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The false dawn of a new wage
Seventeen months after the new minimum wage law came into effect, many states, including some of the oil-rich, are yet to implement it. But, some not-so-rich states have been paying the new wage, write our correspondents NWANOSIKE ONU, KOLADE ADEYEMI, ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE, ERNEST NWOKOLO, OKUNGBOWA AIWERIE, OGOCHUKWU ANIOKE, UJA EMMANUEL, NSA GILL, CHRIS NJOKU, LINUS OOTA and ONIMISI ALAO
When President Muhammadu Buhari signed the minimum wage bill into law on April 18 last year, not many workers would have imagined they would still not earn a new salary over a year later.
The National Assembly passed the bill, which increased the minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000, last March 19 and it was transmitted to the President on April 2.
The law’s implementation has proved to be a false dawn as many states still pay the old wage 17 months after its passage.
For others, negotiations are ongoing with Labour over implementation and salary adjustments.
Before the law was signed, some states struggled to pay the N18, 000 wages, with the Federal Government providing occasional bailouts.
It was not surprising that some states complained about their inability to pay the new wage, and with the outbreak of Coronavirus, many states now have a ready eaxcuse for further delaying the new wage payment.
The cost of food items is on the rise. The pump price of petrol rose with the “deregulation” of the downstream sector. Electricity tariff was also hiked, with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) bemoaning the overall impact on workers, including those who are fortunate to earn the new wage.
The non-paying states
Plateau State said the COVID-19 pandemic affected its minimum wage payment plans.
Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dan Manjang said: “We used to get about N3 billion in a month from the Federation Account. At a point, it came down to N1.2 billion.
“Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) was halted for months because we had to lock down the state. We try to cope with the situation and think outside the box.
“We have had to cut the cost of governance by 40 per cent. Allowances of public servants were cut down by 50 per cent.”
Manjang said despite the challenges, the state has continued to pay the old wage and even cleared arrears of about nine months.
The Head of Service, Mr Izam Azi, said the state was committed to paying the new wage once things improve.
He said: “The payment of the new minimum wage in Plateau State was to commence in March.
“Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which negatively affected revenue, the new wage had to be suspended.
“However, the state government is still committed to the payment of the new wage as soon as the situation improves.”
Mr. James Diwa, Chairman of the Joint Negotiating Council, who represents the NLC on the minimum wage committee, confirmed that the state’s civil servants were yet to be paid the new wage.
“The Plateau State government has not paid any minimum wage to civil servants. We started negotiations around January. We were assured by the government that implementation would start in March.
“As a result of COVID-19, the government suspended the payment. Up to this moment, they are yet to say when they will begin the payment. We know things are difficult for states in the country,” he said.
Nasarawa is among the states yet to implement the new minimum wage.
Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Planning, Haruna Ogbole, said the pandemic had a devastating effect on the economy.
According to him, the state raised N1.2 billion IGR in February and was hoping to raise at least N2 billion in March before the pandemic.
The situation, he said, forced the state to revise its budget and redirect resources to restarting the economy by focusing on job creation, meeting the needs of the vulnerable, battling insecurity and attracting investment.
NLC Chairman, Yusuf Sarki Iya, is disappointed with the state’s inability to implement the new wage.
He said: “Labour is not happy with the delay and we are hoping that government will look at it holistically and try to see that it is our entitlement; it is a product of the law.
“The government has accepted to consider and adopt the table as provided by the Federal Government for levels one to six.
“What we are discussing right now is on the consequential adjustment from Grade Level 7 and above and we are still discussing it.”
Trade Union Congress (TUC) Chairman Mohammed Doma said there were other labour issues that need to be resolved.
He said: “Some have worked for about 10 to11 years without a promotion. We want the issue addressed. We also want outstanding arrears of salaries cleared before we can discuss the new minimum wage.
“Even pension issues are yet to be resolved. So, we can’t make any headway until the government clears these issues for us. We are still discussing at the committee level.”
Deputy Governor, Dr Emmanuel Akabe, said civil servants on grade levels 7 to 16 were earning salaries above the minimum wage scale.
He blamed the inability to pay the new wage on the paucity of funds.
Akabe told our correspondent: “The state government has resolved to pay new minimum wage on grade levels 1 to 6.
“For levels 7 to 16, what Nasarawa is paying to civil servants on these levels is even higher than most states that have implemented the new minimum wage.”
Benue State is yet to implement the new law
Governor Samuel Ortom had said during the NLC delegates’ conference in Makurdi that Benue workers were worth more than N30, 000. Since then, nothing else has been heard about its implementation.
NLC Chairman Comrade Godwin Anya could not be reached for comments on the matter.
Officials at the NLC Secretariat refused to speak on the new wage implementation.
Commissioner for Finance David Olofu referred our correspondent to the Head of Service Veronica Oyeke, who was unavailable at the Secretariat.
Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Terver Akase, asked our correspondent to check back; Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour Chief Ode Enyi declined comment.
A Ministry of Agriculture worker, Paul Omale, told our correspondent that the government was yet to implement the new wage, even as Labour leaders were still negotiating with the government.
Imo State government said the new wage will be paid as soon as negotiations are concluded
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba said talks were ongoing with the Joint Negotiation Committee.
