The Federal Government on Tuesday slammed governors calling for a reduction in the national minimum wage of N18, 000, saying they had no right to make the demand since the present figure was a product of tripartite agreement.
The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) Chairman and Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari had recently said the N18, 000 minimum wage was no longer feasible following a sharp drop in federal allocation to states as a result of dwindling federal revenue.
The NGF chairman further claimed that the current minimum wage was imposed on state governors by the federal government.
But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, chided the governors for their recent position on the minimum wage, saying they were only playing politics with the issue.
Ngige said rather than contemplate reducing minimum wage, the government would want workers to be paid higher whenever the economic situation in the country improves.
He made these views known at a meeting with the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.
The Minister, however, passed some of the blame for the heated debate that trailed the minimum wage reduction statement by the governors on organised labour.
According to him, “when the NLC joined the governors in talking about minimum wage, with the governors saying we can’t pay N18, 000 minimum wage and NLC says it is time for us to ask for increase, we now know that these are talks that are heating up the system.
“The NLC knows better that the governors are playing politics. This is one matter that you cannot play politics with because it is a matter of rule of law. The law in place now is the Minimum Wage Act enacted by the National Assembly and the National Assembly derived their power from the Exclusive List of the constitution which gives them power to make laws on labour related matters including minimum wage.
“So, anybody who wants to talk about minimum wage should go to the National Assembly or ask the President to send an executive bill which can be discussed and it will be a tripartite discussion, involving public hearing.
“Please let a sleeping dog lie, because this country is going through a very difficult time now and requires your prayers and support. Nobody can reduce wages now. If anything, if you have more money, you pay higher”.
On the ongoing war against corruption and working conditions for the Nigerian worker, Ngige said “The third thing which is also one of the pillars of government is the fight against corruption. Corruption has eaten so deep into the fabric of the Nigerian system that if you are not corrupt, you look abnormal.
“The labour laws need some tinkering because some of them are very old. Even the penalty that are prescribed in them are very old. You see some laws which says that if people abuse expatriate quota, they pay a fine of N2, 000. It doesn’t make sense.
“As a ministry, we will look at all these laws and with the Attorney General of the Federation, we will make sure that we fast track some of these laws so that the necessary penalties that are commensurate with labour offences committed are meted out to the offending parties. We will be needing your input.
“We want to reinvigorate our laws and give the Nigerian workers a decent work environment as prescribed by the ILO conventions”.
The Minister also reiterated the resolve of the Muhammadu Buhari administration to create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in the country, noting that the government was aware that unemployment is the easiest gateway to instability and insecurity.
He also said that the government, in a bid to show the seriousness it attaches to youth empowerment, has budgeted N500 billion to address the issue of unemployment, and poverty alleviation.