Because they did not think it through, a routine has become enmeshed in unnecessary controversy and gradually turning to a political issue.
In recent weeks, the issue of minimum wage has engaged our attention. Suddenly, it has become part of the major issues in the nation. I want to make this point and I mean what I want to say, minimum wage is important but I insist with every sense of responsibility that it is not a very critical factor in classical development. I say so because it falls within administrative matters that ought to be handled in a routine fashion. Matters of salaries and wages are institutionalized issues in any organized society, they are standards and those standards have as well anticipatory positions that take care of future developments.
Someone may say we are not organized. That admission after 58 years of independence can only amount to self-indictment. If we were a serious nation with an eye for sustainable development such rudimentary matters ought to have been identified and dealt with properly.
I don’t know what to say about our labour leaders in recent times. If the truth must be said, they have become real cause for concern especially for those who expect our country to become a nation and put itself in a position to lead the rest of the Black World to make meaningful contributions towards civilization. The labour leader of today is different from what we had in the past. In the past we had men who knew what it meant to be a labour leader; they were men and women who were ahead of the society. They were vision bearers and agenda-setters; they did not just play with ideas, they entered the trenches to fight when it was necessary. Many of them were ready to pay the supreme sacrifice and some did pay.
This is no longer the case these days. Indeed, everything has changed; we have so much sound and loud noise signifying nothing of substance. If anything, labour leaders have become co-conspirators with our ineffective and low quality leadership class. In many instances political godfathers are strongly believed to be behind the election of some of those parading themselves as labour leaders and conscience of the country. The consequences of the abdication of responsibilities are visible for everyone to see and it includes endless debate and agitation for new minimum wage every successive year and leaving out core issues that could reasonably and progressively improve the living standard of the working class both in the public and private sectors.
Today, employment and the dignity attached to labour have been bastardized. Foreign investors hire workers on very undignified terms and fire according to their whims and caprices and yet nobody talks. Those dealt with cruelly are citizens of this country, they live and work in their own country, not that they are sojourners or economic exiles in another country, yet they are made to face all manner of indignity. In another instance even indigenous companies engage citizens and keep them perpetually on contractual basis and yet those who should find such behaviors repulsive look on and pretend as if nothing is happening or that they don’t know what to do about what they know is happening. This is too bad and those are some of the issues.
Labour leaders have not handled the issue of minimum wage very well; if anything, their approach has tended to trivialize what would have been in their hands a good case. From the look of things they don’t have a study that could justify and prove to the whole world the essence of what they are demanding. If they had, the sequences that would eventually lead to acceptable minimum wage would be clear to all and the sympathy or force needed to extract great concession would have been so overwhelming that the authorities would have had little or no choice than to accept labour’s presentation or demand without hesitation. But because they did not think it through, a routine matter though vital to good living of fellow citizens has become enmeshed in unnecessary controversy and gradually turning to a political issue. The timing has made it so especially gaining momentum on the eve of a general election.
Back to the real issue, closely linked to minimum wage are other issues. We have the issue of federalism which cannot be downplayed. There is absolutely no sense in asking both the rich and poor states to pay the same salary. It is absurd. It is an exercise that cannot be sustained. We can only hold on to it if we are not serious about sustainable development. That is one aspect to it. The other would be the issue of public sector reform. Except we don’t want to tell ourselves the truth, the public sector has become a welfare institution rather than a working establishment. It is over bloated as a result of the recklessness of low quality leaders. We have been employing without regards to needs and professionalism, these have their problems and those problems have something to do with a living wage.
Education, housing, transportation, electricity supply, healthcare and food security, all have very deep linkages to an ideal minimum wage. When the Europeans were here and did a few things, they were not stupid. If we remember, at their time education was free, workers were employed according to needs and competence. Vacancies were publicized and until a citizen applied and passed various stages of interviews, he was never employed; and when the best was employed the system was such that it catered for their welfare. Ministries and departments had buses, and if staff buses were not suitable, one had the option to take a loan and purchase a car of your choice. There was what was popularly known as staff quarters and later workers estate, people paid bills for electricity and water supply but they were very affordable. Cost of feeding was cheap also.
These are things a government provides and whatever wage we prescribe becomes valuable. We have discarded all that and that is because the political class takes dictations from outside without thinking and end up distorting and destroying our system. Even now, government has no business being in business, nothing could be as foolish as this position. In terms of common sense, it doesn’t fit in and at a bigger level, it lacks the backing of history. Commanding developments in developed worlds were initiated and executed by government and till date government in those countries still run key sectors of the life. All of them run free education, their public schools are still in existence and very excellent.
Most transportation systems are still in the hands of government, British Airways was only privatized around 2006. They have social security, low interest loans and affordable mortgage terms; it is a cardinal policy of government to create jobs and to ensure that everybody hooks up to it. What do we have here? The earlier labour leaders wake up and wear their thinking caps, the better it would be for the workers and for the rest of the nation.