Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, on Thursday, said that the demand of labour over the implementation of the new minimum wage would cost the Federal Government N580 billion annually.
Ngige said that such adjustment, in line with labour’s demand, was not sustainable as the government would have to lay off some workers to be able to meet their demands.
The minister said the government cannot afford that kind of money now, adding that the focus of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is on workers on grade level 1 step 1 and level 6 step 1 where the impact of the wage would be felt by workers.
The Minister disclosed these on Thursday in Abuja when the leadership of United Labour Congress (ULC) led by its President, Mr Joe Ajeiro, paid him a courtesy at the ministry.
While urging workers to show more understanding to the plight of the federal government, Ngige said the current economic realities, may make the new wage bill not feasible.
He said that the government was avoiding a situation where it would have to lay off workers, adding that this would add to the burden of the citizenry.
Ngige appealed to the labour to accept the consequential adjustment from levels 7 to 17, adding that the federal government had only three months left to implement the new minimum wage.
He said the government would not tell the labour leaders what it could not pay, stating that no worker deserved to be owed salary.
The minister said: “There is no problem with disagreement in the labour system, when can sometimes disagree to later agree, on the national minimum wage, it will translate to an additional N580billion if the government agrees to the consequential adjustment labour is proposing.
“Government cannot afford that kind of money now, besides the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is more interested in the lowest cadre of workers which are those on grade level 1 step 1 and level 6 step 1, these are the ones who the N30,000 will have greater impact on.
“Government has done their own homework and brought out what they can use to defend this consequential adjustment. Grade 1 to 6 does not have any problem, but 7 to 14 band and 15 to 17 band this is where we have the problem.
“Once you finish a minimum wage and go into consequential adjustment you are trying to reach a collective bargaining agreement and once you are trying to reach and once you are the principle of ability to pay comes in.
“So if you push the government to go and accede to an increment which its resources cannot accommodate, you are indirectly asking them to retrench workers so that the few that are remaining will get this big money.
“We don’t want that, from 2015 the president has made it clear that he is not out to inflict pains on Nigerians and that he does not want to create unemployment but even at that our increase in population is galloping and our resources are not consequentially increasing to meet up that is why we have a lot of unemployed youths on the street today.
“We need to arrive at an agreement as soon as possible so that we can use the 2019 budget allocation to frame this consequential adjustment because it will be bad if we are unable to do it and we finish this financial year by December because the budget circle is going to return to January/December 2020 so we have three months only before this recurrent funds as well are swept back into government treasury, that is the law.”
He regretted the inability of the joint negotiating team of both the government and labour to agree on the consequential adjustments, insisting that the new wage may become bloated by workers on grade levels 7-14 and 15-17.
Already organised labour has started mobilising their members to embark on strike on the 16th of this month.
Ajaero, in his remarks, appealed to the minister for prompt payment of the new minimum wage, stressing that the private sector must also be compelled to pay the N30, 000 wage.
He said that there was a need to review obsolete laws that were not in tune with present reality, adding that a situation where some private sectors paid their employees N10,000 and N15,000 was unacceptable.