Minimum Wage: Crisis Looms In States Over Execution
As new governors settle for duties after inauguration, the likelihood of some states defaulting on the new minimum wage is getting clearer by the day. Sunday Ojeme reports
Despite the seeming silence by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) over the new N30,000 minimum wage, an air of despondency still hangs around some states in view of its implementation.
Although most of the governors came out publicly to acquiesce to the new wage, findings by New Telegraph, however, revealed that at least four out of 26 states so far surveyed are likely to contravene the law considering the backlog of arrears currently owed civil servants under the now outlawed N18,000.
The Minimum Wage Repeal and Re-enactment Bill, 2019 was passed by both chambers of the National Assembly before the general election, the House of Representatives in January and the Senate in March, while President Muhammadu Buhari signed it into law in April and also put the effective date of implementation on April 18, 2019.
Recall that prior to signing the bill into law, the NGF, through its Chairman, Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State had opposed the N30,000 proposed by the New Minimum Wage Tripartite Committee, saying that some states were not buoyant enough to pay.
The governors had given conditions including increase in their allocations as well as labour consenting to downsizing the workforce in states, as they insisted that all they could afford to pay was N22, 500.
Just recently, precisely at his inauguration, Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, publicly declared that he would not pay the N30,000 minimum wage, calling to credibility of the erstwhile governor, who had promised that the state would pay the wage.
Besides Oyo, investigation by this newspaper revealed that states such as Imo, Cross River, Ekiti, Kogi and Benue might find it tough to implement the new wage, as they currently owe backlog of salaries and allowances.
According to findings, Imo State, with a monthly wage bill in the neighbourhood of N2.5 billion, N2.6 billion and a workforce of about 10,000, currently owe workers across parastatals and local government.
The state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Austin Chilakpu, stated in a telephone conversation with our correspondent that as far as labour was concerned, the state government still owe workers, despite the outgoing Governor, Rochas Okorocha, repeatedly voicing his commitment to implementing the N30,000 new minimum wage.
According to Chilakpu, “Ada Palm workers are owed 54 months; workers in the Due Process office are owed up to 10 months salary arrears; Imo judiciary workers are owed three months salaries while workers of the Imo State Action Committee on AIDS (SACA) are owed 24 months salaries.”
Also, although a government house source confirmed that government house workers, teachers and all the ministries had been paid, she, however, noted that local government workers and some parastatals were yet to be paid.
In Cross River, about 31 workers of the Examinations Results Centre (ERC) in the Ministry of Education are said to be owed about 18 months, salaries. They were first engaged as ad hoc staff in 2015, and were absorbed as permanent staff into the state civil service in 2017.
Prior to the staff auditing that cut the workforce to 17,000, two years ago, the state had about 20,000 civil servants to cater for with a wage bill of about N3.5 billion.
On the new minimum wage, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor said that the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, had always promised to pay the new minimum wage “and has not said anything to the contrary since it was signed into law.”
He said the state had so far not computed how much it would pay as salaries, given the new minimum wage but that the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Accountant General were working on a template to be made known at the appropriate time.
On the part of Ekiti, which recently sacked some civil servants employed by the immediate past governor during his last days in office, the civil servants are being owed not less than three months, while local government workers are owed a minimum of seven months.
Although currently operating with a wage bill of about N2.6 billion, the state Governor, Kayode Fayemi, has promised to pay the new N30,000 minimum wage if only it will have access to additional N2 billion for that purpose.
In Kogi State, Governor Yahaya Bello owes the state workers salary arrears of six months, while local government workers including teachers received percentage payment, cumulating into over 30 months.
Before his emergence as governor, the workforce was over 18,000 with a staggering wage bill of between N2.6 billion and N2.7 billion.
Due to the backlog of unpaid salaries, observers have expressed doubts over the governor’s stance on the new minimum wage, as he vowed to be the first state to commence payment even when the state wage bill could be running close to N3.9 billion.
A labour leader in the state, who does not want his name in print, described the governor’s proclamation as a fluke, saying he was using it to impress his party for automatic ticket for a second term.
He advised the governor to pay workers what they are being owed and stop building castle in the air.
Also in the league of indebted states is Benue where civil servants are owed about five months salaries, while local government workers and primary school teachers are also owed about 11 months arrears.
This is just as the state government said it had reduced its wage bill, which initially stood at N7.8 billion down to N4.5 billion.
The high wage bill, government claims, has been responsible for its inability to pay the civil servants, whose current total figure is said to be slightly over 19, 000, while local government employees is said to be 25, 000.
Following this development, Governor Samuel Ortom had stated clearly that he has no capacity to pay Benue workers the newly approved N30,000 minimum wage.
Governor Ortom, who disclosed this while addressing workers, said he would have implemented the agreement but for lack of capacity.
“If I have the capacity, I will not hesitate to implement the new minimum wage even above N30,000,” he said.
“I have prioritised payment of workers’ salaries and this is exactly what my administration is doing,” he declared.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that crisis still looms as the conflict between organised labour and some states is yet to be completely settled for the fact that the former had insisted before the bill was signed into law that on no account should any employer pay less than the new wage.