THE STRIKE OVER MINIMUM WAGE

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There must be serious commitment to signed agree

The already under-performing economy came under severe heat last week as banks, public and private offices, airlines, schools, hospitals and other businesses united with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and affiliates to shut their gates and services. The warning strike by workers was called to press home a demand for the review of the national minimum wage.

While a temporary truce might have been reached, it is important that an enduring solution be found to a problem that has festered over several years. “There are clear signs that the government is not ready for a new national minimum wage,” said Ayuba Wabba, the NLC President who added: “It has only been taking workers for a ride; it has only been taking advantage of workers misplaced abiding faith or trust. Given this circumstance, this warning strike is absolutely necessary. It is a precursor to the main strike which will be the mother of all strikes.”

Labour indeed has a point. The last time the minimum wage was fixed at N18,000 per month was 2011, two clear years after the Belgore tripartite committee agreed that the review should be done every five years. This was also in agreement with the 2004 National Minimum Wage Act and the International Labour Organisation convention. Yet wages have remained stagnant even when the cost of living has skyrocketed in an economy riddled with inflation and depressed spending. There is therefore a national consensus that workers in our country need an income raise to cushion the effect of the harsh economic environment.

However, the behaviour of the authorities has strengthened suspicions that there is no commitment to whatever they negotiate with workers. The government had pledged that the new minimum wage would come into effect this September. But typical of its agreements with labour and other trade organisations, it is still giving excuses. For one, the tripartite meeting had since been suspended, giving room to suspicion that the government is not sincere about fixing new wages for the shrinking work force. Indeed, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige said recently that September was no more feasible. “The process of arriving at new wages has been difficult and the critical role of governors, organised private sector and other stakeholders expected to play had all combined to delay the process,” he said.

We agree that all stakeholders be involved in these tricky negotiations but there must be serious commitment to signed agreements. While low remunerations result in low productivity, we always make wrong assumption in this clime minimum wage should be uniform across all the states, without isolating the peculiarity and operating environment of each state. But that is no excuse for irresponsibility, especially as some governors who do not pay workers in the states waste resources on white elephant projects that are conduits for stealing public funds.

However, we are concerned about the large number of idle workers on the pay roll both at the federal and in the states. Also there is need to reflect on some of the cadres of workers in the civil service that are superfluous. As things stand, our civil service is more or less a social welfare programme. For instance, of what value and relevance is enrolling typists on the payroll in this computer age? What is the essence of having as many as 20 drivers in a government agency that has no operational vehicles for them to drive?
As we have consistently argued on this page, the only enduring solution is for both the federal government and the authorities in the 36 states to put in place teams of serious negotiators who understand the issues and can look at the numbers before making the usual commitment to labour that are most often very difficult to implement.

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The only enduring solution is for both the federal and state governments to put in place teams of serious negotiators who understand the issues before making the usual commitment to labour