Though negotiations for a new minimum wage are not due till the third quarter of this year, organized labour is negotiating wage awards for workers with the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the removal of petrol subsidy, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Joe Ajoero has said.
Providing more insights into the wage debate at the ongoing International Labour Conference organized by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday, the labour centre explained that there is no ambiguity in the two wages, saying, “Minimum wage is a national wage that must be negotiated with the three tripartite bodies – government, employers and the union – while the wage award is given to workers to alleviate the additional social pressure brought upon the working population by the removal of the subsidy.”
President of NLC, Joe Ajaero, explained that next week’s meeting is on the wage award and not the minimum wage negotiation.
His words: ‘The agreement we had with them is not minimum wage. The agreement we had with the government team is a wage award and it must be understood clearly. The minimum wage will be due early next year. We will, therefore, review it statutorily.”
He argued that the confusion that is trailing wages is caused by the Federal Government’s ill-preparedness for the consequences of removing the subsidy without instituting a palliative framework.
“Now that they have taken action by removing subsidies without providing anything, that is why they are talking about minimum wage. And they are talking at cross-purposes. It is all-important that people understand the concept when they use it wrongly or rightly. We have proposed to them a wage award, which could be implemented immediately without waiting for the statutory period for the minimum wage law or for it to expire,” he stated.
Ajaero hinted that a technical committee will be raised to work out the modalities of the wage award will be and how the percentages will apply across grade levels. The NLC chief also berated the Federal Government for scuttling its planned nationwide protest against the subsidy removal using courts, saying this is the first time a government will successfully use courts to stop a national protest.
“The same government moved ahead to get a court order to stop the action which we proposed. However, the same government knew our determination to go ahead with that action. This is the first time a government would get a court order and still call you to come for negotiation. It was as a result of not knowing our next line of action. Despite the court order we still had an agreement. Whether I am satisfied with the agreement, yes. Whether it will be implemented, that is where the fight is for another day,” he said.
Ajaero alleged that successive governments hid under subsidy regimes to perpetuate corrupt acts for three decades.
He argued that the stoppage of subsidy would end the reign of corruption that characterises the administration of petrol subsidy,
He added: “For over 30 years, it has been the issue of increased pump price of petrol. Now the issue of subsidy has become a reoccurring decimal. We have been asking ourselves, what do we do? Can’t we do things differently? That was how we came up with a module of having a Compressed National Gas (CNG) based on the fact that Nigeria has a large natural gas deposit. The way things stand today, Nigerians do not have an alternative. It is either petrol or nothing. The availability of CNG as a source of energy will open the system up for competition.
That is the only time we can talk about removing petrol subsidy that will not have adverse effects on the ordinary Nigerians.”
Ajaero warned that the group of people that have been benefitting from the subsidy scam will fight back and attempt to frustrate the adoption of CNG to power industries, transport systems and homes.
He said: “We are not deceived because there is going to be a fight. The powerful force behind the subsidy that has fought us all these years would make sure that CNG does not see the light of day. That is when Nigerians should come together for us to look at this alternative and see that it works.”
He insisted that it is important for the Nigerian government to unveil those behind the subsidy and probe money that has been paid on the subsidy administration in the past eight years.
Ajaero also made a case for the proliferation of modular refineries in the country to boost product availability.
The NLC also insisted that government must return the Warri and the Port Harcourt refineries to working ways by ensuring that awarded contracts are concluded as soon as possible.