“The government’s figure,N20,700 is still there. The 1B is the Organised Private Sector and so on. That was how we arrived at figures for our negotiations…”
After the horse-trading between the government and Nigerian workers that took almost a year, the Chairman, Tripartite Committee on the New National Minimum Wage, Ms Amal Pepple, has said that the N30,000 arrived at by the committee cannot take care of a family in today’s Nigeria.
Pepple, a former Head of Service of the Federation and former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, however, said that the increase in the new minimum wage, which is about 60-something percent, though small, is better than N18,000.
Pepple, who spoke exclusively with Sunday Sun in Abuja after the submission of the report of the committee also, said that the date for the eventual take-off of the new minimum wage depends on the National Assembly, which can also retain the figure, increase or decrease it.
Pepple said: “Definitely not! It is small, but it is better than the 18,000 that was the minimum wage. It is about 60-something per cent increase. You can’t compare N18,000 with N30,000. I think there is still a little more. Things are hard.
“Everybody knows that if you have a family, you have to take care of all their needs. Those were the things we considered in deciding on a figure. You have to feed the children; you have to take them to school. If they are ill, you have to pay hospital bills for them. At least, it is better than N18,000. Much better!”
Amongst other issues, Pepple took Sunday Sun through the rigorous journey that culminated in the final decision that led to the cancellation of the total strike earlier planned by the Nigerian Labour Congress, which was to bring the nation to its knees. Excerpts:
Now that the N30,000 minimum wage has been agreed, how is it going to take effect since it is not captured in the budget?
I expect that government will provide for it. But they can’t pay unless they send it to the National Assembly. You know we did a draft bill for the government to consider. So, I expect them to look at it and then, send it to the National Assembly. And the National Assembly will, maybe, call a stakeholders’ meeting for people to come and talk about it and from there, they will promulgate an Act of the Assembly and fix the amount, may be the N30,000, may be less, maybe more; I don’t know. But it has to go to the National Assembly first.
So, the issue of when it will take effect depends on the National Assembly?
That depends on the government because the president said as soon as possible; he will send the draft bill to the National Assembly so that they can start working on it.
That means the date is uncertain?
I can’t say that. The committee’s responsibility is to produce the report, which we have done and I have given it to the government. The rest, the processing, is for the government.
It means you can’t tell Nigerians when it will take effect?
I cannot, I cannot. That is the work of the government and then, if it is this year, they will find a way of making a supplementary budget to be able to pay that or they will put it in next year’s budget, I don’t know. But those are government’s processes. It has nothing to do with the committee.
How did your committee arrive at that agreement considering government’s initial position of N24,000?
We have been meeting. We were inaugurated on the 27th of November last year and then, we had a meeting in December. We had 14 meetings and we wrote to the governors. Twenty-one of them responded and 12 actually put a figure. But different figures though later on they dissociated themselves from the figures. And we kept trying to make them give us a figure. In fact, we were supposed to have finished our assignment in August. That was the work plan we made for ourselves. It was 21st of August the date we put as the day to handover the report, but we still had to get a figure from the government, we had to get a figure from the governors. We thought it was good for us to carry them along. Some who didn’t respond, our staff went to the states physically. They got responses from some, they didn’t get from others. In all, we got written responses from 21 and 12 actually put figures. The government too didn’t give us a figure. But the meeting we had on the 4th and 5th of October, the Minister of Budget and National Planning came and made a presentation. On the 4th, he did not give us any figure, but when we insisted on a figure, he then gave us a figure of 20,700 the next day which Labour did not accept. Labour requested for 66,500. That was their initial demand. We put them in categories: Category 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. And in 1D, we put the figure that the government gave us; 1C was the figure from the Nigerian Labour Congress, from the Trade Union Congress and the United Labour Congress. And when they took an average, it came to N66,000 something. The government’s figure, N20,700 is still there. The 1B is the Organised Private Sector and so on. That was how we arrived at figures for our negotiations and we got four scenarios. By the time we got that figure from government because as at that October meeting, there was no figure from the government.
