FG, labour sign pact, National Assembly to get minimum wage bill Jan 23

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…As Kachikwu says Infrastructure critical to ending gas flaring***

The Federal Government and organised labour in the country on Tuesday finally reached an agreement that the Presidency would send the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Bill to the National Assembly after three days of meetings.

The agreement came on a day that labour unions staged a nationwide protest over the non-transmission of the bill to the National Assembly by the Federal Government.

Unlike other meetings, the Tuesday meeting lasted for fewer hours.

However, President of Trade Union Congress, Kaigama Bobboi, warned that if the Federal Government reneged on the date it promised to transmit the bill to the National Assembly, labour would take action without any warning.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Nigige, who presided over the meeting, assured the labour leaders that the Federal Government would send the bill to the National Assembly on January 23, 2019 after members of the National Assembly must have resumed from their Yuletide recess.

He added that necessary meetings on the part of the Federal Government would be held next week to ensure the timeline was met.

The minister said, “As for the transmission of the executive bill to the National Assembly, the government will religiously implement all the processes that will enable us to transmit this bill within the stipulated time.

 “We have a target time of January 23, 2019 and we hope that all things being equal, government will be able to do so. We will take all statutory meetings of the Federal Executive Council, National Economic Council and the National Council of State meetings to enable us to transmit the bill on the new national minimum wage. I thank the labour unions for their understanding and appeal to them that the threats should come down. Protests are no longer necessary.”

While thanking Ngige for his role on the issue, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, said workers had been patient with government for more than two years.

He added that after the submission of the report by the tripartite committee that deliberated on the minimum wage more that two months ago, it was expected that the Federal Government would have gone beyond the present stage of making effort to transmit a bill to the National Assembly.

He said, “We have finally been able to reach a clear understanding on the processes and timeline for this bill to be transmitted. We are committed to the process and hope that the timeline will be respected. We will put this across to our organs and give them all the details contained in the Memorandum of Understanding.

“You will recall that our demand is for the bill to be transmitted to the National Assembly. We want a firm commitment so that we don’t come round a cycle. We want the agreement to be documented and signed by government’s representatives. With that, we can follow up on the process.

“This thing has been on the table for more than two years and having submitted the report, we expect that the bill should have been submitted. The National Assembly will be back on January 16 from their recess so on or before January 23, the bill must have been transmitted.

“We know that the National Assembly members are desirous of making sure that Nigerian workers have decent wage, they will also be able to do the needful. We will shift our lobby to the National Assembly because once the bill is enacted; the money will be in the pocket of workers.

“Issues of industrial relations are always addressed at the negotiation table. We have been diligent in the whole process and workers have been patient, clearly we have carried them along, that is why whenever we want them to be around, they are always around. We are tired of stories and that is why we insisted on a timeline.”

Wabba, however, downplayed the agreement, saying that it was only one step taken out of many in making sure that a new minimum wage was paid.

“For us, it is a win-win situation but until the money is in our pocket, that is when we can talk of success. It is still work in progress and there are many more battles to fight. But once it is at the National Assembly, the half of the work is done. The next level is the implementation in the public and private sectors. But we are optimistic with the success of the bill at the National Assembly,” he said.

Workers, in nationwide protests, say N18,000 no longer realistic

But while the meeting between the Federal Government team and the labour leaders was going on, workers across the country held nationwide protests to demand the implementation of  N30,000 minimum wage.

The protests were held in many states including Lagos, Rivers, Osun, Ogun, Katsina, Bayelsa, Edo and Kaduna.

Before the meeting, Wabba had earlier on Tuesday morning led workers in Abuja in a protest march from the Labour House to the Federal Capital Territory Administration office.

Wabba said the present N18,000 minimum wage could no longer cater for workers’ basic needs.

He said most Nigerian workers were unable to eat thrice per day. According to him, workers should be able to take care of their family but, in reality, he said, reverse was the case.

Wabba noted that in South Africa, the minimum wage was over N120,000, stating that the political class in the country were not complaining unlike in Nigeria. He also said that Ghana’s minimum wage was better that what obtained in Nigeria.

The Head of Human Resources in the FCTA, Mr Lazarus Gaza, received a protest letter from the NLC president.

In the meantime, although Nigeria has set a target of ending gas flaring by 2020, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said the country’s infrastructure gap remain a critical challenge to government’s gas commercialisation agenda.

Kachikwu, who told The Guardian in an interview last month that supply of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), has significantly increased nationwide, noted that until potential investments in infrastructure become a reality, the opportunities in the country’s gas resources could remain elusive.
The Minister said with current investment in the 614km-40-inch Ajaokuta-Kaduan-Kano (AKK) Pipeline, Nigeria would add about 3,500 megawatts (MW) of electricity to the existing 7,000MW, and address challenges around stranded gas.
  
He said though the country has drastically reduced the level of gas flaring, government would have done better if infrastructure challenge was not a barrier. Kachickwu said the sector has improved availability of gas to power plants by 16 per cent over the last two to three years, and could have done more if there was infrastructure.
 
“We need investment in infrastructure. In the developed countries, it is not government money that brings infrastructure, it is investment. This is serious enough to occupy a minister’s full time to get the policy and approval in place, and driving round the whole world to find that money,” he stated.
  
Kachikwu said a considerable number of investments are currently awaiting final investment decision (FID) to bring transformative investment to Nigeria, and until the barriers are properly addressed, delivering value for gas could remain a challenge.

Speaking on LPG/cooking gas penetration, he said: “We need to get to a point where it will become so easy to find cylinders, so easy for virtual gas supply in filling stations that the market woman has no zeal to touch firewood. In some urban areas, there may be town-planning policies to connect gas pipe to houses as it is done abroad.

“For instance, we can bring the gas to the Lagos doorstep, but getting to all citizens is going to depend on investors; investors, who are ready to invest in gas filling plants, and who are ready to put in their filling stations and so on.“What is important is the consciousness. The amount of consciousness that we have raised has forced oil companies to take notice that time is running out,” he said.
   
In this regard, he disclosed that the Ministry is in talk with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to provide support loans to people, who are investing in LPG penetration.He added that discussion is also ongoing with the Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG), to do more in terms of local capture of opportunities.

Punch with additional report from Guardian NG