Workers the world over are today marking May Day or Workers’ Day, a day set aside to reflect on the conditions of workers and proffer solutions to their plight. As usual, Nigerian workers across the country will observe the event with solidarity rallies and speeches on the need to bring succour to workers.
For Nigerian workers, this year’s May Day has come at a time the economy is in recession and various governments owe their workers months of salary arrears. Some other workers in the private sector are also not spared the backlog of unpaid salaries. Pensioners are also owed several months of pensions across the country.
The current inflationary trend in the country put at about 17.8 percent has made nonsense of the national minimum wage of N18,000. As a result of the high exchange rate of the naira to the dollar, prices of essential commodities have gone beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians. Workers’ incomes are no longer commensurate to the level of inflation in the country. For many Nigerian workers, the minimum wage is no longer realistic as they cannot live on it.
In other words, the minimum wage cannot meet the basic needs of workers. This explains why they are calling for an increase in the minimum wage to at least N50,000 per month. It is not in doubt that Nigerian workers are in difficult times. Apart from working in inclement work environments, they are generally poorly paid. These workers actually deserve a raise in their wages to meet their basic needs.
But, while an increase in workers’ wages is both necessary and justifiable, the problem is where the money for the increase will come from at this time that many states cannot even pay the current wages. The various tiers of governments are facing a severe cash crunch, with some states only paying some of the salaries of their workers with bailouts from the Federal Government.
Despite the dwindling revenue accruing to government on account of the fall in crude oil prices, we expect the government to find ways of ameliorating the suffering of workers and other beleaguered Nigerians. Workers and, indeed, all Nigerians deserve the best from the present government that promised them so much before coming to power.
We recall that one of the campaign promises of the present government is to improve the welfare of Nigerian workers. Almost two years down the line, that promise is yet to be fulfilled. Instead, workers are subjected to undue hardship.
Many Nigerians are employed as casual workers despite the extant laws against the practice. The casualisation of labour is rampant among commercial banks and the foreign companies operating in Nigeria, especially those owned by Asians. We call on the government to stop casualisation of labour and all forms of discrimination against Nigerian workers.
Besides, government should institute policies to alleviate the suffering of Nigerian workers. This could include initiatives such as subsidised housing, transportation and effective medicare. Since the government has said that the current recession will end in the third quarter of this year, we will hold it to that promise for the sake of workers. It is also sad that the government has not provided the many jobs it promised to create during the political campaigns.
We urge it to fulfill its promise of creating jobs. It should also provide an enabling environment for job creation. It must design creative ways to get the ever increasing army of unemployed Nigerians, many of whom are university graduates, productively engaged.
We call on all tiers of government and other employers of labour in the private sector to use the occasion of Workers’ Day to urgently address the plight of Nigerian workers and pay them a living wage.
Since a labourer deserves his wage, workers in the country ought to get their wages as due. Many workers in the private sector, especially in the banks and the multi-national accounting firms, are also not getting a fair deal as their employers are taking advantage of the widespread unemployment in the country to overwork and underpay them.
Nevertheless, we urge all workers to continue giving their best in their workplaces while agitating for improved welfare packages and conditions of service.