We had to even go to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to meet the chairman – the Minister of Labour, the Chairman of the National Salaries and Wages Commission who was our secretary and member and I. On the 18th of July, we went to the Governors’ Forum. We went to meet the chairman and told him that we were expecting figures from the governors. And on the committee, we had six governors representing the six geopolitical zones. We had Wike, we had Dankwambo, we had Bagudu, we had Aregbesola, we had Lalong, and Governor of Imo, Okorocha. Those were governors on the committee. So, we expected that they will be briefing the governors. The Director-General of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum was also attending the meetings even though he was not a member, but like an observer. So, we expected that they would have been briefing them as we went along. But by that October which was almost one year since our inauguration, we hadn’t gotten a figure.
And it was on the 5th of October that the government gave us that N20,700. By then, we started some negotiations. Labour came down from that N66,500. They came down to N45,000, but by the time we drew up these scenarios, they agreed to work with scenario three which is thirty-seven thousand, seven hundred and something and then, they rounded it up to N38,000. That was where we started the negotiation. Along the line, the government, through the Minister of Labour, said okay, that they will give N24,000. But Labour and Organised Private Sector came up with the figure of N30,000, which we took as the figure of the committee.
But why has it been very difficult for the government to meet the demand of Labour on minimum wage?
They will explain. At least, when they made the presentation, we saw the expenditure profile, we saw the revenue profile. I think maybe a bit of problem with the revenue; they felt that they couldn’t raise the funds to pay and all that.
Nigerians are surprised that the discussion was on for a year and the government didn’t treat it with the expected seriousness. Who is to blame?
I don’t want to blame anybody. The Economic Management Team had to meet for them to take a decision, how much they felt that the revenue accruing to government can accommodate and so on. As for the governors, I don’t really know why because even that last day of our negotiation, 5th of October, before we decided on the figure, the minster was telling us that he was expecting 36 letters from the state governors, saying that they cannot pay anything more than N18,000. But Labour refused to accommodate that kind of statement because the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress asked him whether the states that at the moment were paying more than N18,000 also sent letters. However, when we met on Monday, Governor Bagudu gave us a figure of N22,500; that that was what the governors arrived at. But we couldn’t accommodate that because we have already put all the figures in a basket and done the average, the median and came up with the figures that we used for the negotiation. So, it means if we took that figure, we have to go back and re-do the scenarios and Labour was not ready. And on that day, we met till almost midnight because when we agreed on the figure, we had to give Labour time. We adjourned at about 8 O’clock. They said they wanted to go and consult because we were insisting that they should call off the strike.
There are those who believe that government agreed on that figure because of the forthcoming election. Do you also share this view?
I don’t want to give reasons why anybody took any decision. I know about decisions we took as I chaired the committee.
In today’s Nigeria, can this amount agreed upon take care of a family in terms of wage bill?
Definitely not! It is small, but it is better than the N18,000 that was the minimum wage. It is about 60 something per cent increase. You can’t compare N18,000 with N30,000. I think there is still a little more. Things are hard. Everybody knows that if you have a family, you have to take care of all their needs. Those were the things we considered in deciding on a figure. You have to feed the children; you have to take them to school. If they are ill, you have to pay hospital bills for them. At least, it is better than N18,000. Much better!
What was it like, chairing the tripartite committee?
It was a very wonderful experience and I got on very well with the Labour people. We used to argue and argue and after, we will be friends. I never had any problem with them.
So, there was never a time you felt like abandoning the committee?
No, no, no, not at all. I am not that kind of a person. I can’t abandon anything. When God and the government has confidence in you and give you a responsibility, why should you abandon it? You should make sure that you complete it.
What has it been like since you left office?
I have been busy ooo. Very busy!
Doing church activities?
I do church activities and I sit on the board of a bank. At least, this one took a whole part of one year from me. We were meeting twice every month from March this year.