fresh crisis is currently brewing between the Federal Government and organised labour.
This time, the disagreement is over the slashing of the supplementary budgetary allocation for wage awards to federal civil servants by N100 billion.
Labour unions have while strongly criticising the Federal Government for slashing the supplementary budgetary allocation for wage awards to federal civil servants by N100 billion, said the action contradicts the previously agreed wage increase, as revealed in the Revised 2023 Supplementary Budget.
In a startling revelation from the newly Revised 2023 Supplementary Budget, it was disclosed that the Federal Government reduced the proposed four-month wage awards for federal civil servants from around N210 billion to approximately N110 billion, contrary to the initial agreement.
The revised budget highlighted controversial alterations, including the substitution of the contentious N5 billion presidential yacht fund with Navy barges, an increased defence budget from N476.54 billion to N546.21 billion, and a N20 billion capital supplementation for the National Intelligence Agency.
Of significant concern to labour unions was the drastic reduction in the proposed wage awards, an issue that had been a subject of agreement between the organised labour and the government. The previously agreed-upon wage increase, set at N35,000 for all federal workers, was supposed to commence from September onwards, pending the enactment of a new national minimum wage.
What Tinubu, govt promised
During his Independence Day speech, President Bola Tinubu assured Nigerians of a temporary wage increase of N25,000 for low-grade federal civil service workers over the next six months. After discussions with organized labour groups, this amount was raised to N35,000, leading to a rise in the wage bill to N315 billion.
These agreements prompted the organized labour to suspend their planned nationwide strike for 30 days after signing a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with the Federal Government.
However, NLC President, Joe Ajaero added a condition that the unions would reconsider their decision if the Federal Government failed to meet their demands.
Labour's last action
Recall that, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC and its affiliate, on November 15, suspended a nationwide strike following a plea by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Malam Nuhu Ribadu.
The nationwide strike was declared to protest the battering of the NLC President, Joe Ajaero and others in Owerri, Imo State on November 1. There were also pending labour issues in the state. They included outstanding salary arrears, unjust declaration of 11,000 workers as ghost employees, unsettled gratuities, and non-compliance with the N30,000 Minimum Wage Act.
Also, labour said the state declared 10,000 pensioners as ghost retirees.
Wage award 'reduction' steers fresh crisis
But in what seems to be a new battle with the federal government, the labour unions have reportedly warned the government of imminent problems.
The NLC described the government's actions as disheartening, noting that the unexpected reduction in the wage award was inconsistent with their previous agreements and the expectations of Nigerian workers.
“But if it is that they don’t want to pay workers what they are supposed to pay, then there is a problem. How can you subject workers to further reductions in their salaries? No way! We agreed to a wage award of N35,000 to all federal workers, so the wage award has to increase,” Chris Onyeka, Assistant General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, said.
Similarly, the Trade Union Congress, TUC, has cautioned against manipulating the wage award for Nigerian workers.
Tommy Etim, National Deputy President of TUC, reiterated that the agreement between the organised labour and the government had been formalised and deposited in court, stressing that the government is obligated to honouring the agreement reached.
Etim said, “The government cannot play games with the wage award because it was an agreement reached with the organised labour and the instrument of the agreement reached was deposited in the court.
“The government is the manager of funds and our business is to ensure compliance to the agreement reached.”
There are, however, concerns from different angles due to the alleged action of the federal government. Many have said the development might trigger another industrial action.
Nigeria is currently grappling with a sloppy economy as the nation's inflation rate in September rose for the ninth consecutive month from an already high 25.8% recorded in August. On a year-on-year basis, the inflation rate was 5.94% higher than when compared to the 20.77% recorded in September of 2022.
The Nigeria Labour Congress, a major trade union coalition in the country, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the economy in protest against the government’s refusal to increase workers’ salaries despite the enormous spike in the cost of living.
According to business expert, Emmanuel Ademola, another industrial strike could worsen the current economic situation.
“There is no other answer than the inflation to be brought down and for inflation to stay down. The truth is that we don't need an economic shutdown. Such will finish the economy completely,” Ademola said.