Still on the national minimum wage debate

February 1st, 2018

As is still within immediate recall, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in 2016, had through its president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, as much as threatened to proceed on an indefinite strike if the government failed to accede to its demand for a N56,000 (Fifty-Six Thousand Naira Only) minimum wage by Labour Day (May 1) last year. According to the fire-eating labour leader, this was most needful as an upward review of the N18,000 (Eighteen Thousand Naira Only) on which it had stood for a while now was ‘due and overdue’ in one and the same wavelength.

Our attention was drawn to this on account of what has become its annual state of the nation rally held recently in conjunction with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) simultaneously in Abuja and Lagos. Tagged ‘A Day of Action Against Corruption and for Good Governance’ the crowd it attracted managed to make their grievances known to government. At Abuja there were even received in audience by the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo who made all necessary pledges that will make a good government/labour relationship possible. The labour leaders in tandem also made their displeasures as well as expectations known as the either party made the most of the occasion that only used to be possible on May Day. Interestingly, the minimum wage saga was let lie.

Apart from the one-day event that had to be shifted from its normal 7th of February date to the 9th last year, the entirety of the nation’s organized labour also announced that they had in their kitty of protests, the commencement of mass actions against state governments in the federation yet owing workers’ salaries, pensions and gratuities. Ostensibly billed to demonstrate the anger of workers over the insensitive dispositions of such governments, the actions are also in part to make the people of the states conscious of the kind of governments they have in place.

According to the leadership of the NLC, they cannot sit with arms crossed while their members were being persecuted; more so, given that many of the affected states had recently received several bailout funds from the federal government aimed at the correction of the anomaly. Also some of them have had cause to also receive substantial refunds from the London and Paris Clubs that have remained unaccounted for in the prevailing circumstances. Most lamentable in the litany is the buildup of unpaid gratuities of arrears of gratuities in some of these states over time. In their words, these counted from between seven months more or less in some to seventy-seven months in at least one.

In this vein, it must be pointed out that very recently commercial activities were grounded in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State by pensioners who took over the major streets of the town to protest and demand for their 10 months’ pension arrears. In the words of their spokespersons, with the percentage of the more than N28 billion bailout funds and the recent N12.7 billion London/Paris Club refunds accruable to the state, they have been expecting bank alerts, to no avail; hence the road march. They lamented the plight some of their members have been deposited in, to the extent that they were now dependent on their dependants.

It is however worth pointing out that, contrary to the above, a reverse rally was held in Osogbo the Osun State Capital, where over 3,000 members of the state’s branch of Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) lauded their state governor for paying them the backlog of the arrears of their pensions up to December, 2016. Consequently, they staged a peaceful procession in demonstration of their unalloyed loyalty to the governor whom they avowedly promised to stand by till death do them part.

While all these rage, it is important that the NLC – and TUC for that matter – do not lose sight of their main target. There is no doubting the fact that seeing to the achievement of the increment of the minimum wage from its present N18,000 – that can only amount to a mere $60 with the most clement of exchange rates – is by far more important than all the other efforts combined. Like they have argued, this is so paltry that an average worker cannot survive on it with the rate at which inflation is growing by the second in the country. It is noteworthy that already the Honourable Minister in charge of labour matters Dr Chris Ngigehas had cause to caution them following the apparently ‘warning strikes’ they have been embarking on ever since. Making us wonder what will be the government response when the adumbrated all-out version is called.

Quite coincidentally, this argument in raging at a time our cousins in South Africa are projecting to raise their own minimum wage to 3,500 Rand that amounts to $260. It came after their government’s protracted discussions with their labour unions and is aimed to cut a half-way house between the survival of the worker and the government.
On this count The AUTHORITY has watched the NLC dancing itself itself lame before the main dance. Months after the debate, there is no silver lining in the horizon.

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