Frank Ikpefan, Abuja
THE Federal Government cannot meet the demand of Labour in the new minimum wage regime, Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige, said on Tuesday.
According to him, the economy will grind to a halt like that of Venezuela, should the government accede to Labour’s request, the minister added.
Although the Federal Government has started paying workers on Grade Levels 1 to 6, the N30,000 minimum wage, there is disagreement with Labour unions over the percentage of increment for senior workers.
Ngige said about 1.4 million workers in federal public service would take 33 per cent of government budget in 2020, should Labour’s demand be accepted.
Ngige explained that the government would have no money to build roads, airports, rails, health centres and schools if it should spend 33 per cent of the 2020 budget to pay salaries and wages.
The government cannot shut down the economy because it wants to pay workers’ wages, he said.
However, after talks yesterday, both the government and Labour shifted grounds in their positions on the implementation of the new wage.
The negotiations will continue on Wednesday (today) in Abuja.
Also on Tuesday, the United Labour Congress (ULC) foreclosed its participation in the strike call by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
Ngige, who spoke while receiving members of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), led by its National President, Ibrahim Khaleel, in Abuja said: “We cannot allow government to shut down the economy because it wants to pay salaries and wages. The 2020 Budget of N10.3 trillion has N3.8 trillion as personnel cost without overhead. If you add running cost and other incidental costs, the total recurrent budget as presented to the National Assembly has taken 76 per cent. Where do we get the money to build roads, airport, rails, health centres, schools etc.
“It is a matter of balancing a budget that is 76 per cent recurrent and 24 per cent capital, for me, it is nothing to cheer about. In the 76 per cent, government has captured N200 billion for consequential adjustment for the minimum wage and so on. These are all part of personnel. N160 billion is for consequential adjustment of the minimum wage and not total package of workers’ salaries. Everybody has to make sacrifice. We must plug leakages.
“The ghost workers should go and we should know who the real workers are. As of today, we have 1.3 million persons in the federal civil service and maybe it will be more by the time we finish bringing everybody into the IPPS.
“The number of workers, 1.4 million or 1.5 million out of 200 million people take 33 per cent of the budget which has deficit. It is important we know this. It is up to us to use all the money to pay salaries and the economy will grind to a halt and be like Venezuela.”
The minister urged labour to make sacrifice by accepting what the government have offered.
The minister said that he would not sit and watch labour intimidate government.
“We must give government benefit of the doubt. I am for labour and I will not sit and watch the being cheated. I will also not seat and watch labour intimidate government. If you dangle strike, it is intimidation and ILO Convention does not permit it.
“People should negotiate freely. If government threatens you in the course of negotiation, it is intimidation.
“I am your friend and friend of government. In fact, government feels I am not doing enough. That is why I am talking to you so that you can talk to your people,” he said.
The Federal Government and Labour leaders yesterday shifted grounds as talks resume today on the consequential adjustment on the salaries of senior civil servants.
Tuesday’s parley between the Federal Government team, Labour unions and and members of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) ended without the parties agreeing on what to adopt as consequential adjustment on the new minimum wage.
The decision to continue with the negotiation by 2pm today foreclosed the kick-off of the planned nationwide strike by workers over the non-implementation of the minimum wage for workers on Grade Levels seven to 17.
It was learnt that Labour shifted its earlier position from 29 per cent to 25 per cent for grade levels seven to 14 and 20 per cent for levels 15 to 17 as against the earlier demand of 24 per cent.
The Federal Government shifted its earlier position and offered to pay 17 per cent to levels seven to nine; 15 per cent to levels 10 to 14 and 12 per cent to levels 15 to 17.
The Federal Government had proposed to offer 11 per cent increase for officers on grade levels 07 to 14 and 6.5 per cent adjustment for workers of grade levels 15 to 17.
The Labour team was led by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Deputy President Amaechi Asogwuni, General Secretary Emmanuel Ugbaoja, JNPSNC Secretary, Alade Lawal, President of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, Ibrahim Khaleel, and JNPSNC member, Lawrence Amaechi
On the government team led by the Head of Service of the Federation (HoCSF), Mrs. Folashade Yemi- Esan, were Ngige, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo and the Acting Chairman, National Salaries Income and Wages Commission, Mr. Ekpo Nta.
Asogwuni told reporters after the meeting that lasted for more than eight hours that he was hopeful that an agreement would be reached at tomorrow’s (today’s) meeting.
He said: “So far, commitment has been shown, but we believe that the areas still in contest are critical. Therefore, the government representatives are urged to also on their part, see how they can shift ground positively in order to mitigate the agitation ahead.
The HoCSF said: “We had a very fruitful deliberation today. The Labour side has discovered that there is just one side – the welfare of the workers. So, we worked very well today (yesterday). Both sides have made a lot of concessions but we discovered that there are some grey areas that need to be ironed out.”