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17 July 2017
If the 2011 minimum wage amendment Act is anything to go by, the N18, 000 minimum wage signed into law on the 25th of March, 2011 by the President Goodluck Jonathan-led government should have been renegotiated since 2015. This is apart from the fact that the current minimum wage has been eroded by high inflation and devaluation of naira, without taking into account that some workers have never received the 2011 minimum. Unfortunately it is a whole two years after the Act was due for renegotiation that the various leaderships of the trade union movement are making demands for a review and even while doing this, they have not demonstrated any seriousness to fight in a manner that can win a higher minimum wage.
To start with, they have put forward the demand for a higher wage with varying figures. For instance, while the Joe Ajaero-led newly formed United Labour Congress (ULC) has demanded N90, 000 as a new minimum wage, the Ayuba Wabba-led NLC and Bobboi Kaigama-led TUC have jointly demanded a new national minimum wage of N56, 000. Though, the labour centres have not been able to harmonise and adopt a common figure, it appears the popular demand is N56, 000. However, what are sadly lacking are concrete steps as to how to struggle for its actualization.
About two months after the government announced the intention to constitute a tripartite committee including representatives of government, private sector and labour, no concrete step has been seen to be taken to that effect. Worse still, when asked by the media about the feasibility of the new minimum wage given the inability of many states to pay salaries at present, Minister of Labour Chris Ngige declared that minimum wage review does not mean an automatic increase in salary. Regrettably nothing has been heard from labour in response to this.
According to reports, over two million workers across 27 states in the country are being owed salaries for more than three months despite a series of bail outs, Paris Club refund and relative improvement in monthly allocation. Yet the national labour leadership has not launched any coordinated fight back to force the affected states to settle the unpaid salaries. Meanwhile it is the situation of unpaid salaries that the governments are planning to use as the excuse to deny workers higher minimum wage. This is one of the reasons, we of the DSM have long been calling on labour to declare a 24 hour general strike and mass protest as the first step to force government to settle unpaid salaries and pensions and begin negotiation for a higher minimum wage without retrenchment.
The truth is that the Nigeria workers are not only interested in the upward review of the current minimum wage and payment of outstanding salaries but they are also ready to participate in any genuine struggle to force the implementation as well as improvement in both their living and working condition This much was proven by the open revolt of workers against government representatives and the labour leadership at the May Day events in Abuja early in the year.
The fact that the federal government hurriedly announced the planned constitution of a committee on a new minimum wage following the mass workers' protest staged at May Day in Abuja during which Ngige, Adams Oshiomhole, the former president of the NLC and leadership of the national assembly were chased away is an indication that it will require a series of mass actions to win a higher minimum wage.
We call on all the three trade union federations (NLC, TUC and ULC) to forge a united front for the struggle to win a new minimum wage and force its implementation. Such a united front will have to adopt and present a common and harmonised figure for a new minimum wage. Side by side with this, there should be an issuance of at least a month ultimatum to all the state governments owing their workers ranges of salary and pension arrears to offset failure of which a national strike will have to be declared to force the payment of all salary and pension arrears across the states. This ultimatum must also be issued simultaneously to the federal government over the question of a new minimum wage on the basis of a harmonised figure by the three labour centres.
Within this period of this ultimatum, directive must also be given to the state councils and industrial unions of the respective labour centres to start agitation and mobilization at workplaces and communities. This should include activities like symposia, mass meetings and rallies together with production and distribution of leaflets and posters articulating the demands, sensitising workers and the public and involving broad layers in debate and activities.
Such activities would help build a ground swell of support for the national action to win a new minimum wage and force its implementation with no retrenchment. This is because it will offer an opportunity to dispel all forms of government false propaganda that the decline in oil revenue would not support an increment in national minimum wage. A new minimum wage that will bring a significant improvement in the living condition of the working people is possible. This will means that the struggle for the new minimum wage must be linked to a struggle to stop monumental wastages of public funds which are a permanent feature of capitalist governments, scrap the odious security votes, cut the outrageous salaries and allowances of top government functionaries, reduce the bloated political offices and end neo-liberal policies that guarantee profit for a few at the expense of the vast majority, and thereby free resources that would be used to implement a new minimum wage.
To better protect the living conditions of workers especially in the current volatile economic situation, the labour movement must not just fight for a one-stop minimum wage agreement that can only be renegotiated until the next five years but a sliding scale of wages that rises in line with the rise in inflation and cost of living. The current pattern in which minimum wages remain in force for a period of five-years before they are renegotiated, regardless of subsequent rise in inflation, currency devaluation and other unforeseen economic developments, is unreasonable and unacceptable. Instead of protecting workers, such a minimum wage arrangement stagnates wages for a long period thus ensuring that workers suffer atrociously at a period of economic decline while they don't benefit from periods of economic boom.
However, it is important to note that no amount of improvement fought for and won can permanently insulate workers and the poor masses from ruination as long as the capitalist system continues to exist. Under capitalism the economy is run in the interests of the capitalists, not the mass of the population who are also the ones who suffer when capitalism goes into one of its regular crises. This is why only enthroning genuine workers and poor people's government that is prepared to run a planned economy on democratic socialist policies can begin to guarantee a permanent living wage and improved condition of life for workers and poor masses. This is the reason why, side by side with the struggle for reforms and improvements, there is an urgent task to build a mass workers' political party to wrest political power from the capitalist vampires.