By Bimbola Oyesola
With the continuous rise in the prices of goods and services and workers take home now inconsequential compared to the effect of the galloping inflation on earnings, Nigerian workers may soon be calling for a general wage review.
Infact the Secretary General of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Bashir Alade Lawal opined that the review is not new in the public sector as it has been an agreement between labour and government.
On the issue of Minimum Wage from the Exclusive list to the Concurrent list, he warned that it is a global practice and would be disastrous for Nigeria to say they want to tow a different line.
The labour leader also speaks on way out of the present insecurity issue and other national challenges.
Civil servants are the worst hit. They are the worst hit, things are really so bad. They are living from hands to mouth and there’s no hope anywhere. Some of us have thought that by the promise made by the government long ago that there would be a general wage review after the implementation of the consequential adjustment and that would assist, but unfortunately that is not to be. Also the role the price of petrol played in the lives of individuals vis a vis in price of other commodities in this country. We all know what the price of fuel is saying now and we know where the government is going has made matters worse. So what workers are taking as salaries now can barely take them for days not to talk of one calendar month. So people are now looking for various ways to survive including begging. The rate of begging now is very rampant and then some of us have seen it that it appears that the country is moving towards precipice. It appears government is not seeing it the way we are looking at it. We just want to pray. As labour now, the best you can do is to mount pressure as a pressure group. The listening to your cry and the implementation of whatever you are crying for lies with the government, and they tell a lot of lies, particularly at the state levels. It is worst, even most of them that claimed to have negotiated to the consequential adjustment and arrived at something for workers, they’ve reneged. Some have revert back to paying 50 percent of what they should pay. Some have even suspended implementation, some are paying whatever they like. So the entire country is in crisis and that no wonder the rates of crimes and its associated ills are becoming uncontrollable. Like I said earlier on, we never had it so bad!
What need to be done
It’s very easy. Even if they don’t want to talk of wage review, there are so many other welfare packages that can be provided for workers that would make life more meaningful. In the time past, there are avenues whereby they created department that brings in some goods that workers need at reasonable prices but all those kinds of initiative are no longer available so you are forced to go into competitive market with those who have deep pockets. So, they are not doing it. The issue of petroleum is now deregulated. It is based on market dynamic now. The higher the price of good, the higher the price of those things that come out of the crude including petrol. For example towards festive period, before there are some certain incentives that are provided for workers, particularly at the federal level to ameliorate the challenges they faced on daily basis as a result of the harsh economic environment, but as we speak, only very few organisations are doing it now. Everything is now into the pocket of these very greedy few. But on top of it all, I think it is right what we agreed during the consequential adjustment negotiation, in general wage review at least to put workers in a better stead than what they are now. What is happening now, you need to take a tour of the ministries, even at the federal level, you will be amazed, what you will see. So there’s need for palliative in terms of provision of certain basics items for workers at a reduced prices on a regular basis till things can take a better shape.
Call for a wage review
Yes! Am calling for a wage review. General wage review because we’ve agreed. It’s an agreement between labour and government. But they reneged, they are not talking about it again. But we will continue to push for it. The avenue we have as public servants to put our views across to government in terms of demands is the National Public Service Negotiating Council and at the last count, we still made it. The next meeting that is likely to hold, we are going to make it again. But unfortunately, when it gets to a particular level where these things should be passed on to the highest level of government, you see them fidgeting, I don’t know, nobody wants to go and face these people and tell them point blank, so but we will continue to push, continue to press, continue to agitate, continue to demand until they listen to us.
Why not hourly wages?
It is not that we cannot, but the problem with Nigeria is that once you mention something that is new, novel, instead of the other party to sit down and look at the practicability, and see whether they would be better than what we have now, once it is new, it will be shot down. Just like what we are saying, workers pay their rent on annual basis, no landlord collects rents monthly again, so then the workers should be paid their rent components once and the rest divided into twelve, but the response has been negative, violently resisted despite the fact that we are not asking that they should increase the salary in anyway. But just because they cannot decipher what we are proposing, it has been resisted, saying that it would cause inflation. I wonder what will cause the inflation. That is the issue looking at this hourly rating. Before when some of us are working as clerk in the 70s, we were paying twice a month, that is every two two weeks, If you pay every two two weeks and you are paying a month and you are being paid hourly, it doesn’t make any difference. But the point is they look at salary raise as inflationary initiative. But it is not so, because if you put more money into the pockets of workers, they could not keep these money in their respective houses. They are going to spend and when you spend, you reflate the economy. There would be activities, the GDP will rise. Like what the palliative that has just been introduced in America, infact the World Bank is saying that it’s going to raise the global GDP by about 2.5 or is it 3 percent, I can’t remember.
