As Labour Prepares For Showdown With FG Over New Minimum Wage
Life and living in Nigeria is tough, especially, for those born without a sliver spoon. While the cost of living is astronomically high, high inflation and double digit interest rate have further made a bad situation worse, thereby reducing the purchasing power of Nigerians. To this end, people have to pay through their nose to get the needed goods and services, in an atmosphere where companies are paying peanuts as salaries to their respective workers. In a week or so, the salary is gone and yet there are mandatory needs yet to be met, making workers rely on begging or seeking family assistance for survival. In a bid to correct this anomaly, Nigeria’s minimum wage, which had its advent in 1981, seeks to set a wage floor at an amount considered sufficient to satisfy the basic necessities – food, clothing, housing, education, and recreation – of workers. However, in the last four years, especially last year, the increase in the prices of goods and services, especially the basic needs have been alarming. From the time the minimum wage of N18,000 was enacted in March 2011, the average prices of goods have increased by about 88.3 per cent, meaning that a worker now needs N31,823 to buy the same amount of goods that N18,000 could have bought in 2011. So, it makes a lot of sense when workers under the auspices of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) are calling for increase in minimum wage. The labour union, had last year, proposed a new minimum wage of N56,000 to the Federal Government of which government set up a 30-member tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee On November 27, 2017 to negotiate a new National Minimum Wage for Nigerian workers. From then till now, it seems the body language of the government towards the issue has not been favourable, prompting the labour unions to issue a 14-day ultimatum to the FG to address the issue, or else, workers will, as usual, go on strike. The ultimatum expires tomorrow. The implication of the government refusing to address the labour’s demand before then would be a total economic lockdown. THE PROPOSED STRIKE At the weekend, NLC said it would commence a nationwide industrial action alongside civil society organisations on the 26th of September, 2018, should the federal government fail to meet its demand for the tripartite committee to reconvene and complete its assignment on the new minimum wage against which the action is a must. Rising from its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Abuja, president, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, expressed disappointment at the manner in which members of new minimum wage tripartite committee on the side of federal government unilaterally adjourned the tripartite meeting on the day the committee was expected to complete its assignment. “NEC noted that this is against the principle of collective bargaining as provided in ILO conventions 98 and 131 on minimum wage setting process, which Nigeria had domesticated,” he said. According to him, the union has resolved that at the expiration of the 14 days industrial action notice issued to the federal government over the new minimum wage issue if the demand of the organised is not met, NEC has mandated the NAC and the leadership of organised labour the power to declare appropriate industrial action or any action it deems necessary. He said: “NEC resolve that all its affiliates unions and the 36 state councils of Congress, the FCT and joint action front communicate the decision of NEC to their members and all workers.” Similarly, Oil and gas workers unions are threatening industrial action over alleged plans by the management of Chevron to circumvent labour contract guidelines to sack thousands of its workers. The national leadership of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Association (PENGASSAN) at the weekend expressed concern over what it called looming mass job losses. The unions said they were concerned with the manner with which the Chevron management was executing the end of M15 and H15 contracts. They alleged that the agreements were ‘laced with hidden plans and intentions to unilaterally and heinously sack thousands of contract workers.’ The unions said: “At this juncture, we are further constrained to notify the general public that NUPENG and PENGASSAN will not hesitate to embark on a nationwide industrial action on this matter.’’ owever, the general manager, Policymakers, Government and Public Affairs, Chevron Nigeria Ltd, Mr Esimaje Brikinn, said the firm was committed to workers’ welfare and the growth of the nation’s economy, stating that existing contracts of all its manpower services providers will expire by end of October, 2018 and that the expiring contracts are being replaced with new manpower services contracts. STAKEHOLDERS’ RESPONSE A civil servant, Mr Solomon Michael, said: “I wish the federal government will conclude negotiation on the implementation of a new minimum wage so that I will know that my salary will rise to be able to cater for my kids.” Moreover, president, Medical and Health Workers Union, Mr Biobelemoye Joshua, said the organised labour would not allow government to use the minimum wage issue to score political point, as labour is ready to embark on the proposed strike. President, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Mr Bobboi Kaigama, noted that Nigeria’s N18,000 might be the lowest in Africa. According to him, Nigerian workers cannot afford to wait endlessly for the implementation of the new minimum wage in view of the economic realities as their monthly take-home pay can no longer support their demands. “The issue of minimum wage is legitimate to the Nigerian worker. It is expected that five years down the line, employers are supposed to sit down with their employees represented by trade unions to review their wages. We are two years behind schedule on this. The dollar rate when the last minimum wage came into being was N150. It has now more than doubled that figure,” he emphasised. He lambasted state governments for giving excuses as to why it would be difficult to implement the minimum wage of N56, 000 being proposed by organized trade unions in the country. Corroborating this observation, an Analyst, Mr Salihu Lukman, said, issues of minimum wage are popular largely because, in some ways, the benefits are far beyond the target beneficiaries. “This is because of the consequential effect of wage adjustments for other categories of workers and citizens as a result of increasing the minimum wage,’’ he explained. WAY FORWARD According to an analyst, Mr. Cheta Nwanze, whenever, there is strike, businesses are shut down, government offices are closed and work is brought to a total halt, usually for an indefinite period. This, he said, has become the predominant culture of industrial dispute resolution in this country, as the only way to solve labour disputes, noting that, in other countries, an upgraded strike culture exists. He stressed: “Instead of refusing to go to work, they go to work and provide the services for free to citizens. This has in many cases forced the hands of the government, or private companies to address the underlying root causes of such industrial action, often expeditiously.” Citing example of a protest on May 11, 2018 in Japan, he said, protesting bus drivers in the sleepy Japanese city of Okayama continued plying their routes but refused fares from passengers, adding that, last year in Sydney, Australia, bus drivers from 12 depots conducted a “fare-free day”, turning off card machines as part of a dispute over government plans to privatise services in the country. The attractive selling point of these emerging protest initiatives, according to him, is that, in cases such as Okayama and Sydney, management cannot use the labour stoppage against the protesters, appealing to the public that they are putting their own needs before the community, unlike what is happening in the country. The moral lesson is that we need to adopt these smarter measures that aim to secure more economic equality, without actually damaging the ailing economy we already have, he pointed out. However, some economists believe that Organised Labour is making legitimate but unrealistic demands, as they know the governments and employers cannot pay, yet efforts are being made to sign a new minimum wage into law. While foreseeing a future where governmental activities will be paralysed by workers’ strikes to force implementation, just like it is being planned, they called for restructuring as there is no way the new national minimum wage can be implemented. By virtue of exploding population of nearly 200 million and GPD growth rate of less than two per cent, market observers said Nigeria is living in abject poverty, while the prediction that Nigeria would become the poverty capital of the world by 2018 is now a concrete reality. “Over-centralisation must go! We must decentralise the system, give power back to the people and allow them to create sustainable economies at all levels. We see no other viable way out,” an analyst said. LEADERSHIP learnt that poor implementation of the extant minimum wage has been another thorny issue for the workforce. While it was fixed in order to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable, the ill-informed or isolated groups of individuals, investigation shows that the implementation of the minimum wage has been a challenge in Nigeria due to lax enforcement systems. Information has it that penalties for non-compliance with the minimum wage law have not had the desired dissuasive effects on account of weak penalties, hence, if the proposed minimum wage is approved, implementation, especially, by state governments as well as private sector could be an issue. This, according to findings, could force companies to go for casual workers at the expense of full time staff.