LIVING WAGE FOR NIGERIAN WORKERS: LONG OVERDUE
LIVING WAGE FOR NIGERIAN WORKERS: LONG OVERDUE
NLC, TUC Must Remain Steadfast on the Struggle
By Chinedu Bosah
Minimum wage which started in late 2008 has not moved beyond promises from the federal government and the recent setting up of a tripartite committee made up of labour, federal government and private sector employers. On the committee the Labour representatives are a minority compared to the employers of labour made up of federal government and private sector employers. This means if anything positive for workers can be achieved, it will be at the mercy of government and employers of labour.
Therefore, Labour (NLC and TUC) must stop having illusion in capitalist governments. If by May Day, the government has not met the demand for N52, 200 new minimum wage, the Labour leadership should immediately commence the mobilization of workers for a protracted struggle including strike, rallies and peaceful protest marches. This should be linked with other struggles against retrenchment, education commercialization, deregulation, privatization, concessioning etc. In workplaces and communities, there should be action committees for proper mobilization and organisation of the struggle.
Indication has emerged from government quarters that an increment in worker’s salary is not welcome. The Chief Executive of the Salaries and Wages Commission, Richard Egbule, on Tuesday April 13, 2010 in Abuja said that the Federal Government could not afford to increase workers’ salary at this time. Though, Abdulwahed Omar, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had dismissed this statement as one coming from one man and not from the government, it is a pointer to what workers may expect after the long period of negotiation.
However, few days to May Day, there were some media reports that a new minimum wage would be announced by the Federal government on May 1. Whether this is true or not, it is even not certain that government will agree to N52, 200 as demanded by Labour. Besides, as experience has shown most of the state governments and private sector employers would also resist any increment citing non-availability of funds and high cost of production and doing business. In 2000 after such an announcement by the federal government it required series of struggles, including strikes and mass protests, before most state government could pay a new minimum wage. Indeed in Lagos state which recorded the most profound of the struggle because of the obstinacy of the Bola Tinubu government, some Labour leaders including Ayodele Akele were sacked while a worker was killed by the police during a peaceful protest march. Therefore, whether the federal government makes the announcement or not, Labour leaders must use the May Day to prepare for another round of struggle. Labour must ensure that no worker loses his/her job on the account of a new minimum wage.
Government Argument against Minimum Wage is Fraudulent
The argument has always been that government and the private sector employers of labour cannot afford increment in workers’ salary because of inadequate resources and that it will spark off inflation. In the period when oil was selling for a record price of $147 per barrel, government had held the position that resources should be channeled towards revamping the state of infrastructures rather than increasing workers salary while in the period of collapse of oil prices as a result of capitalist inspired global crisis, there should be no increment since there is inadequate funds; whereas this argument does not apply to political office holders and their counterpart (chief executives) in the private sector.
Despite the long years of boom in the oil price, social infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads, etc., have been at an abysmal level due to neglect. In the last 3 years, salaries and allowances of political office holders have been increased by over 800% while that of workers have remained stagnant since 2000 being the last time it was reviewed. Today, a National Assembly member earns about N88million annually (about N7million monthly) while workers who create this wealth earn a paltry N5500 (public sectors workers at the state) and N7500 (public sectors federal workers) as minimum wage. According to Prof. Sam Aluko, “in 2008, the actual recurrent expenditure on the 469 National Assembly members was N51.6billion or N110million per member. It is estimated that in 2010 it will rise to N118.9 or N253.5million per member.”
Side by side the few privileged Nigerians living in stupendous wealth, 40 million ordinary Nigerians are unemployed, aside a large chunk of Nigerians that are under-employed leaving Nigeria as one of the poorest countries in the world with 80 to 90 million Nigerians living below poverty line. For example, in this year’s budget of about N4 trillion, only N1.85 trillion was allocated to capital projects, while recurrent expenditure stands at N2.08 trillion out of which about N1.13 trillion are awarded in form of jumbo allowance and salaries to just about 17,474 political office holders. This is far more than the allocations to Education (N249.8 billion), Works (N249.4 billion), Health (N161.8 billion), Power (N156.8 billion) and Niger Delta Ministry (N64.3 billion) put together.
When it suits employers of labour, they tried to throw dust in the eyes of the working masses and manufacture the scarecrow bogey of inflation. “Inflation will go up when workers salary is increased,” they say. Inflation is a rising cost of goods and services caused by not just too much money in circulation but also a fall in the value in the real value of money. This is sparked off when the money in unit value is more than the value of product and services produced hereby pushing up the cost of product and services. So, inflation is largely influenced by the abysmal utilization of the petro-dollar and other resources of nature including human resources through inflated contracts, waste and looting, unjustified emoluments to top public office holders and top echelon of private sector companies. Since, we have more wealth concentrated in the hands of a few that are under-utilised as a consequence of planning production and services on the basis of profit while workers cannot be buy back what they have produced, there is bound to be dislocation in the economy, which puts workers at a disadvantaged position. That explains why during the period of low wages paid to workers like it has always been, inflationary rate keep going up. Workers deserve a living wage and to be increased in line with the inflationary rate in order to boost purchasing power which will in turn increase sales and production.
WORKING PEOPLES’ POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
However, if labour leaders are not armed with democratic socialist programmes and policies as a counter-weight to the anti-people capitalism policies, there will not be a permanent improvement in the lives of working peoples. In this respect, if the commanding heights of the economy including banks and oil sectors are nationalized and placed under the democratic management and control of the working people, the country would not only be in a comfortable position to pay a minimum wage of N52,200, but in fact, be in a position to rapidly transform Nigeria from its present level of capitalist under-development and dead end into a prosperous and thriving economy. If Nigeria’s stupendous human and natural resources are collectively being planned and geared towards meeting the basic needs of the people in terms of employment generation, education, housing, healthcare, etc, the current atmosphere of de-industrialisation and massive jobs massacre will rapidly become a thing of the past.
However, to be able to achieve this kind of goal would require taking power from the current crop of self-serving politicians who presently hold the society down. As we in the DSM have often repeatedly argued, only a democratic socialist government of the workers and the poor masses can implement this kind of programme. Therefore, the Labour leaders need to completely abandon their futile, utopian idea of wishing to better the lots of the working masses without confronting and ultimately defeating the capitalism politically.
Therefore, the Labour Movement and the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and affiliate trade unions must begin the building Labour Party as a mass based working class political platform. The party should be made to be capable of uniting Nigerian working masses in order to chase out these self-serving politicians and their political parties/organisations (PDP, AC, ANPP, Mega Party etc.) from power and begin the reconstruction of the economy through massive investment on basic infrastructure (education, health, road, transportation, housing etc.) with the ultimate aim of meeting the needs of all Nigerians.