Even though, this thing is happening in America, but it’s going to impact on global growth, that is what we are talking about. You can now imagine its effect on American economy. But if you raise that kind of thing here because most of those who claimed to be in position of authority, most of them don’t have anything to offer. We have engaged some of them in time past and I can say it without any fear of contradiction that they don’t have anything to offer. If they have something to offer, even this wage review that we are talking about, comes in with more growth. Look at it, look at what we are paying now. What we are paying now, is it the correct thing, or there is a kind of challenge somewhere? Then if it’s the correct thing, then give them some hypothetical figure to work on, they will come back with the results that will surprise you. But unfortunately nobody is ready to do any thinking such that you will call it a thinking outside the box and coming out with such a fantastic ideas that can push this country forward. Even if you’re saying it in some informed quarter, the kind of response you will hear, you will marvel. Is it workers alone? What is your percentage? But are workers not the one baking the cake? And when they collect the money, is it the man collecting the money that will spend it on his own? Those who are tied to one worker in this country, they are more than 20, directly and indirectly. Directly, he has a wife, he has at least four kids on the average, he has an aged mother, in some cases, he has an aged father. He has brothers and sisters who are not working. When he comes to work, he’s going to buy food, when he’s going home, or coming from home, he’s going to enter transport, he’s going to meet some people who doesn’t have at all that he would be sympathetic towards and reach out to them. This is the way it is. He comes to work, one way or the other he discovered that the shoe he wears has torn somewhere, he would send someone to the cobbler the cobbler would eat. He comes to work, he discovered that his wristwatch is no longer working, he wants to repair, this is the way economy moves. You don’t keep the money. If you have N50, if you keep that N50, it is N50. But if you break that N50, you take N10, give to Mr. A, whether you buy something from him or you give him N10, that money is no longer N50. It’s N50 +N10, because it has added N10. It becomes N60. If that Mr. A pay N6 out of it, the money has become N66. This is the way it grows, but a lot of people don’t understand the dynamic. Somebody will just keep that N50, and it will remain so. It’s not going to add any value to the economy and everybody will keep on sufferings and that is where we have found ourselves.
It’s a disaster. If it sails through, the workers are in trouble. We still have the Minimum Wage in the Exclusive list, they are shortchanging workers. By the time you now removed it to the Concurrent list, it would be unimaginable. They don’t understand, it’s just the minimum below which the law does not allow you to go. That’s just the thing and when you talk of N30,000, how much is N30,000 for God sake and any sane arrangements, you know in the next four, five years, you go for another negotiation,you must have commissioned the study group now to start looking at it to know what to manage in the next three, four years when the agitation will start again. At least in relation to the position of the law, but they will not do that, all you hear is we can’t pay, we can’t pay. But if it’s to carry money and say ex governor should take this, every four, four years and the rest, there would not be any resistance. It’s just a pity. The issue of Minimum Wage in the Exclusive list is a global practice and it would be disastrous for Nigeria to say they want to tow a different line. Which means we want to detach ourselves from the global community and the implications could be very grave. I would advise, the promoter of that particular nonsense to desist, withdraw the bill, so that we can all live in peace because this one is an area that we will not conceed and we are ready to fight it to the end.
It has impacted negatively. Let them look into the idea of injecting something into the pockets of Nigerians to be able to live. People are hungry, in effect, they are angry, in effect many are ready to do anything for survival. The cause of all these we are witnessing , it’s abject poverty, that is causing all these banditry, insurgency, armed robbery in most cases. Let them come up with ideas of doing something for the people to ameliorate the sufferings. The sufferings are just too much. We will be deceiving ourselves, will I use oil resources to buy AK 47, they say an hungry man is an angry man. So only very few, will be able to manage what we have on ground. Our reputation globally, has plummeted so much. I once watched a video, someone said she was coming from Kenya to Nigeria, that the whole community stood on her way to stop her from embarking on a suicide mission. But she insisted and those back home felt they would be expecting her dead body. When she came, she saw that things are bad, but not as being portrayed. If we are able to manage it from what it is now, possibly it’s going to wriggle out. America is the richest country in the world, but they’ve been able to understand that even the level of have not there needs to be managed. That’s why the new president was able to come up with economic relief package. It transcends the issue of party affiliation. Most Americans embraced it. Like I said earlier, you see the effect even on Global economy. They are not even stopping at that one, they are now talking of $15 per hour Minimum Wage. Are we saying they don’t know what they are doing? In Nigeria it’s a different thing. If you say palliative, some people will corner it, put it in their pockets. The thing will not get to the place where they really need it. They deceived us, they said they want to give something to cushion the effect of the pandemic, we should submit names, they gave labour some slots, we are running after ourselves submitting names. Some people were now asking me, we submitted names three months ago, what is happening? It’s possible that the names we submitted, they used them to retire some money on their own. It’s man inhumanity to man, we are very wicked! We don’t love ourselves and that is why at every giving opportunity, they parade religion, they parade ethnicity. If you go to Oyingbo market now, the price of coconut being sold by an igbo woman is the same being sold by a Yoruba woman and if you are hungry, and you don’t put your money in your pocket and you go to an Igbo woman and you say nne, you know we are from the same place, she would drive you with cutlass. So hunger has no tribe, it has no religion. It’s a universal thing, so the earlier we look at this issue of poverty, the better. The rate at which we are going, am afraid even if you go to this big hotels now, you see those who are working there, they are looking for tips, right from the gates. Where lies the security of all those who are sleeping there!
Negotiating with bandits
Those are cosmetics policies, it will not work. How can you negotiate with bandits. Ameliorate the sufferings, through the provisions of palliative and do something tangible to put money in the pockets of Nigerians to be able to fend for themselves. Go to China, and some other nation’s, you see some of those small scales industries that can employ five, ten, fifteen people at a goal. Come, use your money to establish it, create a kind of management arrangements such that people would not come and say it’s government that want to steal the place. Think about something, such that people who are going to manage it will know that if you perform, this is the result, if you do not, this is it. In America, economy is not tick because of all those big conglomerates, it’s the small small scales and with the recent arrangements, the President signs $1.9 trillion, the large chunk of that money was targeting those small businesses so that they can go back to business and employ workers. So we really need to sit down and most of the politicians don’t have anything upstairs and that is why instead of thinking on what to do, they bought guns, and import ammunition to be able to fight themselves into the government house. So when you spill blood before you get into the government house, what are you going to get. If you sow wind, then you will reap the whirlwind. That’s exactly what we are witnessing here. Those in government, particularly at the state and local government levels, they are no there.