UPDATE ON NLC’S MINIMUM WAGE SAGA: Staff Accuse President of Insensitivity

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  • Allege Wabba has agenda to stay beyond 2023
  • Say strike still an option; threaten to remove union chairperson

MORE employees of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) reacted to last Tuesday’s (May 11, 2021) story in which National Record exclusively reported the agitation by Congress staff at its National Headquarters in Abuja and State Councils across the country over the non-implementation of the new national minimum wage.

The new national minimum wage bill was passed by the National Assembly on March 19, 2019 and transmitted on April 2, 2019 to President Muhammadu Buhari who signed it into law on April 18, 2019.

At the moment, all federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and about 18 out of 36 state governments, including the FCT, have commenced full implementation, with those dithering being threatened by the NLC for a showdown.

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President

Those who reacted to the National Record’s report said they were incensed by the position of the chairperson of the position of NLC staff union, Comrade Eustace James, who, while confirming the agitation, however noted that there was no strike option.

“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 had told National Record.

But all those who reacted disagreed with the position of the chairperson. According to one of them, a senior staff who said he would not want his name mentioned in print “until things come to a head,” said very soon, the Congress staff union will meet to pass vote of no confidence on the leadership of Comrade James, after which an ultimatum will be issued to the President to implement the minimum wage or face strike.

“Although there is no formal meeting as at now, but majority of us have agreed to call a meeting where we’ll pass vote of no confidence on Comrade James Eustace, after which we’ll give an ultimatum to Comrade President to implement the minimum wage or face strike.

“We are talking to some NAC [National Administrative Council] members on this issue so that they can impress it on Comrade President to attend to the matter with the urgency that it demands else the staff of congress will proceed on strike after we give an ultimatum and there is no positive response. The President is also reaching to some NAC members to talk to us and they are calling us.”

Another source, also a senior staff, but based in one of the State Councils, said beyond the unpaid minimum wage, there is also the issue of pending promotion which has been hanging since 2018. He said the document for staff promotion was presented and endorsed by the NEC meeting which held in Kano in 2018, when the appointment of Comrade Emma Ugboaja as General Secretary of Congress was also presented and confirmed but up till now nothing has been heard. He accused Comrade Wabba of seating on the promotions.

However, two sources at the National Secretariat independently countered the position that was not entirely true. According to them, at the Kano NEC, the issue of promotions were only mentioned and referred to the Establishment Committee for further deliberation and recommendation through the proper channels. Both Sources also agreed that since then, the matter had not been tabled before NAC, CWC or NEC.

Another employee of Congress operating from a State Council also told National Record that though the news of the agitation over unpaid minimum wage has unsettled the national secretariat, the Wabba leadership is discreetly investigating with a view of punishing those behind the agitation. The source noted that the delays in the wage implementation and the pending promotions is solely are squarely the doing of Comrade Wabba who he literally accused of being too tyrannical.

“The greatest challenge at the Secretariat today is the President; he is the beginning and the end in Congress. That is what the NLC has never experienced and should never be. In the emerging scenario, some of us are seen as antagonists or as rebels, if I may use that word. We are in a situation where the President doesn’t see anything good in anyone, and he believes he is always right.

“Well, on the matter of the minimum wage, some staff at the national secretariat have made up their mind to meet with the President after the holidays.

“On the issue of promotion, we all agreed that we don’t need to beg for it. In the last promotion exercise, they dilly-dallied over it after approval by the organs and in the end, he decided to yank off a whole year’s promotion allowances, and when it came to the arrears, he also yanked off another 12 calendar months. We fear that on the issue of the new minimum wage; that is what we are heading to; he will now say they will pay arrears but in the end, he will end up not paying even a month’s. We are being short-changed and we’ll not agree to this tactics anymore,” the source revealed.

While accusing the President of “acting as an Emperor”, the NLC staff said he lacks moral justification to tell staff to go out and picket or campaign against employers on issues of workers welfare and rights. “From the current administration of NLC by the President, what moral justification has he to tell us to go and fight and compel other employers to do the needful for workers when in NLC I am suffering perhaps worse? On his own part, the President is enjoying himself and acting like an Emperor. In fact, if you see the way he treats some NAC members, you will pity them, with the exception of a few that chose to be his informants, a whole lot of others are treated with absolute levity.”

For a mid-level officer at the NLC national secretariat, the excuse by the staff union chairperson that the unpaid minimum wage was due to the huge financial burden being faced by Congress due to recent employees and non-remittance of check-off dues by affiliates is totally not true. According to her, apart from about 6 or 7 staff that joined the Congress after the merger with the United Labour Congress (ULC); there were only three other staff engaged sometime in 2019, bringing the total workforce of NLC to around 75 to 80, including those operating at the State Councils of Congress.

