New minimum wage: Workers in Niger Delta states waiting for governments to walk their talk

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In a clime with no social security for workers, who face escalating costs in housing, food, education, and healthcare, the prospect of earning the new minimum wage has excited trade unions in the Niger Delta.

Meanwhile, in a bid to defray financial burden associated with the increment, some Niger Delta State governments have started diversifying their economies to enable them meet financial obligations in infrastructural development.

A cross section of workers pointed out that, though the new minimum wage might improve workers’ welfare at the low end of the ladder in other parts of the country, it would barely meet the needs of workers in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta States. Also for workers in Port Harcourt, Benin, Uyo and Warri, the new minimum wage does not certainly match the cost of living in these cities. While workers welcome the increment, there is general consensus that it will not actually translate to improvement in their standard of living.However, the state governments, which have expressed readiness to pay the new wage, said they would boost workers’ welfare and possibly promote social inclusiveness.

Rivers Taking Steps To Implement New Wage
IN Rivers State, the government has appropriated N480bn for 2019 fiscal year. The budget captured the state’s infrastructural needs and made provision for the new minimum wage.A substantial part of the recurrent expenditure of N157, 122, 354, 563 proposed for 2019 is for payment of staff salaries. Excerpt from the budget revealed that personnel emolument alone would gulp N79, 585,058,808.60. This amount constitutes about 50 per cent of the state’s entire recurrent expenditure for this year. The increase in the figure is as a result of the need to provide for the anticipated increase in the minimum wage for civil servants.

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Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said with this, the state is in a position to pay the minimum wage. He also disclosed that this year’s recurrent expenditure made provisions for staff promotion arrears and new recruitments into the state’s civil service.

Though Rivers is on a good financial stead to pay the new minimum wage, the Governor is, however, of the view that Nigerian workers will be better off, when states are allowed to fix separate minimum wages in line with their financial capacity. This, he said, is because states’ financial capacities vary.He said: “And for us, therefore, the single national minimum wage system is yet another lie that betrays the distortions in our federation and the structured dislocation of states in the power equation between Federal Government and the federating states.

“It is our view that the country and its workers would be better off, if states are allowed to fix and pay their own minimum wages indexed to the prevailing cost of living and ability to pay. When this happens, it is possible that some states may go beyond the minimum threshold to pay a living wage, which is what our workers truly need.”Wike, who recently said Rivers has emerged from the brink of economic disaster to an era of fiscal sustainability, promised not to introduce new taxes despite the wage increase.

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According to him, rather depend on revenue from the federation account, the state would continue with her drive to generate more revenue from alternative internal sources to fund substantial parts of the budget.“While we may not introduce new taxes and levies in 2019, I have directed the state’s Internal Revenue Service to plug all existing tax loopholes, crack down on tax defaulters and ensure full implementation of our revenue laws, to shore up our IGR collections,” he said.

Had the state government not taken the initiative to compel civil servants to undergo mandatory biometric screening and capture, it would have been in a dire strait financially and unable to pay the new minimum wage.

In 2016, the government discovered that more than 1, 000 civil servants were receiving salaries in different ministries. Wike also discovered that over 50,000 civil servants, including ghost workers, were taking a large chunk of the state’s revenue.He said then: “There are cabals in the civil service making money. I have the political will and I will stop the trend, whereby government will be paying over N5bn as salaries and some people will be taking half of the money.”

Rivers State chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Mrs. Beatrice Itubo, has lauded the state government’s commitment to respond positively to payment of the new minimum wage.She said: “Our thanks go to the government of Rivers State under the competent leadership of Governor Wike for showing preparedness to pay the new minimum wage, as soon as formalities are done with.”

Itubo told The Guardian that despite the fact that government and Labour agreed that the new minimum wage fell far short of what was estimated to be a living wage, the N30, 000 would help improve the lots of workers on the bottom rung of wage distribution.The Secretary of Rivers State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ike Wigodo, said the N30, 000 minimum wage is payable by all states, if they prioritise workers’ welfare and cut down on cost of running government.

He said: “It is only in Nigeria a federal legislator goes home with huge amount of between N22m and N33m per month and yet, the governors are saying they cannot pay a pittance of N30, 000 to workers. What a nauseating paradox.”

No Excuse For Cross River Not To Pay —TUC
ALSO in Cross River State, the government has expressed readiness to pay the N30, 000 new minimum wage.The state Governor, Ben Ayade, who gave this assurance recently at the May Day rally in Calabar through the Secretary to the State Government, Tina Banku Agbor, pledged to pay the new minimum wage, once the modalities have been worked out by the Federal Government.

On how to go about this, Ayade said the state was determined to break away from overdependence on federation account. Hence, it was embarking on mega agricultural programmes to produce cocoa, rice and poultry farms, as well as processing mills and others, which would help the state, pay its huge salary wage bills.

Already, the state government is encouraging farmers with incentives, especially from the Anchor Borrowers programme to invest more in cocoa, rice and poultry farms, so as to take advantage of the mills that are being put in place by the state government. Presently, the state boasts of a large number of cocoa and rice farms, located in the central and northern parts of the state.

On poultry, Ayade said: “We have just taken delivery of four containers load of equipment for our frozen chicken processing factory, Cala-Chicka. We are expecting 40 more containers for the entire poultry value chain in the state.“By implication, we also have equipment for automated chicken slaughter house, and processing and packaging of frozen chicken. We also have three different equipment for three direction factories, located in three different local government areas, all intended to drive the frozen chicken export business. We are taking advantage of protein deficiency in Africa to venture into the chicken business.

