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8 June 2018

MINIMUM WAGE

By Peluola Adewale

President Muhammad Buhari's Government has created an impression that it is willing to increase the minimum wage. But it is clear that, just as Jonathan did in 2011, the main reason for this seeming disposition is 2019 general elections. A tripartite committee of government, labour and private sector employers has been set up though many months after it was first promised or mooted. The committee has held public hearing on minimum wage across the country and the result has been an overwhelming support for higher minimum wage by workers. Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress have presented a joint a demand of N66,500 minimum wage while United Labour Congress demanded N96,000. The government has not yet put forward their own offer.

We strongly believe that both figures are payable and achievable. But labour has to struggle to achieve either of them while also ensuring salaries are paid on time and that there is no retrenchment. Unfortunately, mass activities in support of the demand are seriously lacking at the moment. For years labour leaders have left the initiative to the government which seems to dictate the speed and direction of negotiation. At this rate whatever is offered by the federal government may be seen as a favour. There is no pressure mounted on the government other than occasional hot air spewed by labour leaders, like the NLC's December 2008 call for a N52,200 minimum wage. Now, nearly 10 years after first demanding an increase in the current N18,000 level the labour leadership has reportedly threatened to ask workers not to vote for any politician that does not support a higher minimum wage. The fact is that the easiest thing for an average bourgeois politician to do is to make promises which they know they will not keep in order to secure votes.

Therefore, as against sterile threat or the prevailing lethargic approach to the minimum wage demand, we reaffirm our call on the labour leaders to immediately initiate and launch a plan of mass actions, including mass rallies and a 24-hour warning general strike, aimed at winning mass support of the people as well as making a bold statement of the determination of workers to fight to achieve the demand. This is not only for a higher minimum wage without retrenchment of workers but also the settlement of all unpaid salaries and pensions. We also call on rank and file workers and labour activists to mount pressure on labour leaders and jolt them out of their lethargy by organizing independent activities at grass roots level to build support for action.

Good enough, workers have demonstrated willingness and readiness to struggle as events in Osogbo and Akure at this year's May Day and in Abuja last year showed, but are not mobilized to fight by the leadership. Even if a new minimum wage is won, it will require spirited mass struggles to force its implementation and prevent mass retrenchment as past experience shows.

Already, no governor is sincerely in support of a new minimum wage. In any case, many of them still owe backlog of salaries. In Ondo it was a slang match between Governor Akeredolu and workers at the May Day rally as the Governor brazenly declared that he would not pay a new minimum wage. In Osogbo, where a good number of workers walked out of the venue as Governor Aregbesola mounted the podium at the May Day, the Governor only thinly veiled his objection to a minimum wage rise, suggesting that workers are not productive. Aregbesola is one of the representatives of governors on the minimum wage tripartite committee.

Virtually, all state governors share his contemptuous view of workers. But this charge must be rejected. The fact is that it is governments which provide the necessary resources, set the job description and course of duty for workers. So, any worker that is not productive is because the government makes it so. For instance, government awards projects to contractors, who are usually fronts of politicians, while there are workers in ministry of works or works department. Governments hire consultants for tax collection while there are workers in Ministry of Finance. Yet, they are lamenting workers are not productive. Besides, these governors have many political aides who are leeches on the state resources.

Also to be dismissed as bunkum is the argument that increasing minimum wage is impossible, or needs to be very modest, because it will cause inflation. Today inflation in Nigeria is hardly caused by the volume of naira in circulation but rather by cost of production and cost of doing business as a result of the failure of government and anti-poor capitalist policies. In other words, the inflation is cost push caused by poor power supply, bad roads, high transport prices, high fuel price, high interest rate, devaluation of naira, etc. Indeed rather than heating up the economy high minimum wage may help jump start many local economies that have been rendered prostrate by anti-poor economic policies and failure of state governors to pay salaries. This is because in virtually all the states with exception of Lagos private spending by civil servants are the main driver of local economy. Civil servants, with exception of a few in top hierarchy who are in position to loot public resources, don't spend on luxuries or stash money abroad but on basic needs like food, housing, education, health care, transport, car maintenance etc., which are procured within the local economy.

Therefore, as much as workers both public and private have money to spend, traders and artisans like bricklayers, carpenters, mechanics, etc. benefit. This is why ordinary people should support the demand of workers for higher minimum wage and not be swayed by the divisive argument of the government that civil servants constitute a small percentage of the population. It also means that labour must not only fight for higher wage but also against casualization, for mass employment, adequate funding of education and health care including adequate provision of facilities and personnel in schools and hospitals in order to guarantee quality and affordable service delivery. They must also demand provision of good roads and electrification of communities and markets.

However, in the face of crisis and logic of capitalism, it is important to stress that the increase in minimum wage could only boost economy in short term as inflation caused by capitalist policies and attempts to rebuild their profits would erode the pay rise. This is why we always call on labour to demand and fight for regular review of minimum wage in line with rate of inflation. There is a continual struggle between capital and labour over the distribution of wealth. Under capitalism, every pay rise cuts into both the public resources that are targeted by looters as well as super profit of capitalist bosses. This explains why government and private employers owe workers' salaries or sack workers, if not resisted, whenever their privilege and profits are slightly threatened. Therefore, higher living standards for workers and the masses in general can only be guaranteed on a lasting basis through nationalisation of key sectors of economy under workpeople's control and management as well as democratic planning of economy such that the need of the people and not the greed and profit of a few form the basis of production, distribution and governance.

We strongly hold it is doable to pay decent wage to workers and also provide social infrastructure (functional schools, hospitals, roads, etc.). For instance in the public sector, part of problem is outrageous salaries and allowances of top government functionaries as well as corrupt contract system in addition to direct looting of public resources. This is why we call for placing all political office holders on civil servant salary structure so as to free up a huge money that can be spent on social program. Also instead of the contract system, we call for well-equipped works departments with well trained personnel so as to execute any size of projects at much lesser contract sums. This also means that there must be open democratic control of projects right from conception to execution by workers, relevant professionals and communities in order to guarantee judicious spending of resources. These together with nationalisation and democratic management of economy are part of the programme of Socialist Party of Nigeria. We call on workers, youths and the masses to join the party.




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