3 Weeks to Wabba’s Exit, NLC Staff Grumble Over 31 Months Minimum Wage Arrears

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By Peace O. Aboje

EMPLOYEES of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) are still grumbling over alleged non-payment of 31 months of arrears from consequential adjustment arising from the National Minimum Wage increment which took effect from April 2018.

Comrade Ajaero, NLC President-in-waiting.

The employees of NLC had since the passage and signing of the 2018 National Minimum Wage Act complained about its non-implementation by the leadership of Comrade Ayuba Wabba as President of Congress.

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The workers had insisted that the delay in the new wage implementation by the NLC was the first time that staff of the foremost labour centre in Nigeria had to wait for over three years before tasting what they, more than any set of workers, had struggled for. The workers had in the past mounted pressure and even threatened to protest the non-implementation before December 2021 when the NLC commenced payment of the backlog.

Comrade Wabba, outgoing President of NLC.

Although the organs of NLC, National Record gathered, had approved the implementation some months after President Muhammadu Buhari had on April 18, 2018 signed the new wage into law, the Wabba leadership had delayed implementation on the excuse that the Congress, as NLC is popularly called by staff and affiliates, did not have enough money to do so.

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Reliable sources at the National Secretariat and State Councils of Congress told National Record under the cover of anonymity that staff of NLC are still owed 31 months of arrears of consequential adjustment that naturally follow every wage increase.

Comrade Emma Ugboaja, NLC’s General Secretary.

“Though salaries and end-of-year gifts and 13th month pay, as had been the tradition in Congress over the years, have been regularly paid, but we are still being owed 31 months from minimum wage arrears as a result of consequential adjustment,” the source said.

According to another source, who corroborated that all staff are still being owed 31 months’ arrears, added that when the NLC led workers to protest Kaduna State Government’s anti-worker policies, Governor Nasir el-Rufai had to hit back at the NLC telling the leadership to go and pay its own workers first before making any demands of the state government or lead any protest against his state.

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Several sources, which corroborated one another on the payment of the arrears so far made by the NLC, revealed that the first tranche of arrears of six months was paid on December 31, 2021 while the second tranche of five months was paid on February 23, 2022.

“After over three years of non-implementation of the minimum wage, on 31st December, 2021, we were paid a backlog of 6 months, and then on 23rd February, we were again paid another five months. Since then, we have not been paid anything.

“Note that the arrears had accumulated up to 42 months before the December 31 2021 payment  was made. At the moment, if you deduct the 11 months so far paid, we are still owed 31 months of the arrears, which we gathered from the national secretariat that the President said he will not pay,” a source from one of the state councils of NLC told National Record.

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Several attempts by the reporter to reach the NLC President proved abortive as the reporter’s calls consistently got busy tone, and when not busy, ignored.

But NLC’s Head of the Department of Information, Comrade Benson Upah, when contacted said the Congress was not owing its staff any minimum wage arrears stressing that the minimum wage payments were implemented immediately after it was passed in 2019.

“Where is NLC owing its workers, where?” Comrade Upah asked when asked by the reporter if and why the NLC was still owing its staff arrears from the national minimum wage increment.

After explaining that the NLC was said to be initially owing 42 months but had defrayed 11 months out of the total backlog, and that it was remaining 31 months of arrears; Comrade Upah said: “I am not aware of that.”

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The reporter again asked: “So in essence, you’re saying NLC is not owing any arrears of minimum wage to its workers?” to which Comrade Upah responded: “No!”

The reporter and Comrade Upah further engaged in the following conversation:

Reporter: When the minimum wage of N30,000 was passed and signed into law in 2018, NLC reportedly didn’t commence implementation immediately; don’t you think that the non-implementation of the new minimum wage immediately it was signed into law indicate that the leadership of NLC does not have the interest or welfare of its workers at heart?

Comrade Upah: Who gave you that one? NLC implemented!

Reporter: “Immediately?

Comrade Upah: Yes!

Reporter: So, in effect, you are saying all…

Comrade Upah: [Cuts in] …No, listen to me, listen to me. You can come and check our; is it pay roster or whatever name it is called. If at the time the minimum wage law was passed into law if any staff of NLC was earning below that minimum wage, I think you are okay; you understand?… There is a difference between adjustment and payment of minimum wage, do you understand? We were paying above that…but of course if you are talking about issue of consequential adjustment, it is okay, that is a different thing, you can ask me later because it requires some arithmetic, okay? So, I want to tell you that the NLC was not in default of that law.

Reporter: Okay, and till date, the staff are up to date on payment, sir?”

Comrade Upah: “Of course they are; if you know of any staff, call his or her name.”

Reporter: “Okay sir, thank you very much.”

But when contacted in a telephone interview, the chairman of the in-house union of NLC, Comrade James Eustace, contradicted Comrade Upah’s claims, stating that the NLC did not implement the minimum wage immediately it was passed.

Comrade Eustace also admitted that the NLC is also owing its workers arrears from the minimum wage, although he was not sure of the exact figure of the number of months.

When asked by the reporter if it is true that NLC owes 31 months minimum wage arrears, Comrade Eustace replied: “That may not be absolutely correct because the minimum wage wasn’t approved on time, it was after a long negotiation that it was agreed. So, we started implementation at the point it was agreed with some arrears paid back.”

Efforts by the reporter for further clarification on the above comment from Comrade Eustace were fruitless as the phone interview ended due to poor network. Subsequent calls to reestablish contact were not picked just as inquiry text messages were not replied.

National Record reported that the NLC will be holding its quadrennial national delegates conference on 7th and 8th February 2023 when the tenure of the current President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, will end.

Wabba was elected in February 2015 for a first term of four years and re-elected for a second and final term of another four year in February 2019.

Comrade Joe Ajaero, an incumbent Deputy President of NLC and the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), is set to succeed Comrade Wabba as President following his nomination as the sole candidate for the office at the forthcoming delegates conference.

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