Stories by Bimbola Oyesola, 08033246177
Clarius Onimole (not real name), works as a factory hand in one of the manufacturing estates in Lagos. His take home in the past two years was N30,000, out of which he is expected to pay house rent, electricity, his two children’s school fees, provides food for the house and transportation. In the last eight months he operated commercial motocycle (okada) in the night and his off days to augment his salary. This is the common fate of most Nigerian workers.
The Nigerian workers no doubt have story of woes to tell when it comes to their welfare in the recession. With the inflation galloping at 18.47 per cent, the highest in the past 11 years, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in 2016, when the country went into recession was indeed a challenging year for workers and the Organised Labour.
With the inflation, cost of goods and essential commodities have soared by over 200 percent in some instances, well beyond the reach of an average Nigerians workers whose take home could no longer take to the bus stop.
With the increase in the cost of electricity, rent, transportation due to almost 100 percent hike in the price of litre of petroleum which rose from N87 to N145 last year, life could not be more unbearable bearing in mind that their salary has remained constant.
Some companies, had even slashed salary as part of survival strategy, while the usual National Joint Industrial Consultative (NJIC) meetings where both employers and organised unions meet for review of salary has been put on hold in some sectors due to the prevailing economic situation.
If the situation of workers in the private sector has been precarious, the public sector is more pathetic with almost 27 states owing workers salary ranges from three to nine months. Some had even gone ahead to slash the meagre salary, while some are yet to implement the National Minimum wage of N18, 000, which had elapsed last year and long overdue for review.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba in an interview with the Daily Sun affirmed that the year 2016 was a trying one for Nigerian workers as they have been at the receiving end of the economic recession.
According to him, employers of labour either in the public or private sector now hardly give any thought to the welfare of workers.
He said, “Massive corruption and maladministration had combined to further incapacitate workers and the masses. The governors have continued to be reckless in their spending and plundered state resources. The issue of non payment is not because there is no money, but what those governors considered as priority. Efforts of state governors like Katsina who clears arears of pensions and Plateau who cleared outstanding salary of six-seven months are commendable.”
The Secretary General of the Association of Senior Civil Servant of Nigeria (ASCSN), Alade Bashir Lawal corroborating the NLC President said the year 2016 with all its negative impact ranging from unpaid salary, agony from government bad policies, inflation and high cost of living made it a year workers would like to forget in a hurry.
According to him, “Nigerian workers have really been stretched beyond their limit, states especially Osun has refused to pay, the governor said he cannot use all the bail out to pay workers, that he wants to pay contractors, but who are these contractors.
“Even the Federal Government that bails out the states has failed to bail out its own workers. Out of the N290 billion owed to workers which cut across unpaid salary, promotion allowances, death benefits and others, only N13 billion was released. Whereas the same government is setting aside trillions of naira to pay contractors while workers that do the job are neglected.
“When it comes to the welfare of workers government are not concerned, forgetting that it is when workers are well remunerated that the productive sector will improve. What is the percentage of these contractors in relation to the population?” he querried.
New wage of N56,000
Organised Labour comprising of NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC), at this year’s May Day formally presented its demand for the upward review of the national minimum wage from N18,000 to N56,000.
Labour hinges its demands, despite the parlous state of the economy, on the grounds that a minimum wage review is long overdue.
Labour leaders think the wage increase is only a matter of necessity and legality.
The Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), Peters Adeyemi affirmed that the minimum wage is due for review, hence organised labour would not hide away from the fact that it ought to be reviewed irrespective of the recession.
“But we are convinced about the fact that in the last couple of years, a whole lot of things have happened economically that has destroyed the so called minimum wage of N18, 000. Even the N18, 000, most states have refused to pay. And if you look at our currency presently, what is the value of N18, 000? So, there is clearly the need now to review the minimum wage, no matter what argument anybody tries to bring, we know Nigeria has the resources to pay its workers a minimum wage”, he said.
Adeyemi also argued that the best way to fight corruption would be to pay a fair wage that commensurate with the present economic situation, “we need to find out whether if you are going to fight corruption you must continue to pay pea-nuts. If you are going to fight corruption, you can’t continue to pay salaries that workers will continue to look for other avenue. That is the truth. Else you will be taking 10 steps forward and 20 steps backward. The war on corruption will not succeed. I am talking about the ordinary workers. The point is this, how much money have we lost through leakages. If we have a situation where you are able to block sincerely those leakages, we will realise that Nigeria has enough. I am not one of those who believe Nigeria doesn’t has the resources, I think we have the resources.”
