The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on Monday, disagreed with two civil society organisations on workers’ demand for N56,000 minimum wage.
While the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders supported the workers’ call for the review of the minimum wage, MAN and the ACCI said the economy could not sustain N56,000 minimum wage.
This followed the disruption of the 2017 May Day rally at the Eagle Square in Abuja by angry workers over the failure of the Federal Government to approve a new Minimum Wage for workers in the country.
The workers insisted that the Federal Government had a responsibility to give them a definite position on the lingering issue of a new Minimum Wage in the country.
The aggrieved workers also faulted the absence of the President and his deputy from the event, where they expected either of the two to address them on the issues of survival affecting them.
The incensed workers rejected all pleas by their leaders as they chanted “no! We need a new Minimum Wage.”
They insisted that the N18,000 minimum wage has become inadequate to feed their families and indeed to survive in the face of the biting effects of the economic recession in the country.
Trouble started when the workers, who had gathered in front of the podium to listen to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, were told that the Acting Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mrs. Abiola Bawa, was to address them on his behalf.
This seemed to have angered the workers, who insisted that the minister should address them on the issue of the minimum wage while they would wait to see the representative of the President.
They rejected the explanation by the President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, that the minister could not read his own address as he was meant to read the President’s address as his representative.
The workers brought out their posters and chanted “we need a new minimum wage now” and insisted that the event would not continue until the issue was addressed.
However, when Ngige mounted the podium, they insisted that they needed a new minimum wage and that he had nothing to offer them.
Labour leaders of the NLC and the TUC made frantic efforts to douse the tension for Ngige to address the workers without success.
Even when Organised Labour brought out former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshi0mhole, who is also a former President of the NLC, the workers refused to listen to him.
The highest political office holders, who attended the event, were Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.
Some of the workers were heard telling the President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Bala Kaigama, that the price of food items, building materials, and indeed everything in the market had increased while the naira had continued to lose value.
“There is no salary; the naira is coming down and everything in the market is going up. You cannot buy school items, you cannot buy building materials, you cannot buy food items. Everything is just going up,” some of them chanted.
When asked to react to what happened and what the workers told him, Kaigama said the NLC and TUC would address the press on the issue.
However, Wabba read an address in which he urged the Federal Government to immediately constitute the tripartite committee for the negotiation of a new minimum wage for the Nigerian workers.
The NLC president added, “Workers also expected that either the President or the Vice-President should have been here because, as you can see, it was at the point when his speech was to be read that trouble started.
“It also points to the fact that workers are actually going through serious challenges. Many of them have not even earned their salaries for this month. Nigerian workers have been pushed to the wall.”
Wabba, who recalled that Organised Labour had sent a proposal to the Federal Government to increase the minimum wage from N18,000 to N56,000 in May last year, described the struggle for a new minimum wage as the most effective action against corruption in the civil service.
He said the anger expressed by the workers was a reflection of the harsh effects of the economic situation on workers and other Nigerians.