are definitely not accepting it. We are presenting a proposal for upward review of the wage because it is no longer meeting the realities on ground. We were planning our meeting for next month, I am sure because of this development, we will bring it forward.”