“In the fullness of time, the world will see that Cross River State is in the right direction. Our dream is manifesting and they will begin to appreciate our effort, as our wealth creation and economy diversification drive is beginning to yield positive results.”The Chairman of NLC in Cross Rivers State, Comrade Benedict Ukpepi, has urged the civil servants to have faith in the Governor, as he may be the first governor to pay the new minimum wage, as “his body language tells me he is ready to implement what has been passed into law.”

On his part, the state Chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Clarkson Otu, told The Guardian workers were awaiting implementation of the new wage policy.He said: “There is no formal position now on the minimum wage issue other than what has been happening at the national level. We in Labour are waiting for the structure, which the implementation committee is working out with Federal Government and the Salary and Wages Commission. We are still waiting for the outcome of the committee’s work, and when it is out, that is when we will take a formal position.

“Our Governor has said in several fora that he would pay the minimum wage. Why won’t they pay? They will pay, if they apply resources judiciously. Removal of joint account may not affect us. Though the governors are not being sincere, we know the waste in government, how moneys are used for unviable things. We got bailout, Paris Fund and monies that were not even budgeted for. There is no excuse for Cross River not to pay.”

Akwa Ibom Working Out Modality To Adopt
ON January 14, 2019, while consulting with NLC, TUC, United Labour and other affiliated unions in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, expressed readiness to pay the minimum wage, once Federal Government gives assent to the bill. Many observers took it as mere political statement, since he was seeking reelection.He said: “Labour is the key to development of any organisation. You cannot relegate Labour to the background. Minimum wage has never been an issue, just that it has been a matter of legislation. We are waiting for directions from the Federal government, and once the direction is given, we will pay.

So, to reaffirm his earlier pledge to workers, the Governor, on May 1 2019, during this year’s Workers Day, said his government would implement the N30, 000 minimum wage. He, therefore, urged the committee he set up in this regard to carry out the necessary documentation to facilitate the process.

He said: “I want to assure you, being the first governor to set up a committee to review and advise on implementation of the minimum wage, I want to assure you that Akwa Ibom State government will implement the new minimum wage, after you have done all your own side of the necessary documentation. Please ensure you document properly, as the problem has always been documentation. The ball is now in your court.”

The state NLC Chairperson, Sunny James, told The Guardian that the position has not changed, as they await directives from the union’s national body.He called on the committee on minimum wage to conclude its assignment on time, so as to prevent accumulation of arrears.He said: “Since government said it would pay, it has not said anything to the contrary. The only thing keeping the matter in the cooler is because we are waiting for the national table of payment, which is not out yet.

Delta Reiterates Commitment To Pay New Wage
SIMILARLY in Delta State, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has reassured workers the N30, 000 minimum wage would be paid promptly. Okowa gave the assurances through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr.Charles Aniagwu, who told The Guardian: “The efforts of trade unions towards promotion of Nigerian workers’ interests have not gone unnoticed. I wish to reiterate the state government’s determination to pay workers the new minimum wage approved by the Federal Government.”

He explained that government’s commitment to pay the new wage was in tandem with his campaign promises, saying, “The state is awaiting outcome of Federal Government’s Implementation Committee to enable us ensure that workers enjoy the new minimum wage.”He appealed to Labour unions to sustain the cordial relationship in the state, while also thanking the union for its support, contributions and understanding that had contributed to the existing peace between government and workers.

The state NLC Chairman, Mr. Goodluck Ofobruku, who is also the incumbent state Chairman, Medical and Health Workers Union, pledged to work in workers’ interest and to protect their welfare.

Bayelsa Waiting For Wages Commission
ON his part, Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, has hinted that the state was not afraid of paying the new wage, but was merely waiting for the Wages Commission to come out with modalities for its implementation.He said: “The government of Bayelsa has announced to Labour leaders we are not against the N30, 000 minimum wage principle on different times and fora. Now, we are waiting for the Wages Commission to work out the modalities. We still have to wait for it to work out the details and send to different states.”

Meanwhile, the state NLC Chairman, Mr. John Ndiomu, has called on the Federal Government to quickly start the implementation.He said: “God has already granted the signing of the new minimum wage into law, and we believe what God has ordained will surely come to pass. We are just waiting for government’s action. We call on workers in the state to be committed. The struggle is not the duty of Labour leaders alone. We need all workers to get what we want.”

Edo To Pay More Than New Wage, If…
EDO State government has hinted it might pay its workers more than the national wage, if its revenue profile improves.Already, Governor Godwin Obaseki has set up a joint committee for implementation of the new minimum wage. He has also disclosed plans to harmonise pension, based on the new minimum wage.

He said: “Edo State is ready to immediately commence implementation of the new minimum wage, even though we are awaiting the detailed guidelines, which will be issued by the National Salary, Income and Wages Commission. Before then, a joint team of representatives of Labour and government will be constituted immediately to finalise modalities for payment.”

The Governor recently disclosed that when minimum wage was N18, 000, Edo State was paying N25, 000. He declared that if the state can improve its internally generated revenue, he would in reciprocate by increasing the minimum wage.“What it means is that all of you have to commit to working hard.

What we pay you is not what is important. Rather, it is what you produce. And if government is paying you N30, 000, are you producing N30, 000 monthly for government,” he queried.

-GUARDIA-

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