NLC Chairman, Comrade Austin Chilakpo added: “We met the governor recently and he directed the Secretary to the State Government to resume deliberation on it. The deliberation was stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In Cross River State, labour leaders said what the government pays as minimum wage is far from what is in the law.
A labour leader, Comrade Stephen Ansa, said the NLC needed to do more to get the best deal for workers.
Besides, he alleged that the state has refused to reinstate over 2, 000 workers whose names were dropped from the payroll, even as gratuity is in arrears of about five years.
NLC Chairman Comrade Benedict Ukpekpi said: “Nothing has changed.”
Commissioner for Finance, Asuquo Ekpenyong lamented the negative impact of the global pandemic on the economy.
“Cross River State is not left out in this crisis caused by COVID-19. It has caused untold hardship across the world. This economic crisis has had a negative effect on the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” he said.
He said the Ben Ayade administration has, therefore, reviewed its 2020 budget and amended it in line with the present economic realities, including the provision of relief packages for various sectors.
Delta State, despite its oil-rich status, temporarily suspended the new minimum wage
With a wage bill of N7.7 billion and a workforce of over 48,000, the new wage was suspended for a category of civil servants due to the pandemic.
NLC Chairman, Comrade Goodluck Ofobruku, and his TUC counterpart, Bolum Martins, said the payment suspension was understandable.
Commissioner for Finance, Fidelis Tilije said the drop in oil production from 2.3 million barrels per day to 1.4 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the state economically.
Beside expenses in tackling the pandemic, the government was forced to put on hold plans to widen the tax net, which affected IGR.
It is not the best of times for the Dapo Abiodun administration in Ogun State due to paucity of funds.
No thanks to the pandemic, workers threatened a showdown over unpaid minimum wage, 134 months unremitted pension deductions and zero-remittance of National Housing Fund deductions to the Federal Mortgage Bank.
They also alleged non-restoration of payment of gross salary, non-payment of gratuity to retirees since 2011, unpaid allowance and non-promotion of members of staff since 2018, among others.
The governor said he set up a joint committee to assess the impact of COVID-19 on welfare of members of staff and to address the issues.
“By far the most pressing issue, however, is the commencement of the payment of the new minimum wage as agreed between the government and labour, and some other related matters,” he said.
In July, the 2020 budget was slashed from N450 billion to N280 billion.
Commissioner for Finance, Dapo Okubadejo said despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, the state government would not abandon the agreement reached with Labour on the new minimum wage implementation.
There appears to be confusion in Anambra State over the new wage.
NLC Chairman, Jerry Nnubia, said an additional N2, 000 or N3, 000 on salaries each month does not amount to minimum wage.
He said: “We negotiated and agreed with the government on issues of minimum wage and consequential adjustment on January 24. Implementation was to take effect the same month.
“When the payment started, we saw in our salaries N2, 000 and N3, 000 additions in breach to what we signed.”
According to him, the government blamed it on computer hitches.
“We were at that stage before the pandemic set in, and it has really affected the process. We are still engaging with the government to settle the issue,” he said.
Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba told our correspondent that workers had been receiving minimum wage.
He said: “The workers are happy and have been singing Governor Willie Obiano’s praises. Anambra is paying the minimum wage.”
The paying states
Adamawa State is among the few that have been paying the minimum wage.
Governor Ahmadu Fintiri had, in May, announced cost-saving measures, including a downward review of the N183 billion 2020 Budget by 20 per cent and cuts in overhead expenses by 50 per cent, among others.
The government, which was among the first last year to announce its readiness to pay the new minimum wage, has been fulfilling the pledge.
The state has been paying a minimum of N32, 000 per month since last November.
NLC Chairman, Emmanuel Fashe, described Governor Fintiri as a man of his word, who listens to workers and strives to meet their demands.
Ebonyi State government said it commenced the new minimum wage payment in January.
Commissioner for Information, Uchenna Orji said: “Workers get their salaries between 15 and 20 of every month unfailingly.”
Despite the dwindling federal allocation to Akwa Ibom, the state pays the new minimum wage.
The state was forced to cut its 2020 budget from N597.73 billion to N195 billion.
Aside paying salaries as and when due, the government has paid arrears of pensions and gratuities.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Comrade Iniobong Ememobong said: “The mainstay of the country’s revenue which is crude oil was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 problem started soon as after we implemented the new minimum wage. So, the wage bill has increased but the resources inflow has reduced drastically.”
NLC Chairman, Comrade Sunny James, said the workers were impressed with the state government for living up to its financial obligations to workers, particularly on minimum wage.
He said: “We don’t have any problem with minimum wage in Akwa Ibom. The minimum wage is paid in Akwa Ibom in line with the national percentages.
“With the application of the percentages agreed by the Federal Government, Akwa Ibom workers get their minimum wage of N33, 000.
“Before the new wage law, we were enjoying higher minimum wage. While the national wage was N18, 000, that of the state was N19, 200. So, with the application of the new percentage, ours is still higher than the national wage.”
With an average of N2.5 billion monthly Federal allocation and IGR of about N2 billion monthly, Kaduna State has been implementing the new minimum wage.
The state is among the first to implement the N30, 000 minimum wages, having begun payment in September last year.
The State Executive Council in August approved the payment of the new wage and consequential adjustments with effect from September 1 last year.
The false dawn of a new wage