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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 number of employees in the federal public service is not up to one million. They say it is 1.33 million. Let them disaggregate it and tell Nigerians. Break it down and let us do verification.

“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.
 
Ngige: The times call for sacrifice
 
A statement issued by Ngige’s Special Adviser on Media, Nwachukwu Obidiwe, yesterday, quoted the minister as asking workers to make some sacrifice for the country.
 
It also described the minister’s warning about the consequences of meeting labour’s demand as patriotic.
 
The statement said: “The statement made by the minister yesterday (Thursday) concerning the consequential adjustment on the minimum wage is patriotic.

“Government has promised a thorough ventilation of all issues.

“When negotiation resumes government is going to open its books for labour to see the federal government income and expenditure.

“The times call for sacrifice.”
 
Receiving a delegation of the United Labour Congress (ULC) led by its President, Mr. Joe Ajeiro, on Thursday, Ngige had said that the implantation of the new minimum wage based on figures worked out by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) was not sustainable.
 
Government, according to him, does not want a situation where it will have to lay off workers, as doing so will add to the burden of the citizenry.
 
Ngige appealed to labour to accept the consequential adjustment from levels 7 to 17, adding that the federal government had only three months left to implement the new minimum wage.
 
He said: “Government cannot afford that kind of money now. Besides, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is more interested in the lowest cadre of workers which are those on grade level 1 step 1 and level 6 step 1. These are the ones who the N30,000 will have greater impact on.

“Government has done their own homework and brought out what they can use to defend this consequential adjustment. Grade 1 to 6 does not have any problem, but 7 to 14 band and 15 to 17 band, this is where we have the problem.

“So if you push government to go and accede to an increment which its resources cannot accommodate, you are indirectly asking them to retrench workers so that the few that are remaining will get this ‘big big’ money. We don’t want that.

“From 2015 the president has made it clear that he is not out to inflict pains on Nigerians and that he does not want to create unemployment.

“But even at that our increase in population is galloping and our resources are not consequentially increasing to meet up. That is why we have a lot of unemployed youths on the streets today.

“We need to arrive at an agreement as soon as possible so that we can use the 2019 budget allocation to defray this consequential adjustment because it will be bad if we are unable to do it and we finish this financial year by December because the budget circle is going to return to January/December 2020.

“So we have three months only before this recurrent fund are swept back into government treasury. That is the law.”
 
He regretted the inability of the joint negotiating team of both the government and labour to agree on the consequential adjustments, insisting that the new wage may become bloated by workers on grade levels 7-14 and 15-17.
 
Organised labour is already mobilising its members to embark on strike on the 16th of this month.

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