The Cole Solution to Job Loss  

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Mr. Tonye Cole, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State is seriously concerned about growing unemployment in the state

There have been several concerns about the impact of a new minimum wage, in the opinion, Tonye Cole, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State, the minimum wage should be a living wage. By this he means that a worker who earns the minimum wage should be able to afford the basic needs of life (food, shelter and clothing). Supporting the stance of the workers that the current minimum wage is a poverty wage, saying since it is the equivalent of only N580 per day, he would like to see Nigerian workers earn a national living wage. More than that, he believes that a worker should be rewarded based on the value created. He gave an example, an employer may find it difficult to sustain the salary of an employee earning N100,000 per month, if the employee only contributes N50,000 worth of value.

Cole, whose various business interests employs thousands of workers was concerned about the ability of the states to the new minimum wage of N30,000 if the President approves. He gave a witty response. “There is something more important than the ability to pay. It is the willingness to pay. We are humans even before we are Nigerians. The facts shows that an employee who collected N18,000 per month in 2011 would be happier than the person who will collect N30,000 in 2018. This is because the rate of inflation has deflated the wages of workers in private and public sector institutions. But despite the financial constraints several states face, a higher minimum wage has more advantages than disadvantages. A higher wage attracts and keeps talent. A higher wage will assist you to keep your child in school. A higher wage gives low income families access to better health care and drugs. States must no longer treat wage as an expense. Wage is an investment. More than ever before, government must be run like a serious business. A higher minimum wage is a new contract with a worker. The worker also promises a higher minimum productivity. Both parties must fulfill this obligation.”

For obvious reasons, Cole zeroed on his home state, Rivers, stating that it can’t hide under a drop in oil prices to plead inability to pay the new minimum wage. According to him, since 2008, Rivers State has been generating over N1 million per day in internally generated revenue (IGR). The only state in Nigeria that generates more internal revenue than Rivers is Lagos State. IGR is money that does not come from the federation account. “This means that there is an economy in Rivers State that goes beyond relying on oil income from the federation account. In other words, Rivers State is filled with untapped potential.”

As far as Cole is concerned, the potential of Rivers State can’t be limited by the rising cost of living. He argued that the cost of living in Paris, London, and San Francisco is relatively high. Despite the high cost of living in these cities, they keep attracting new migrants, tourists and business visitors. In his estimation, this shows that though it is important to reduce the rising cost of food and rent, reducing the high cost of living should not be the vision of any serious government.

He stated his priority, “My focus is on reducing the higher cost of insecurity, joblessness and poor education.  The future of Rivers State lies in how quickly its leader can create and distribute wealth.”

He further canvassed policies that can be used to improve the quality and standard of labour in Rivers State.According to him, “the oil sector is not just the most attractive sector it is the only attractive sector. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveals that agriculture contributes 26 per cent to our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Sadly, in Rivers State, agriculture contributes only ten percent 10 per cent to the GDP of the state. This is the time to have an agricultural revolution in Rivers. This will lead to thousands of jobs for our unemployed youths. The latest unemployment report reveals that Rivers State has the worst unemployment record in Nigeria. More than 40 per cent of potential workers in the state are unemployed. We cannot continue to feed the rich while the poor starve.”

Drawing from the experience of his many interventions in creative and productive engagement of youths, Cole addressed the concerns from the private sector that the real problem in Nigeria is not only unemployment but the unemployability of the youths. He said, “If youths are unemployable, then we need to retool our teachers. Certainly, better skills will reduce unemployability. One of the ways that India has reduced poverty, illiteracy and unemployment is through a revolution in its education sector. We must create new incentives for our children to stay in school.  They must see that quality education will guarantee a quality job. In Rivers State, the fastest way out of a the real unemployment crisis is to balance the expectations between those who want a higher minimum wage and others who want a minimum job, as there are approximately three million unemployed and underemployed persons living in Rivers.”

Pointing to other sectors in Rivers State that can engage the youths, Cole insisted that the level of industrial development in Asia, Europe and America makes it difficult (not impossible) for Nigeria to compete in the global manufacturing industry. He sounded a note of hope. “We still have an opportunity to compete favorably in the services sector. As Governor, I will initiate new policies that will attract investments in entertainment, sports and creative arts.”

Women are another critical sector of the populace that need to join the labour force for the simple reason that a woman must be respected and treated fairly not only during the job application process, but while she is on the job.There is a lot of on-going research on how lowering the personal income tax rate for women can be used to encourage women to participate in the labour force. A Tonye Cole administration will innovate a state wide process that protects the identity of women who report cases of sexual harassment, intimidation and domestic abuse.

QUICK FACTS:

*Minimum wage should be able to afford the basic needs of life-food, shelter and clothing

*Current minimum wage is the equivalent of only N580 per day

*An employee who collected N18,000 per month in 2011 would be happier than the person who will collect N30,000 in 2018

*The rate of inflation has deflated the wages of workers in private and public sector institutions

*A higher minimum wage has more advantages than disadvantages. A higher wage attracts and keeps talent

*States must no longer treat wage as an expense. Wage is an investment.

*More than ever before, government must be run like a serious business. A higher minimum wage is a new contract with a worker

*Since 2008, Rivers State has been generating over N1 million per day in internally generated revenue (IGR). The only state in Nigeria that generates more internal revenue than Rivers is Lagos State

*In Rivers State, agriculture contributes only 10 per cent to the GDP of the state

*Rivers State has the worst unemployment record in Nigeria. More than 40 per cent of potential workers in the state are unemployed

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