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29 March 2018
The present N18, 000 minimum wage is nothing compared to the present economic reality. More so when the wage structure is statutorily long overdue for review considering the fact that the present N18, 000 minimum wage that came into being in 2011 with an expiration of 5 years is yet to be reviewed more than two years after expiration. Review negotiation ought to have begun in 2015 and implementation by January 2016 but the present government deliberately refused to review.
Many state governments are still owing workers' salaries and pensions to retirees based on the poverty stricken minimum wage of N18,000. However, most labour leaders at all levels have failed to fight to get what is legally owed to workers despite the preparedness of workers to struggle to end unpaid salary regime. Fuel was increased from N97 to N145, Naira devaluation from about N200 to N360 to one US dollar, high cost of food etc., have largely undermined the value of workers wage while privileged top earners have been able to sustain their wasteful lifestyle.
The Buhari-led government just like the previous pro-rich governments has presided over a lopsided wage structure that is skewed against the labouring masses and in favour of the privileged few. How would one explain the fact that top political office holders earn jumbo salaries and allowances in tens of millions of Naira on a monthly basis while workers are subjected to N18, 000 minimum wage structure - this is the height of inequality. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that nearly 10 years ago, in December 2008, the NLC demanded a minimum wage of N52,200 but since then has not lifted finger to win that figure
Due to largely backdoor pressure from the trade union leadership and the approach of the 2019 elections, the Buhari-led government belatedly set up a minimum wage committee in December 2017 comprising representatives of government, businesses and labour. The Ama Pepple led "tripartite committee" has 29 other members and one observer but in reality, it is a committee dominated by employers. Ama Pepple is a former Head of Civil Service who was appointed by the government and will defend interest of employers; 6 members representing the federal government including 3 serving ministers will defend the interest of the government as an employer of labour; 6 governors representing the Nigerian Governors Forum will equally take anti-workers stance, compounding it is the fact that 2 of the governors (Rauf Aregbesola and Rochas Okorocha) perpetuate unpaid salary regime in their respective states. Just to state the obvious, the private sector employers will prefer a very low wage for workers in the pursuit to maximize profit. Hence, the pro-employers representative in the committee which totals 22 far outweighs the labour representative which is 9. From the outset, this arrangement is skewed against workers.
All the government and private sector representatives earn one form of jumbo salaries and allowances or the other and will not appreciate what it is like to earn and try to survive on a poverty wage in the present harsh economic conditions. The contradiction is that workers wage has to be negotiated while salaries and allowances of top political office holders and top management staff are never negotiated but fixed in their favour.
The current negotiation committee is not fundamentally different from the one that gave birth to the 2011 N18, 000 minimum wage and so, if we are to see an improvement, it is going to be a small one. Now the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress have demanded a N56, 000 minimum wage while United Labour Congress demands a N90, 000 minimum wage but, so far, all the labour platforms have never attempted to translate this into reality by struggling for it. The labour leaders do not do much to pressure government beyond mere statements. Since the labour leaders could not forge a united front in the struggle for an improved minimum wage, government cashed in on it and used it to its own advantage.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) demands that the government should increase the minimum wage to at least N56, 000 without retrenchment and this to be increased regularly in line with the inflationary rates while the salary and allowances of political office holders and bosses should be reduced to an average wage of skilled workers. This is what the labour leaders should fight for.
The negotiation can be deliberately frustrated by government and private sector representatives and will most likely allow just marginal improvement in the wage structure. But also for political reasons (primarily because of the 2019 general elections), it should not be surprising if the government approves a N56, 000 minimum wage. After all, this is what Jonathan did in 2011. Already the Minister of labour has been making loud noises in the media that this will happen latest September 2018. But this will not be with the intention of truly improving workers conditions. As soon as the elections are over, then workers should expect the ruling elite and employers to renege on paying the full value of the new wage the same way they have largely done for the N18, 000 minimum wage. This is therefore the more reason the trade union leaders should unite and mobilize workers and the general public on sustained mass actions (rallies, picketing, strike protests etc.) to pressure on government and the private sector to review the minimum m wage upwards to N56, 000 without any further delay.