Last Wednesday, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, announced that it has made a new minimum wage proposal of N56,000 (about $281) to the federal government. From all indication, this is another festering headache for the government that is already grappling with a clear economic policy direction that will enable it fulfill it’s promises and make life more meaningful to Nigerians.
From the perspective of law and current economic reality, we cannot agree less with the unions. A critical examination of the current economic situation in the country makes the monthly take home of average Nigerian workers incapable of any decent living. Prices of food stuff, daily transportation to work, children’s school fees, cost of fueling and maintenance of personal vehicles, accommodation, hospital and other utility bills, cloths and several other vital consumables are hitting the rooftops as a result of high inflation, weak Naira, cash crunch among other policy challenges, are the compelling need the monthly pittance of workers are meant to solve. In fact, for an average civil servant, good life is an unaffordable luxury.
But on the other hand, given the fact that the federal government has been lamenting that the national revenue has drastically dwindled as a result of the fall of oil price at the international market, which makes it unable to properly finance recurrent expenditure, we wonder whether it is feasible to increase minimum wage at the moment.
Besides, there are points that must be underscored. For instance, most state governments are still owing salary arrears up to seven months. Last month, the federal government declared 27 states bankrupt stating that they are incapable of paying salaries and maintain efficient daily government operations. Most, if not all states of the federation are indebted running into hundreds of billions of Naira. Under this crunching financial condition, can the present economy bear salary increment?
It would be recalled that in 2011, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan increased workers’ minimum wage to N18,000. While many states were able to pay, others could not up till today. It is also important to stress that even at the federal level, staff of several institutions and agencies are still clamoring for full implementation of the minimum wage as signed with the past administration.
Of course, the union are entitled to a better deal with the present government, but the timing of the demand is rather awkward. Is the minimum wage the most pressing national issue for the unions at the moment? There have been expectations from suffering Nigerians over the last few months that the labour unions would put the government on its toes by speaking on behalf of the masses to government to work out a better economic policy capable of ameliorating their hardship orchestrated by endless fuel scarcity, throttling monetary policy and a number of policy summersaults. It was a far cry.
We want labour to wake up from slumber and b more pro-active in championing popular national course that has immediate positive impacts.
The contention of labour, according to NLC’s national president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, is that the current national minimum wage of 18, 000 Naira is no longer realistic considering the current economic downturn. In his words, the NLC president argued that “Our argument is that, yes, it is true that the economy is not doing well, but the law stated that wages for workers must be reviewed after every five years. So, the issue must be looked into by the Federal Government and workers should not be seen as sleeping on their rights,” he said.
Another argument was that when the 18,000 Naira minimum wage was negotiated, the value of exchange rate at that time was almost at 110 Naira to the dollar. “But as at today, the value of the Naira to the dollar has been reduced; and there are the issues of inflation and purchasing power, among others to contend with”, Mr Wabba stressed.
While we agree with labour that workers wages should be increased, we consider this important demand as a distraction to other immediate pressing needs the labour ought to address.