Junior workers in the employment of the Federal Government have started receiving the N30,000 minimum wage, Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, said at the weekend.
Ngige, who spoke in Enugu, said the payment to levels 1 to 6 commenced last month.
His claim was corroborated by the National President of the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) and a member of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council Mr. Lawrence Amaechi.
According to Amaechi, the junior workers received the new wage as their August salary.
The minister dismissed the claim by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) that the Federal Government was reluctant to pay the new minimum wage, which was signed into law in April by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The minister said the only issue at stake was the executive cadre of Grades level 7 to 17, which required consequential adjustment that is still being negotiated.
Ngige said: “The major hurdle in the minimum wage issue has been crossed. We have crossed the rubicon and the rubicon was getting a new rate for the minimum wage. And the minimum wage is the lowest remuneration paid as compensation to a worker for his services and this is for the least paid worker in Nigeria.
“It is for those on lowest rung of the payment ladder. And in the public service, it is for the workers on Grade Level 1 Step 1. We moved it from N18, 000 as in the old Act to N30, 000. To me, that was the major crossing of the rubicon.
“When you do that, there is what is called consequential adjustment upstairs because you have by moving N18, 000 to N30, 000 crossed some salary grade levels and surpassed them.
“Therefore, you must get those people that you have crossed and passed to a higher level than N30, 000, which the lowest person now is earning. So, that is the history of the consequential adjustment.
“And when you also do that for the lower level, Grade Level 1 to Grade Level 6, the executive cadre, which starts from Grade Level 7 to 17, you must also give them a consequential movement, so that they will have a feel that their subordinates have moved up to make them, because some people now in Level 6 now move into old Level 10 salary structure by the new minimum wage adjustment.
“So, you see now that this is something you must do across board, consequentially. But, will the rates be the same? No. From Grade Level 1, anything you are doing there is consequential and must be done through negotiation or what we call in labour parlance, collective bargaining.
“And once you do collective bargaining and agree on something, it is what you call Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). So, it is the collective bargaining that is now done for consequential adjustment.
“Labour knows that, in consequential adjustments and even in collective bargaining, there are cardinal principles guiding CBA and part of the principles guiding CBA is ability of employers to pay, because there is no need for employer going to agree on something he cannot pay and tomorrow, you are back to the negotiating table. So, that is what is there.
“Unfortunately for government, after the agreement was signed into law by the President on April 18, by May 29, the cabinet was dissolved. So, the committee of government, government side negotiation was cancelled.
“The members were the Ministers of Finance, Budget & National Planning; Labour, Head of Service of the Federation and the Secretary to Federal Government (SGF).
“Everybody, except the Head of Service, was dissolved by implications. So, permanent secretaries by implications moved in to fill the gaps. And they were the people who started negotiating with the Joint Negotiating Council of Labour, because we have what is called Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), that is a public service council.
“This is because what we are now talking about are workers in the public service, not workers in the private sector. The private sector workers are supposed to do their own negotiation with their employers. But, negotiation with government workers, because public service is government, is what is now going on and which is stalemated.
“I have told you that we exited as ministers and so, the former committee did not have the original colour as it should be. Now that the cabinet has been formed, and even with the exit of Head of Service, that government committee will be reconstituted and plans are on for it to be reconstituted next week, so that we can then engage JNC, Joint Negotiation Council of labour.
“We are not negotiating with the labour union executive simplicita because this does not concern every worker. It is workers in the public service, what you call public sector. So, there is a difference and that difference is what I want the public to know. This is one.
“The second leg is that, between Grade Level 1 Step 1 to Grade Level 6, there is a partial agreement already and the consequential adjustment has been worked out and the Federal Government has paid the August salary based on the minimum wage. August salary has been paid. That is the report the accountant-general gave us in a meeting.
“So, categorically, government has started partial implementation of minimum wage.
“They have started applying the minimum wage payment. So, they have paid in August. They are going to pay in September with arrears spanning from April 18 to workers in this band that I have so told you. And as for workers from Grade Level 7 to 17, that their negotiation with the committee of permanent secretaries, representing us, has hit the rocks, we, as government are going to reconstitute the committee and engage them.
“So, they should not be issuing threat of strike because they know that government has not settled down. They know it. They have not seen my face in any of their negotiation because I have not gotten any briefing from those who were in the committee before us.
“They have to do us a handover of where they stopped in the negotiation. That is how government functions and then, we take it from there. They have not done a formal handover. We are going to reconstitute a committee next week and the old committee will do a handover.
“I can assure you that we’ll speedily negotiate with labour and the JNC. So, it is not good for them to say government is dragging their feet. They know the problem. They know government has not settled down. So, that is the situation.”
Amaechi added: “They have gone to commence the payment. They told us that they have started the payment and we have confirmed from our members that they were paid in August and have promised to pay the arrears in September.
“But negotiations have stalled for now and during our last meeting, we said that we were going to report to our principals, which we have done. We are waiting for directives from our members on what to do.
“But, we have started mobilising against them and hope that they will see reason and improve on what they are offering. The meeting had adjourned and there is no date yet for the next meeting.”