The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, has said the Federal Government will have to retrench to meet a wage bill of N580 billion needed to meet Labour’s demand on the new minimum wage.
Ngige said this on Thursday when the leadership of the United Labour Congress paid him a courtesy visit in his office.
According to a statement by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations of the Ministry, Charles Akpan, Ngige said the Federal Government was avoiding a situation where it would have to lay off workers.
He said throwing workers into unemployment would add to their burden.
The minister pleaded with Labour to accept the consequential adjustment from levels 7 to 17, adding that government had only three months left to implement the new wage.
He stated that government would not promise Labour what it could not pay, adding that no worker deserved to be owed salary.
Ngige disclosed that the Federal Government had so far paid arrears of N500 billion to workers, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
He restated that implementation of the new minimum wage had since commenced for workers on grade level 1 to 6, adding that the development had helped those on the lower cadre in the civil service to move up.
Ngige also advised labour unions to establish an inspectorate division that can work in collaboration with the Inspectorate Department of the ministry to ensure the faithful implementation of the new Minimum Wage and to guard against unfair labour practices, especially in the private sector.
He said government was adopting a new strategy to enforce compliance to the new minimum wage law.
He said: “Our new strategy is to encourage trade unions to create an inspectorate arm that will work hand in hand with our Inspectorate Department in all the states.
“They are to work together; go into factories, companies and industries and look at their books to know what salaries workers are earning.
“With that, we will be sure Nigerians are not underpaid and with that also, we shall ensure that the new Minimum Wage and its consequential adjustment are being implemented faithfully.”
While responding to the union’s demand for the registration of the ULC as a trade centre, Ngige stressed that the registration of the ULC must be done within the confines of the law, adding that the Ministry will uphold the provisions of Section 40 of the Constitution on freedom of association including unionisation.
He said: “We are not saying you won’t be registered.
“We want to register you within the confines of the law.
“Section 35 of the Trade Union Act is very clear on the requirements and process for the registration of a new Labour Centre.
“Though I agree with you that some of the labour laws need amendment but until they are amended, they remain the extant law and all and sundry must obey it.
“I’m excited you said your number is now 37.
“The last time you made an application, it was 16.
“It means you are growing from strength to strength and that the only thing you need to do now is to conform to that aspect of the law; Section 35 of the Trade Union Act that requires you to have twelve brand new unions.”
The President of the ULC, Joe Ajaero, appealed for payment of the new wage, stressing that the private sector should also be compelled to pay the N30,000 minimum wage.
Ajaero said there was the need to review obsolete laws that were not in tune with present realities, noting that a situation where some private sector employers paid their employees N10,000 and N15,000 was unacceptable.