Labour strike threat: Buhari summons emergency FEC meeting on new minimum wage

Muhammadu-Buhari-at-the-FEC-Meeting

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari is determined to avert a labour crisis over the new minimum wage.

He has, therefore, fixed a Special Federal Executive Council meeting for tomorrow.

The meeting might consider the draft Bill on the new wage structure before it is sent to the National Assembly.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has made the presentation of the Bill a precondition for shelving its proposed nationwide strike.

Labour is insisting on a N30,000 minimum wage. The Nigeria Governors Forum(NGF) is proposing N24,000.

Labour and Employment Minister  Chris Ngige last Tuesday told labour leaders that the new Minimum Wage Bill will be transmitted to the National Assembly on or before January 23.

The NLC plans to start its strike on January 28.

A source, who spoke in confidence, confirmed that “all members of the FEC have been advised to cut short official visits or campaign activities in their states to be at the session”.

Asked if the salaries of workers earning above N30,000 labour’s proposed minimum wage will be renegotiated, the source said: “It is going to be a comprehensive FEC meeting. We will look at all options.”

Budget and National Planning Minister Udoma Udo Udoma said at the weekend: “Technical Committee on the Implementation of a new Minimum Wage inaugurated last Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari is to, among other things, identify additional sources of revenue.”

He said  the panel would assist the government on how it can “meet its expenditure on other services, such as education, health, infrastructure and other important functions of government, after paying the increased salaries”.

Udoma made the clarifications at the weekend  at a session with editors in Lagos.

A statement by Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister, Akpandem James, said: “The committee is to ensure that government can meet the increased costs that will arise from the implementation of a new minimum wage without affecting government’s ability to meet the other obligations of government, particularly with respect to the ambitious infrastructure development plans of the government.

“The committee is expected to, among other things, look at how to get additional revenues so that as our wage bill goes up, we are able to increase our revenues to ensure that our spending on capital projects, our spending on basic infrastructure, our spending on health, our spending on education and others is not reduced.

“In short, the committee is to advise on ways to ensure that notwithstanding the increase in payroll costs, there continues to be adequate funding for other government activities. This is not just for the 2019 fiscal year, but going forward, thereafter.”

On budget deficit, the minister said the government is “proposing to bring it down slightly from the N1.95 trillion projected for 2018 to N1.895 trillion in 2019. This, he said, is 1.3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), well within the three per cent limit set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

As regards the debt service to revenue ratio, he assured that as the country’s revenue situation improves, that ratio will come down.

Udoma added: “Nigeria does not have a debt problem as such. Our debt is within prudent limits. However, we need to optimise our revenue generating potential. This will bring down our debt service to revenue ratio.

“Given the size of our economy, we can, and should, be doing better in revenue generation. This explains our focus as a government on revenues and revenue generation.”

On the alleged small size of the budget, he said the government was limited by the revenues available to it.

Udoma said: “Some commentators have complained that the 2019 budget proposal is too small. They would like us to have a larger budget. All of us in government would also like Nigeria to have a larger budget.

“Indeed as our revenues grow, we will be able to expand our budget size. In truth, though we have increased our budget size significantly since we took over government in 2015, our budget size is still far too small to meet all our needs.

“However, we are limited by the size of our revenues. Our current proposal for 2019 represents the maximum size that we believe we can prudently fund from our revenue and debt sources.

“There is no point announcing a large budget that you cannot fund. As we are able to generate more revenues in future, we will be able to continue to increase the size of our budgets.”

Concerning unemployment, the minister said the government was working hard to improve the enabling environment for economic expansion which will lead to the creation of additional jobs.

He was confident that as the various initiatives of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (the ERGP) continue to be implemented, Nigeria will be able to create jobs at a rate that is much faster than population growth, thereby bringing down the unemployment figures.

“Most of these jobs will be created in the private sector, particularly in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trade and services,” Udoma said, adding that “many of the major economic indices are showing signs of improvement.”

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