Bimbola Oyesola, 08033246177
The year 2019 will go down in history as the most traumatising one for Nigerian workers. The struggle for the new minimum wage of N30,000 and the consequential adjustment took the better part of the year. Organised labour also had other issues such as rising unemployment, retrenchment, border closure and VAT increase, among others, to contend with.
2019 was a year in which the labour movement at every point engaged government and employers on issues such as the new minimum wage, good governance and protection of workers’ rights.
Labour shut down the operations of some banks, food companies and some power sector organisations due to what it considered anti-labour practices.
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, said the labour movement was able to defend and promote the cause of Nigerian workers, adding that their focus was to build workers’ power.
He said: “Our leadership has led from the front in many struggles to free workers from exploitation. We have promoted and defended the economic, political, social rights and wellbeing of Nigerian workers, pensioners and our trade unions. We fought for decent work. We resisted casualization of work. We have canvassed for good governance at all levels, championed the fight against corruption, promoted social justice and respect for the rule of law. Overall, we have defended the cause of a Nigerian nation that is just, democratic, transparent, inclusive and prosperous – a society built on social justice and where all citizens can access education, healthcare and can create sustainable wealth.
“In defending and promoting the cause of Nigerian workers, our focus is to build workers’ power. We have worked tirelessly to promote causes that can enhance the quality of life and improve the income cum other working conditions of workers.
“Our collective leadership has provided a voice to the voiceless. As a matter of top priority, we have confronted the huge inequality gap in our society. Like they say, charity begins at home. We have expanded the platform of participation for our women and youth. For the first time in the history of Congress, we have created a democratic youth structure with visible representation at the highest organs of congress. We have also strived towards the attainment of gender equality and improvements in the conditions of women in the world of work and society in general. We have encouraged our affiliates to emulate this.”
The workers had entered the year with their hope dashed on the new Minimum Wage, but still hopeful that the National Assembly will pass the bill and President Muhammad Buhari append his signature early. Afterall it is an election year! But the President did not sign the bill until April after so much threat from the workers leadership. If the workers were excited about the presidential appendage, what follows later was frustrating, as they would have to wait a long time before getting the new wage. The consequential adjustment must be made and Federal Government would have to inaugurate a body comprising labour, and representative of the government. This dragged on for months and Labour had to issue another threat before the committee was eventually inaugurated.
After 186 days of delay from April when President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the new Minimum Wage Act of N30,000 for Nigerian workers, the Federal Government and Labour on October 18, 2019, finally reached an agreement on the most contentious aspect of its implementation, namely relativity and consequential adjustment for workers at various levels.
The Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Festus Keyamo, announced the agreement reached after many weeks of intense and suspense-filled negotiations.
By the agreement, the core civil servants:- GL 7 (23.2%), GL 8 (20%), GL 9 (19%), GL 10-14 (16%) and GL 15-17 (14%).
Others in the health sector, GL 7 (23.2%) like above; 8-14 shall earn (16%) and 15-17 (10.5).
All the while, labour was threatening a general strike unless government reached a deal with it. After much haggling over the finer details of the Act, the final agreement reached and signed was a major breakthrough.
The road to the new minimum wage law itself was not easy for both parties as it featured contentious negotiations as well as arm-twisting of government by labour with threats of general strike, in the face of seeming unwillingness by government to cede to the workers’ demands. It was remarkable that even after the assent to the Act by President Buhari it is taking the process eight months to be implemented. Stakeholders believe that this is due to the government adopting a disposition that offered little credit to it as a committed stakeholder in the welfare of the country’s workers.
Labour had reacted that the successful completion of the consequential salary adjustment for public sector workers, based on the new national minimum wage without strike was a victory for all Nigerian workers.
The NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC), in separate statements, said it was heartwarming that the process was eventually rewarding.
Wabba had said, “We must say, as always, we are disappointed with the antics of those whose interest lies elsewhere than the common goal of protecting and advancing the interest of ordinary Nigerian workers.
“We wish to emphasize that the hard-won salary adjustment will benefit all categories of workers, including those in the military and paramilitary services.”
Wabba stated that, apart from workers, the recent salary increase will also benefit ordinary citizens, especially those in the informal sector as the increase in the available disposable income of workers would translate to stronger purchasing power for the people.
He, however, noted that it would only be sustainable if traders and providers of essential services refrain from artificial inflation of the prices of goods and services.
He said, “It makes more sense to sell more at a stable price than sell little or nothing at inflated prices. Certainly, we have learnt from our past mistakes that inflation of prices with adjustment in salaries is a roulette game in which the downtrodden masses are the victims.
“We also call on government to refrain from introducing counter-productive economic policies and decisions that would erode the recent wage gain achieved by workers. Any further increase in the prices of petroleum products, electricity tariff and personal income taxes would amount to collecting with the left hand what is given to workers with the right hand. The leadership of organized labour will resist such move.”
But the Federal Government may be seen as having a different plan for workers, because, while workers, mostly at the federal level, where the consequential has been concluded, are yet to receive the new wage, the National Assembly barely a month after passed a bill to increase VAT from 5 to 7.2 per cent as requested by the executive.
