Examining the Development and Impacts of Trade Unionism in Nigeria (2)

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Kala Esq wrote this piece from Gombe.
Ibrahim Ahmad Kala

By Ibrahim Ahmad Kala, LL.M

Continued from yesterday

It is to be noted that the federal government by its powers conferred on it by the Trade Unions (Central Organisation) Special Provisions Decree of 1976, appointed an Administrator of Trade Unions affairs, assisted by 4 other experts with a charge to:

  1. Take a step for the formation of a single central labour organisation to which shall be affiliated all trade unions in Nigeria; and
  2. Take all steps necessary and encourage the formation whether by amalgamation of Federation of existing trade unions.

At the end of the exercise, the administrators came out with 42 unions of workers streamlined along industrial lines, and 28 associations of employers. At the apex of the pyramid is the new central labour organisation – the Nigerian Labour Congress (NlC) inaugurated on 28th February, 1978.

Since then, the NLC has been in the vanguard of championing the welfare and improved working condition of Nigerian workers. Thus, the NLC’s sustained pressure and dogmatism forced federal government at various times to review workers wages via Commissions such as Morgan Wages Review Commission of 1964, Udoji Commission of 1974, Adebo Commission of 1979, Elrufa’i Commission for the 15% Salary Increment, the Federal Government Tripartite Committees on the new National Minimum Wage headed by Ms AMA Pepple in 2016, and more recently, the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) chaired by the labor Minister, Dr Ngige in reviewing wages and other conditions of employment in public sector 2019.

All these labour crusades translated into the government taking a panic measure at different times by enacting the National Minimum Wages Act following a sustained pressure from the NLC who had pressed down its demands on national minimum wages of N300 per month during the 80’s. The Act fixed the minimum wage at N125 per month that time.

Consequent upon the virulent opposition of the NLC, a new minimum wage of N250 per month was in effect from January, 1991. This was followed by 2000 Act which stipulated N5,500 per month, and shortly thereafter it was made N9000. In the year 2011, the federal government implemented the reviewed minimum wage of N18,000 per month by an Act of the National Assembly.

The federal government last year finally released a circular on the implementation of the N30,000 new minimum wage to federal workers, setting the stage for the labour unions in the states to commence the negotiations on consequential adjustment to the new wage.

According to NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, the minimum wage consequential adjustment deal reached at the federal level is the benchmark that is supposed to guide state governments and other private sector employers of labour to also reach agreement with their workers. Under the agreement reached between federal government and representatives of labour, core civil servants on Grade Level 7 will get 23.2 per cent adjustment; Grade Level 8 (20 per cent), Grade Level 9 (19 per cent), Grade Levels 10-14 (16 per cent) and Grade Levels 15-17 (14 per cent). Other workers on Grade Level 7 will be given (23.2 per cent), while Grade Levels 8-14 will earn (16 per cent) and Grade Levels 15-17 (10.5 per cent). Happilly, some states in the federation have started paying wages on the new scales.

However, with the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic that ravaged the entire world with consequences on the economy, some states governors are mulling the idea of slashing workers’ salaries as part of contributions to the palliative. For instance, the Kaduna State government has slashed 25% of the workers’ salaries, while Gombe state government suspended the implementation of N30,000 minimum wage until the economy improved owing to the fall of revenues accrued to the state from the federation account.

Ditto for Bauchi State which initially called for the suspension of the implementation of the new salary scale but later backtracked because of the pressure mounted on the state government.

NLC president, Waba vehemently rejected the position of the state governments on the deduction and or suspension of the new workers’ salary. In his recent interview with TVC correspondent, he asserted that:

“The new salary scale is the product of collective bargaining and Joint Consultative Committee agreement. It is a product of Law. No party can tamper with it”.

I am comfortably at home with the arguments put forward by the NLC leader. I wish to add that the current Labour Act Cap L1 LFN 2004 provides in Part 1 general protection of workers’ wages, their contract of employment, and terms and conditions of services. For the avoidance of doubt, section 5 of the Act specifically provides:

“Except as provided in the Act, NO ANY employer shall make any deduction from the wages to be paid by the employer to the worker”.

Fortunately, the Act only provided for the pension deductions and union dues. Any other deduction to be made from the workers’ wages including for “contribution toward Covid-19 palliative” is illegal, ultra vires the powers of the government, and therefore, null and void.

Workers should not therefore be forced to donate money from the lean salary that is not even enough to cater for their wellbeing while leaving them in penury.

I shall therefore, continue to call on governments to respect the right of workers particularly on the review and payment of wages in the country.

In conclusion, the Nigerian workers have come a long way. I urge them to continue to sustain the tempo in consonance with the Labour Solidarity Song which first verse has it that:

“When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,

There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;

Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,

But the union makes us strong.”

CHORUS

‘Solidarity forever!

Solidarity forever!!

Solidarity forever!!!

For the union makes us strong.’

Aluta continua. Victoria ascerta!!!

I wish Nigerian workers Happy Workers Day!

Kala Esq wrote this piece from Gombe.

Concluded.

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