It is no longer news that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, has endorsed N30, 000 as the new minimum wage. It is a benchmark requiring employers not to pay a wage less than that. The current benchmark is N18, 000, enacted in 2011. The President, in his comments after receiving a report submitted to him by the Chairman of the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage, Ama Pepple, assured that his government would find a way to implement the new wage bill regardless of the nation’s economic challenges. According to him, the welfare of the workers is of “paramount importance”. He assured that a new Minimum Wage Bill would be forwarded to the National Assembly for passage into law.
Recall that On 27th November 2017, Buhari inaugurated the National Minimum Wage Committee with a mandate to recommend a new minimum wage. “This exercise became necessary for many reasons”, he said. “The last review took place in 2011. We all know since then, the prices of key consumables have increased and the most vulnerable of our workers are struggling to make ends meet. Since 2011, many changes have taken place. Nigeria rebased its GDP to become the largest economy in Africa. We reported very strong GDP growth rates and exceptional performance of our capital markets. However, these reported successes did not flow into the pockets and homes of majority of Nigerians.
“In the last three years, we focused on correcting this deficiency. We are working to create a diversified and inclusive economy. We are pushing to clear pension arrears owed to our retired workers with the limited resources available to us. We supported State Governments to pay workers salary. And of course, we set up a committee in order to review the minimum wage of workers.
“In constituting this committee, we took into account the need for all stakeholders to be adequately represented – the government, the private sector and most importantly the workers. Our goal was to get an outcome that was consensual. From the onset, we knew the committee had a difficult task ahead of it. But at the same time, we were also confident that the patriotic and professional background of its members would produce realistic, fair and implementable recommendations that will be considered by both the executive and legislative arms of government.”
In truth, the discussions were without rancor. Once, the minister of labour and productivity stopped the talks without offering any explanation. That led to a strike by workers under the aegis of NLC and TUC. It was called off after two days when the talks were resumed. A N30, 000 benchmarked proposed by the federal government was opposed by state governors. Workers strike action was averted only after the committee was hastily recalled to send a recommendation to President Buhari.
“I am not surprised that the committee has worked for close to one year. I am also not surprised that on a few occasions, the debates got heated and sometimes, these differences came out.
Buhari, recalling the difficulties that surrounded the talks, said “What is truly inspiring is that, in almost all instances of disagreements, the committee members always came back to the negotiating table with a common goal of improving the welfare of Nigerian workers. On behalf of all Nigerians today, I want to thank you for your commitment and sacrifice in getting us to where we are today. In the past few days, I have been receiving regular updates on your deliberations. And today, I am pleased that you have completed your work in a peaceful and non-confrontational manner. The entire nation is grateful to you all.
“The Committee Chairman highlighted some of the challenges encountered during your deliberations, especially as it relates to having a consensus position acceptable by all parties. I understand, on the government side, the concerns raised were around affordability – that today many states struggle to meet their existing salary requirements. On the side of labour, the points raised focused on the need for any increase to be meaningful.
“In a way, both arguments are valid. I want to assure you all that we will immediately put in place the necessary machinery that will close out these open areas. Our plan is to transmit the Executive Bill to the National Assembly for passage within the shortest possible time. I am fully committed to having a new National Minimum Wage Act in the very near future. Let me use this opportunity to recognise the leadership of the organized labour and private sector as well as representatives of State and Federal Governments for all your hard work. The fact that we are here today, is a notable achievement.”
An achievement, indeed. It is the result of courage, persistence and sometimes even threat. However, a final hurdle has to be scaled. The National Assembly has to turn the proposed new NMW into a piece of legislation. This, we urge it to do expeditiously.