THE Federal Government has said it has no agreement with organised labour for a review of the National Minimum Wage every five years.
The Executive Chairman, National Salaries Income and Wages Commission, Dr. Richard Egbule, said the issue of the five-year period for the review of the national minimum wage was part of recommendations made by a committee which were not included in the commission’s Act.
Egbule made the comment while speaking on Channels Television programme, Sunrise Daily, which was monitored by our correspondent on Wednesday.
He said what was done during the last review of the minimum wage was an amendment of the Act and changing of figures.
Egbule’s comment contradicted the position of the two labour organisations in the country – the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress – that there was a constitutional provision for the review of the minimum wage every five years.
The unions had insisted, while making a proposal of N56,000 Minimum Wage to the Federal Government, that the Act provided for a review every five years.
Egbule stated that the issue of the review of the minimum wage every five years came up when it was suggested that the 10 years review period in the past years, as was done in 1980 to 1990, 2000 and 2011, was too long and should be reduced to five years.
He added that there was even no law in the country which stipulates the review of the minimum wage every 10 years.
He stressed that the five-year period for minimum wage review was just the content of a committee’s report and not a collective agreement duly signed by the parties involved.
He believed that the labour leaders might be confusing the constitutional provision for a review of pension every five years once a salary review was done, which he said was a different issue.
Egbule added, “The first time it (review of minimum wage) was done was in 1980. It was again done in 1990. It was again done in 2000 and lastly 2011. Of course, it was ready by 2010. So in between, there has been a period of 10 years for the review of the past ones although recently, in the last one, there were quite a number of recommendations.
“One of them was the issue that instead of a 10-year arrangement, it should be every five years, but that recommendation was not taken up and enacted into law. The only thing that was done was the issue of picking the figures and changing them. There are quite a number of very important recommendations in that report that were not taken.
“Even as I speak, the issue of reviewing it every 10 years was rather coincidental. There is no such law anywhere that guarantees that it should be done every 10 years. What the last recommendation did was to say that it was too long. The 10-year interval was too long; so, there was a recommendation that it should be five years, but the recommendation, which affected so many other things, was never enacted into law.
“So if anybody says, like labour is saying, that it is in the law, every five years, they have to do it, it is not correct. Probably, they are confusing this with a provision for a review of the pension every five years, whenever there is a review of salaries of workers. This is a separate issue; it is not about minimum wage.
The chairman explained that it was the practice of the government to issue a White Paper or gazette a report for implementation, which was not done in the case of the five-year period review for the Minimum Wage.
He said there was nothing wrong in engaging labour on the issue of the economy, the cost of living, the ability of employers to pay, the International Labour Organisation convention and others that would form the basis for discussions.
But the NLC said Egbule was wrong in his claim that the five-year period for the minimum wage review did not exist in law and was not an agreement.
The General Secretary of the NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, said in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Wednesday that the issue of pension review was constitutional and not a product of negotiation between the government and labour.
He stated that an agreement on the five-year review period was reached when proposed indexation – the call for an automatic review based on the cost of living – was rejected because it was considered dangerous to the economy.
He stressed that the Act was specific on the period for the review of the National Minimum Wage.
He said, “The issue of the review of pension is constitutionally provided. On the issue of the National Minimum Wage, he needs to check the law. It specifies the periodicity of review. So, he needs to check, and I think it is something that could be checked by anybody. So, he would not be right if he said so.”