Organised labour on Friday dismissed as cheap blackmail a statement by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that the Federal Government might lay off some workers in the public service should labour insist on having its way on the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage.
The Secretary, Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), Alade Lawal, told The Nation that labour would not be cowed by such threat.
He also faulted claim by Ngige that government would require N580 billion annually to pay workers the minimum wage across board as demanded by labour.
“As far as we are concerned, anybody talking about retrenchment is blackmail. It is just cheap blackmail,” Lawal said.
He added: “We don’t subscribe to that. If they like, let them come to the negotiation table so that we can reach an agreement and implement so that everybody can move on. If they like, let them leave it.
“They will say they can’t meet labour’s demand because they are not doing their homework. How will they say it is not feasible (to meet labour’s demand?).
“The figure they are parading is not correct. They don’t need N580 billion. They don’t need it to implement the minimum wage.
“The component part of these 1.33 million employees they are talking about is the consolidated public salary structure which majorly is domiciled under the IPPIS platform.
“As we speak, the employees there are not up to 70,000. They said in their own papers they are using for negotiation is 183,000. Where do they get all those things from?
“Because you want to negotiate something now you come to negotiation table and you start playing with figures. It is so sad. They think they are talking to the labour of pre-independence. Some of them are just lucky to be there. It is not that they are better than some of us.”
He said the government team negotiating the consequential adjustment on minimum wage was yet to reach out to labour to tell them when negotiation would resume.
Lawal insisted that labour would not back down on its percentage increase demand from government for workers on levels 7-14 and levels 15-17.
“Up till now, they have not reached out to us. They are the owners of the knife and they also have the yam with them, so they can do it the way they like. But if this is the way we want to run our country, then I am sorry, because we have a long way to go.
“You know where we started from. We started from 66.66 per cent across board because the minimum wage was increased from N18,000 to N30,000, an increase of 66.66 per cent.
“So we said apply that across board. They cried that the federal government would not be able to pay. For levels 7-14, we came down to 50 per cent. Then for levels 15-17, 40 per cent, but they said they cannot pay.
“We came down again for levels 7-14, 40 per cent and levels 15-17 30 per cent. They cried loud and said they could not pay. We came down again; levels 7-14, 35 per cent, levels 15-17 30 per cent. Again, they said they cannot pay. We came down again. Levels 7-14, 30 per cent, levels 15-17, 25 per cent, yet they said they cannot pay before we came down to this 29 per cent for levels 7-14 and 24 per cent for levels 15-17.
“To start talking about going down now will make us look unserious; that is the meaning.”
Lawal also said labour was not sure if President Muhammadu Buhari had been properly briefed on the stalemate.
He said: “Now they are not telling Mr. President the truth. That is my worry. “Truly, they are his aides.
“If we cannot reach him, they are the ones that will reach him. And if we say it is A and they go to him and say it is B, since he has not put on the table the machinery to fact-check most of the things they are telling him, it will be difficult. That is the tragedy of the whole situation. It is very, very sad.”
He also said that all the promises made by government after the fuel price increase from N87 to N145 are yet to be fulfilled.
His words: “Let me explain one thing to you: when fuel price was increased from N87 to N145, an increase of about 60 per cent, the landing cost of fuel was less than N100 at that time.
“They raked in a lot of money; trillions of naira. They promised heaven and earth, social intervention. What did they do for workers? Nothing.
“For the fuel price increase from N87 to N145, they set up a palliative committee to placate labour, to ensure that we didn’t go on strike. I served on that committee and we made far-reaching recommendations.
“Labour was not given anything. Whereas, to placate us, they said that they had earmarked N600 billion for intervention that we should just come and meet and discuss how we were going to apply that N600 billion across the various sectors, including adding something to workers’ salaries in the area of transport.
“All the recommendations that we made, they didn’t do anything; not a single thing. At the negotiation table, they said they didn’t say so. Is that seriousness?
“Again, as at 2011 when the last increase was effected, dollar was 150 to the naira. Now it is 350. In effect, what you are saying is that if the foreign exchange receipt of the Federal Government is $20 billion, at 150 to a dollar, you know how much government will get to spend.
“Then at N360, that’s a difference of two hundred and something naira. You have a basket full of naira.
“Now you are spending on the so called infrastructure, you are spending on the sectors of the economy, you are answering to the greed of the political elite; those who are making the wealth for the government you kept them, you didn’t do anything. How can somebody now come in 2019 when all these things have happened within the national economy?
“Even on this VAT thing they are talking about, they are saying they are going to rake in trillions of naira; on this VAT increase that they have not even done something for workers.”
Workers should ignore Ngige – TUC
Speaking separately in Enugu on Friday on the issue, the Enugu State Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Chukwuma Igbokwe, asked workers to ignore Ngige’s statement that government could not pay the new minimum wage unless some workers were laid off.
According to him, Ngige probably did not know what he was saying when he said that government could not afford to pay the consequential salary adjustment unless the workforce was downsized.
He said that government could pay N580 billion workers wage bill, pointing out that government had already paid N500 billion on arrears of salary.
“I don’t think Ngige knows what he is saying,” the labour leader said.
He said that the organised labour had made it clear that upward increment in worker’s salary became necessary because of the prevailing economic realities in the country such as the increase in monetary foreign exchange, VAT as well as general high cost of living in the country.
“Labour has been magnanimous in scaling down their demand from 66.6 per cent to 29 per cent and 24 per cent, and for this reason, government should heed their demand,” Igbokwe said.