Workers under the aegis of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) have called for an increase of the National Minimum Wage from the current N18,000 to N56,000. Making the demand at this year’s May Day celebration in Abuja on Sunday, the NLC argued that the increase had become necessary due to the current harsh economic conditions in the country.
Earlier, the National President of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, had condemned the payment of double salaries and pensions to some former governors, who are now senators and ministers, at a time that some state governors are unable to pay regular salaries to their workers. Many of these states have not paid their workers for several months.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the occasion, assured the workers that the government will accord due consideration to the issues raised by the workers’ union.
However, in a seeming show of solidarity with Nigerian workers, the Edo State governor, Adams Oshiohmole, increased the minimum wage in his state from N18,000 to N25,000. We urge other state governors who can afford to do so to emulate the Oshiomhole example.
Labour’s demand for a new minimum wage has attracted divergent criticisms. This is on account of the deplorable economic situation in the country occasioned by the sharp fall in the price of crude oil at the international market and the current inability of most state governors to pay workers’ salaries and meet their other obligations.
Those who support an increase in the minimum wage, however, hinge their position on the premise that those on the bottom rungs of the civil service salary ladder are among the poorest civil servants in the world. They are of the view that the N18,000 minimum wage is not enough to meet the basic needs of workers and their families.
We sympathise with the Federal and State governments which have to contend with the clamour for higher public sector wages at a time when the revenue accruing into the national treasury has reduced significantly on account of the fall in oil prices at the international market. This is certainly not the best of times for this agitation by the workers, but then, the reality of the high cost of living in the country has made an increase in the minimum wage inescapable.
The need for junior workers to continue to keep soul and body together has made it necessary to increase their wages. Even though many states owe workers salaries, we believe that the salaries of low level workers can be increased if only we can check corruption and other wastages in the system.
For instance, a reduction of the humongous salaries and allowances paid to political office holders, as well as a downward review of the huge sums committed to “security votes” and constituency allowances, will leave more funds for payment of higher salaries to junior civil servants. Checking the unbridled corruption of the leadership class will also go a long way in making more funds available in the national treasury to fund the wage increase and other infrastructural projects which are long overdue.
With the inflation rate at double digits and the depreciating value of the national currency, it has become necessary to increase the minimum wage. It is shameful that many workers in the country have been emasculated, marginalised and impoverished through slavish wages. Compared with those holding political offices, Nigerian workers cannot be said to be getting a fair deal from the government.
Since labour has demanded an upward review of the minimum wage, the government should negotiate with its leaders to determine what the new minimum wage should be.
Let the federal and state governments dialogue with labour on this issue and come up with an acceptable living wage structure for the country.
To avoid the mistakes of past reviews, the federal and state governments should agree on the new minimum wage. All avenues for wasteful spending by state actors should be plugged to free more money for public sector wages and infrastructural development. Nigerian workers should not solely bear the brunt of government’s reckless spending and fiscal indiscipline. The age-long exploitation of the workforce must stop. Lack of fiscal discipline is why some state governors are unable to meet up with their workers’ obligations.
Beyond labour’s demand for a new minimum wage, there is the need to bridge the huge gap between the salaries of political office holders and other categories of workers in the country.
The government and labour should also realise that civil servants are only a small percentage of workers in the country. The National Minimum wage should, therefore, be enforced even in the private sector, where abysmally low wages are common fare.
Labour and the government must not forget the higher number of Nigerians who do not even have any jobs. It is necessary for government to increase its job creation efforts to bring more Nigerians into the labour force. Let government ensure the right of every Nigerian to employment through the creation of an enabling environment for job creation. Government should also address the problem of casualisation of workers in the country, especially by expatriate firms, and do something urgently to correct the anomaly.
We salute Nigerian workers for their invaluable contributions to national development and urge them to embrace dialogue and other peaceful initiatives in their efforts to get the desired increase in their wages.