The TUC equally said that although it was a rough road to the consequential adjustment, the centre was happy that an agreement had been signed. President of the congress, Quadri Olaleye, said it was not an easy journey, but it is now over, and government’s team should be appreciated for their wisdom and sincerity.
The TUC boss said he was particularly happy with the agreement because it addressed some salary discrepancies and that workers have agitated so much about.
“This is a unique agreement and we promise to build on that, by God’s grace,” he said.
Meanwhile, labour has expressed displeasure over the delay in the payment of the new wage even though government, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has assured workers that the arears would be paid.
At the conclusion of government’s consequential adjustment, the labour leaders have urged the states to commence their negotiation with their respective workers and ensure that the implementation is a product of collective bargaining process in line with ILO Convention 98 on Organizing and Collective Bargaining.
The statement after the meeting had read, “Furthermore, all employers of labour in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as well as the organized private sector are expected to complete the implementation process of the new national minimum wage and consequential wage adjustment forthwith.
“State councils of the NLC are hereby directed to offer leadership and work harmoniously with the TUC and JNPSNC and all unions to ensure effective implementation of the new national minimum wage and the consequential salary adjustment that must be reached through a process of collective bargaining.”
Part of the directives to the state council was that the minimum wage consequential adjustment in the states must be wrapped up before December 31 as workers must have the new wage in their December salary.
But for Lagos and Kaduna, most of the states are yet to commence negotiations. Negotiations only commenced in Ogun State last week after the workers threatened to shut the state.
The Association of Senior Civil Servants (ASCSN) said 18 states were yet to commence negotiations, while 11 have started.
The secretary-general of the association, Bashir Alade Lawal, said 2019 was a mixed bags of fortunes for Nigerian workers.
He lamented that in spite of the new minimum wage, workers could not get hold of it.
General-secretary of the Non Academic Staff Union of Tertiary and Allied Institution (NASU), Peters Adeyemi, opined that the concluding year could be considered the worst for the workers in recent times.
He said: “It is really traumatising for Nigerian workers that in spite of the fact that the new wage has not been paid, prices of goods are skyrocketing. The inflation is unbearable. Nigerian workers are subjected to various suffering on a daily basis. We are forced to pay different taxes and imagine the increase in VAT. It’s like giving us the minimum wage with one hand and collecting it with the another hand. We’ve said it time without number that it’s only workers that pay taxes in this country because it is deducted even before we get our salary.”
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in its latest report, indicated that the general number of persons unemployed in the country had increased by 3.3 million.
The report further indicated that the combined rate of unemployment and under-employment rose from 40.0 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 43.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2018.
This is despite the Federal Government announcement of a sum of Ten Billion Naira (N1,000,000,000.00) budget for job creation.
Wabba in his reaction said the nation should be worried that the increased pool of graduates, skilled and unskilled youth in the unemployment market especially rural unemployment is a time bomb.
According to him, any attempt to sack workers under any guise as it happened in Kaduna State will complicate the situation.
The Federal Government had on August 19 announced the closure of Nigeria’s land borders with its West African neighbours in an exercise code-named ‘Swift Response’.
Government explained that it was part of efforts to stave off the rising incidence of cross-border banditry and smuggling of certain items. The action, which has necessitated joint border operations by a combined team of security agencies, has been greeted by mixed reactions from stakeholders. While some, especially rice producers have applauded the closure, others have bemoaned the action.
However some labour experts said the closure aimed at checking smuggling may also be counter-productive if it is not urgently reviewed.
They opined that although the measure might have yielded much revenue to the government, it has also led to rise in the prices of staple food items. Not only this, they said there is a threat to job security as many manufacturing companies cannot export their products to the neighbouring countries.
They expressed concern about introducing such a policy without palliative, submitting that the policy in their estimation remains an unjust man-made code that neither squares with moral laws nor uplifts human personalities, as it possesses the capacity to render many Nigerians jobless and hungry.
The President of the National Union of Chemical Footwear Rubber Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), Goke Olatunji said border closure by the Federal Government is seriously threatening over 200,000 jobs in the sector, as many companies are threatening to downsize.
He said some of the member companies are already lamenting over the poor sale, because some of their products cannot be exported to the neighbouring country.
But the Trade Union Congress (TUC) sees it as a welcome development.
Nevertheless, the trade centre said there must be measures in place to alleviate the suffering of the Nigeria masses in order for the policy not to be at variance with simple logic of fulfilling the No 2. Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals which is to ensure there is zero hunger in the country.
Labour considered the Finance Bill passed by the Senate to increase VAT, Excise Duty, Stamp Duty and others as means to further impoverish the citizens.
They equally considered it as sign of bad governance, unjust and totally unacceptable.
The Regional President of IndustriALL Global and General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garments and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Issa Aremu said the increase is rather unjust most especially on poor Nigerians and the workers who have been at the receiving end of the inflation and other economic challenges.
“It’s unfair to have indiscriminatory taxation imposed on poor Nigerians, moreso when the Minimum Wage has just been increased and the workers are yet to receive it. It’s uncalled for to have additional tax imposed on the poor Nigerians,” he said.
Aremu who is also a National Executive Council (NEC) member of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said it amounts to taking away whatever succour the federal government might have offered the workers in terms of salary increase.