“Apart from seven staff from ULC, there were only about 3 recent employees sometime in 2019. In addition to the older employees, we can estimate between 75 to 80 employees including those from the State Councils. Can anyone tell us that that is too much a hindrance for the implementation of minimum wage by the NLC?” She asked rhetorically.

She also argued that the NLC, more than ever before is better placed to pay far higher than the minimum wage since the Covid-19 pandemic had made it to cut down on expenses. She added that it is even easier for the NLC to pay the new wage because it is only in the area of “consequential adjustment.”

“I even believe that NLC is better placed now more than ever before to pay more than just the minimum wage. In 2020, we didn’t run any programme because of Covid-19, and official trips were drastically reduced too. So NLC cannot say it doesn’t have money. Even if we ran programmes, should that be obstacle to paying minimum wage?

“In any case, the minimum wage implementation in Congress is more in the area of consequential adjustment, because in reality, I don’t think there is any staff receiving below N30,000 in NLC. So it is more a question of adjustment to the required percentage. NLC has done this several times before, so it is not a challenge; it is simply the lack of will by Comrade Ayuba,” she stressed.

A senior officer corroborated the above assertion saying that “the wage implementation is just a matter of consequential adjustment” as no NLC employee currently receives less than the minimum wage, said the position of the staff union chairperson is a huge disappointment.

“Let me say that in NLC, the wage implementation is just a matter of consequential adjustment. To the best of my knowledge, the fulltime staff in Congress received less than N30k, and how many are we on the payroll?

“Actually Comrade James has disappointed us; that is the simple truth. We expect James, as the chairperson of the staff union, to represent us very well. From the look of things, James seems to have problem with the management, so they are not carrying him along. I think that is why he is playing that role; he is just looking for recognition, and I think that recognition will not be given to him.

“Whatsoever the case may be, this issue has been lingering for a long period of time and we expect that the management, without even consulting the union, should equally put in their best and pay this minimum wage. If they have the boldness to be picketing state government and governors, we see no reason why they must wait for any union before they implement the minimum wage in Congress.

“From what we heard from some NAC members and some of the affiliate Presidents and affiliate Excos, most of them are even hearing this for the very first time. Most of them thought Ayuba had started paying the minimum wage a long time ago. Because something that you as President of NLC has not implemented in your own organisation, you have no justification to use your staff to go and checkmate governors who are not paying. We think that NLC needs to set an example before issuing any directive to anybody.

“If you ask, you will see that most of the affiliates have already implemented the minimum wage. What has delayed implementation in Congress is insensitivity on the part of NLC President on the one hand, and incompetence on the part of the Congress staff union, on the other hand. The best thing to do is therefore to put in place a competent, active and courageous staff union leadership that can always boldly represent the interest of NLC workers as and when due.

“On the question of lack of resources to implement the minimum wage, I think the account’s department is better placed to answer that, but I also know that many affiliates have been paying their check-off dues. So, I am surprised to hear that NLC doesn’t have the money to pay; I will not believe that because NLC has enough money to implement the new wage.

“If as a leader Comrade Wabba wants the staff of Congress to be happy and to see him as a comrade now or when he leaves office, implementing the new minimum wage and paying all the arrears, and doing so soon, will be a good legacy to leave behind. This is the only way whoever he is going to handover to will not want to short-change workers but continue in that direction. Others before him did better such that as soon as a new wage law is passed, they implemented immediately. Wabba is the only exception now and we will not accept that.

“It will be very good for our leaders to be doing what will give them good name even after they leave office. We can see somebody like Comrade Oshiomhole, even if there is no visible legacy that he left, but during his own time, whenever Nigerians see you in NLC regalia or logo, they always hail NLC. That is enough recognition by the people that he fought for them and adequately represented their interests. Wabba should make workers within his immediate environment to laugh and make them comfortable.”

On allegation that Wabba has agenda to stay beyond 2023
A fresh dimension added to the non-implementation of the minimum wage is the allegation by a staff who said he strongly believes that Comrade Wabba is not keen on paying the new wage because he is planning to accumulate sufficient fund to buy patronage to stay beyond 2023 when his second and final tenure as President will expire.

When pressed for further explanation, the staff who claim to have deeper insight in contemporary labour politics said among other things that introduced into the movement tenure elongation which many unions have now copied.

“I believe that Ayuba doesn’t want to pay the minimum wage so that he will have access to excess money to play with in the next couple of years. We’re hearing some strange things that he wanted to do; either extending his tenure or transmuting to be General Secretary, but let’s see how he achieves any of that; if he is the owner of the trade unions, we will wait to see how that will work.

“You know, as President of Health Workers Union, he extended his tenure while he was plotting to become President of Congress. His ambition to achieve this was at the heart of the rumble in the movement since 2010 or thereabout. And you know, he has been very supportive of affiliate presidents that either extended or wish to elongate their tenures. So, we have strong information that he wants to continue beyond 2023 either as President or as General Secretary. But one thing I’m sure of is that NLC is not Health Workers Union,” said the staff.

 

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