The Punch quoted the chairman of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), Abdrafiu Adeniji, as saying that despite President Muhammadu Buhari signing the National Minimum Wage Act into law in April, technicalities surrounding negotiation process might necessitate the first batch of salaries to be paid in arrears.
This came as the Secretary of the JNPSNC, Alade Lawal, warned federal and state governments against the burden of heavy arrears.
According to Adeniji, while the council is ready for negotiation, the Federal Government has yet to come up with the salary table that will kick-start negotiations.
He said, “Negotiation is a technical issue that must be handled well. We have to look at many indices. The government is expected to make its own preparations, specifying what it intends to add to salaries. Eight bodies will eventually meet to conclude the negotiations. If workers cannot get the new salary in May, there is always room for payment of arrears.”
Lawal, who is coordinating negotiations on behalf of workers, warned government of the danger in delaying negotiations with labour.
He recalled that the last negotiations when the minimum wage was raised to N18,000 was poorly handled, adding that the JNPSNC would negotiate the best deal for workers this time around.
He said, “Now that the minimum wage has been signed into law, the next stage is for the government to open negotiations with the JNPSNC on the relativity and consequential adjustment in the new salary.
“The minimum salary in the civil service before was 18,900 when the minimum wage was N18,000; you can pay higher but not lower. The only thing that has been agreed now is the new law which specified N30,000. But what we have not known is what salary workers from level one to level 17 will take home.
“Government cannot just throw a figure at us by a fiat. We have written a letter to the Office of the Head of Service and copied the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and office of the Salaries, Income and Wages Commission to tell them to set up a body that will start the negotiations.
“On Thursday we sent a reminder to them. We have not heard anything concrete from the letter but we hope to put more pressure on government to ensure that the process is completed quickly. If you leave government at its pace, things might not be done as fast as expected.
“It is only when that is done that Salaries, Income and Wages Commission will issue an enabling circular. After that, we can talk of what workers will take home according to grade levels. We wonder what is delaying this.
“Workers are apprehensive. They are expecting increased salaries even though they may not fully understand the process. Government nonetheless need not drag the issue because the quantum arrears to be paid will be too heavy. We expect government to do something in the next few days.”
Lawal added that the negotiating body would be headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, with the Head of Service, Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Ministry of Finance, Budget Office, Accountant General Office and organised labour, which will be represented by officials of the JNPSNC.
He said, “The last negotiation was bungled when the minimum wage was raised to N18,000 because N900 was added to salaries across board. We are trying to avoid that. We presented a table then with the financial cost being N55bn monthly but they said the money was too much. Those who handled the negotiation eventually agreed on N11bn.
“The number of employees in the public service including the security agencies, universities and polytechnic then was around 950,000. They now shared the money with everyone getting N900 salary addition. That was the error at the time.
“We have already presented a table to the government. We are not going to be rigid with the government during negotiations but we will not accept ridiculous relativity.”