The stakeholders should agree on an acceptable formula before it is passed into law

The recent decision by the National Council of State to peg the national minimum wage at N27,000 for the least paid workers in the states and the private sector and N30,000 as the minimum wage for federal workers is a step in the right direction. But unless there are meaningful negotiations with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the coming weeks, the authorities may just be postponing another industrial crisis.

The new figure for the states is N3,000 below what labour agreed with the federal government and N4,500 above the N22,500 offered by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). According to the NLC general secretary, Peter Ozo-Eson, the council has no jurisdiction to determine a separate amount after a tripartite committee had adopted N30,000 as minimum wage and submitted its report to the federal government. The TUC shares a similar position. “Let it be known that N30,000 minimum wage is a product of negotiation, not legislation, not an advice and not a decree,” said TUC president, Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama.

One of the grounds often advanced to support review of wages is that the Nigerian workforce is comparatively in the category of the least paid workers in Africa. So miserable is the take home pay of a Nigerian worker that it pales in comparison to what workers in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Angola earn. The current minimum wage of N18,000 ($50) per month that became effective in 2011 is definitely not enough to enable any worker live a decent life.

While inadequate remunerations result in low productivity, we always make wrong assumption in this clime that minimum wage should be uniform across all the states, without isolating the peculiarity and operating environment of each state. Every nation fixes the minimum wage for workers in the public and private sectors. In principle, however, given the low internally generated revenue (IGR) by most states, it is apparent that only a few of them are viable and can comfortably pay the minimum wage.

Therefore, in as much as we endorse the conclusion reached by the Council of State, we are not sure many of the states can pay. But we are particularly concerned about the large number of idle workers on the pay roll who, like leeches, feed fat on scant resources. State governments should therefore be at liberty to reduce bloated workforce and retain only those that are productive. Also there is need to reflect on some of the cadres of workers in the civil service that are superfluous. 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?

As things stand today, our civil service is more or less reduced to a social welfare programme. Workers in some states don’t have offices while a significant number of those that go to work, spend productive office hours, either gossiping or watching Nollywood and Zeeworld series. Yet, the NLC, the TUC and their affiliates have also refused to allow minimum wage to be taken off the exclusive list. That is because they want to have control of workers’ check-off-dues.

In a democratic environment, such threats like “no work, no pay” that some employers in the public sector, including states, often tout whenever they are confronted with labour unrest arising from the issue of remunerations do not work. Now that a minimum wage bill is before the National Assembly, the only enduring solution is for all the critical stakeholders to begin a serious negotiation and come up with an acceptable formula before it is passed into law.