EMPLOYEES of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at its National Headquarters in Abuja and State Councils across the country are at the verge of embarking on strike over the non-implementation of the new national minimum wage by the leadership of Comrade Ayuba Wabba, reliable sources in the NLC confided in National Record.
Multiple sources at both the national secretariat and state councils said there is mounting agitation amongst the rank and file of NLC staff that they are no longer able to tolerate the delay in the implementation of the new wage slightly over two years after the amendment to the Minimum Wage Act was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 18, 2019.
According to a source at the Paschal Bafyau Labour House national secretariat in Abuja, the tradition in NLC on matters of wage implementation used to be immediately or soon after the law was passed and payment commenced at the federal level.
“I can tell you with certainty that at the moment, we are not sure if Congress will implement the new minimum wage because we simply don’t understand what is going on. We are consulting at individual levels on what to do.
“Maybe, we will go on strike but I think the disposition of the staff union leadership is a major challenge. The staff union exco is not as active as a union is supposed to be; so if we don’t take a collective decision to confront the leadership, we may after all have to forget the new minimum wage,” said a source who pleaded anonymity as he is not authorised to speak on the matter.
A more definitive statement came from another source who told our correspondent that a meeting of the staff at the national secretariat will hold next week to discuss the matter on whether to formally make demands for implementation to the President.
While corroborating the increasing agitation, the source said apart from an inactive staff union leadership, the secretariat of NLC no longer has the requisite voice for staff welfare as it had had since the founding of the NLC. “The only thing I can say is that the NLC today is a shadow of itself at both secretariat and organisational levels. When wages are being negotiated before passage, the NLC will also be working on what it will translate to for its employees; and as soon as it was passed and signed into law, the NLC often started implementation if not before, then along with federal public servants,” the source added, pointing out the specific instances of wage increment in 2000, 2003 and 2011.
When contacted, Comrade Eustace James, the chairperson of the NLC staff union, which National Record gathered is affiliated to the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU), said it is not true that the staff union is considering strike.
Comrade James stated that his leadership has taken up the issue with the management, which he said is looking into it. When told that the information at the disposal of this reporter suggest that NLC employees are agitated over the non-implementation and may embark on strike soon, Comrade James denied any such move, although he confirmed that staff are truly agitated.
“That is not true; there is no discussion as to going on strike. We have taken up the issue with the management on the need to implement the minimum wage for NLC staff and the management actually had also met at the level of the Establishment Committee and I am told that there was no objection to that and they have taken some steps to look at the financial implication and the possible commencement of implementation. They were supposed to meet before the unfortunate incident of the Congress Treasurer being involved in an accident.
“The idea of going on strike is actually not on the table at all. Yes, staff are agitating, but we have not discussed going on strike or taking any industrial action since we are aware that the management has taken it on. I can tell you in clear terms that the President is actually very keen on ensuring that the minimum wage is implemented for Congress staff and outstanding promotions are also ready,” Comrade James stated.
When asked if he was aware, as a long term senior staff of Congress, of what some staff said is the tradition where minimum wages are usually speedily implemented by Congress when passed into law, and that against this backdrop, the staff might be justified in their current agitation two years after the law was passed and signed into law, and there is still no definite timeline for implementation; Comrade James said: “Like I said, it is legitimate for staff to agitate for the implementation of the minimum wage. But the point that we are spurring to go on strike; I said that is not on the table. I can assure you that even the union has taken on, and has redressed, several measures to ensure that the minimum wage is implemented for staff.
“As you have also said, I am a longstanding staff of NLC, at least I have spent over 20 years in the NLC as a staff, I can also tell you that with some insight we have into the management of Congress; there is really the challenge of funds, most especially as unions are not responding very well; this is without holding on for the management anyway; but I can assure you that we are not relenting.
“We should also compare contemporary times with previous times, the NLC also has a huge burden in terms of expenses, having the number of staff increased, having some responsibilities that have increased the financial burden on the Congress. But like I said, we can’t relent until the minimum wage is implemented for us.
“One assurance we have continuously gotten from the management of Congress is that anytime it is implemented, we are going to get our arrears in full; that I know very well;” Comrade James said.
On the timeline on when he expects full compliance to the minimum wage law by the NLC, Comrade James stated: “But I can also tell you that even today [Tuesday, May 11, 2021; I have engaged with the leadership and they told us that yes, the treasurer had an accident but that they will try as soon as possible to summon a meeting of the Establishment Committee to finalise on the implementation.”
Efforts to speak to Comrade Ismail Bello, the Acting General Secretary of NLC, and Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, failed as they both failed to either pick calls to the mobile phones or respond to text messages sent to them as at press time.