The NLC President also maintained that the N56,000 is reasonable when marched it with the present economic indices which had eroded the purchasing power of the workers and reduce them to nothing.
“We agreed that it’s challenging for the employers as well, but this is the best time to ask for review, all the indices used all over the world, inflation, cost of living index and others have all been addressed before we arrived at the figure. Minimum wage is central to workers survival”, he said.
He lamented that the purchasing power of Nigerian workers has so depreciated that it is pure miracle that individuals on the existing minimum wage of N18000 are able to make ends meet in 30 days.
“At the beginning of 2016, with the Naira at N197 to $1, the minimum wage was equivalent of $91.3. At N495 to $1 this has in twelve month depreciated to $36.3.
The May 2016 huge increase in price of fuel from N86 a litre to N145 a litre, and the attendant inflationary pressures, should have trigged an automatic increase in the minimum wage”, he said.
The Labour leader said with the erosion in the living standard of workers occasioned by the free fall of Naira, and the rising cost of living, the Congress will insist on the new wage and ensure that Nigerian workers are not made the sacrificial lamb of the recession.
Wabba argued further that the easiest way out of recession for the country lies with a well motivated workforce. “Need to get money into the system to improve the purchasing power of the people for the economy to pick up. It happens in the United States when President Barrack Obama just came in. It has been tested all over the world. If people don’t have the money how can economy survive? The battle against corruption also would be in futiliy because any one that does not have money would be easily manipulated.”
Though its proposal may be different from the one jointly submitted by the NLC and TUC, the new labour centre, the United Labour Congres (ULC) led by Joe Ajaero demanding for N96,000 equally believed that this is the right time for a new wage increase.
Ajaero in his new year message said, “We shall seek greater coverage of the minimum wage to include all Nigerian workers whether working in the formal or informal sectors. In this light, we shall work towards designing a wage floor that would be automatically self-adjusting just like it is done in other advanced nations of the world bearing in mind that in the US, just yesterday, the minimum wage automatically went upwards from U$8:00 per hour to U$11:00 per hour. This is a national increase of about 37.5% in a nation with declining inflation and low cost of living.”
Time for battle
Both the NLC and TUC are however set to ensure that the workers agony come to an end in the new year. According to the leaderships of the labour centres, the battle will commence this week as the two centres formally resumed. The two labour centres, in a separate interviews vowed to team up to mount pressure on the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige to constitute the tripartite panel to renegotiate a new minimum wage, which must be a living wage for workers.
The TUC, is expected to hold its first National Administrative Council (NAC) meeting on January 10th, while the NLC is equally proposing meetings of its highest organs any time in the week.
The TUC President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, said that the two labour centre would set the machinery in motion immediately they resume from the public holiday.
He said, “Immediately I get back to the office, am going to meet my colleague in the NLC and start early in the year to mount pressure on the Minister. We have submitted the proposal since last year and we’ve discovered that if you don’t push, governemt would not see the importance. For now, the Minimum Wage is the primary thing and we are not going to let the government rest until the committee is put in place.”
Kaigama said the organised labour is ready to ensure that employers, both in the private and public sector come to the negotiating table and pay the new wage irrespective of the present recession in the economy.
Though the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige had last month in Awka, the Anambra State capital announced that Federal Government was proposing a pay rise for workers in the new year, the non provision for the new wage in the 2017 undermine the sincerity of the government.
But the President of the NLC said the fact that the Minimum Wage was not in the budget would not deter the discussion.
He rather noted that government could always make a supplementary budget, warning that labour is fully prepared for a showdown with government should it fail to constitute the tripartite committee as expected.
He said, “when we have all agreed on the new wage and it has passed through the National Assembly, the executive can always submit a proposal for a supplementary budget. What is important for now is that Nigerian workers must get a new wage.”
With 30 percent of this year’s budget on the revamping of industry and agriculture, Wabba was optimistic that the country would turn out for good, if the budget is implemented to the fullest.
He stated, “At least if we can have it implemented up to 80 percent, this would make the productive sector to pick up and invariably change the conditions of the workers. Although we must not expect things to change overnight, hence we must continue to support the process.”
His counterpart in the TUC added, “It’s not an excuse, it’s a matter of planning. Let them put the law in place, then they can start looking for the money”, he said.