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President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

The Federal Government is not in a position to immediately pay the N18,000 minimum wage being requested for by the Nigerian Labour Congress, (NLC), President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan said yesterday. The organized labour led by the NLC and the Trade Union Congress, (TUC) insisted last night that it was not convinced by the President’s explanation and would still embark on a 3-day warning strike beginning from Wednesday.

Jonathan said that the government needs to consult widely with the National Assembly and the Council of States before the impasse could be resolved. He urged labour to tow the line of reconciliation by shelving the proposed strike.

Jonathan who spoke on arrival at the presidential wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos explained that the government appreciates the role of labour in addressing the welfare of Nigerian workers, but that the legal and administrative procedure to approve the minimum wage must be critically examined from all stakeholders’ point of view, especially as it will affect the ability of the state, local government and the private sector to pay.

The President explained that although no worker in the employ of the Federal Government earns less than N17,000, but it is important to consider how the private sector employers will cope with the new pay regime.

The president urged Labour to desist from grounding the country to a halt with its proposed strike, and allow government sufficient time to carefully address all grey areas.

Jonathan said: “I hardly talk to media at the airport. Because of the issues you raised concerning the agitation for implementation of new minimum wage, I have the confidence that government and labour will be able to sort it out amicably and then think it will not result into any serious industrial action. I believe that labour will agree that within this period that I’ve been in office that we have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that it is a very labour friendly government. and if two friends are discussing on friendly things they have no reason to exchange blows, it is when you are not discussing on friendly things that people exchange blows.”

He said further “I believe labour will stay with us and we are also pleading with them that they should reason with us, the issue of the wage; you know the federal government presently pays N17,000 and within this period, we raised from 7,500 to 17000, and they are talking about the minimum wage of N18000, you will agree with me that that N1000 difference for good people that have been friendly will not lead to any industrial action.

“I find it very difficult to believe that presently that any federal government staff is even earning less than N18,000, because the minimum wage of N18,000 is level one step one, which is supposed to be for primary six holders and most of the Federal Government staff are either level three or level four and above, but if there are few that are not quite up to N18,000, it may be very, very insignificant.

“So I know that if you leave the minimum wage at N18,000, there will be other increase along the line. We have demonstrated the capacity as a government that we will effect wage increase. If we are able to move from from N7,500 to N17, 000, that difference of 1000 should not result to labour issues, so we are engaging labour now to work it out.”

He said because the issue is on the minimum wage, it has to pass through all the sections of government, as specified by law. “It must go to the National Assembly because the law must be made and the minimum wage does not affect only government employees and that is what Nigerians should know.”

The President said “You as journalists, you can do a research work in the United Kingdom and United States of America and other countries that they do minimum wage to protect low income earners; every employer of labour is affected, so if we now just go and impose a minimum wage on all Nigerians without due consultation, do you think small and medium scale interprises can all meet up?

He said that was the reason why the government needs to consult wisely. He said “I believe most of you here do employ some people, so if the minimum wage is N18,000, you will be paying whoever you employ 18,000., be he a gardener or something. So ,the implication is what to consider and not just increase. Presently our minimum wage is N17,000 and no Federal Government staff is even receiving that.”

Responding to the presidents speech yesterday the NLC said it will embark on the warning strike is not ready to listen to the demand of labour. In a chat with The Nation, the NLC General Secretary, Comrade John Odeh stated. “The Federal Government is already paying N17,000 as minimum salary to federal civil servants. The FG will lose nothing by pushing it up to N18,000.”

“We suspect that President Jonathan is being presurised by state governors not to accede to the new national minimum wage. President Jonathan has a date with history. He can either side with the downtrodden workers and have his name written in Gold in the mind of Nigerians or side with the governors and miss the golden opportunity to idolised by Nigerian workers. Either way we don’t need to be passive by standers.”

The Nation

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