MINIMUM WAGE STRUGGLE: ANOTHER MASS ACTION NEEDED
MINIMUM WAGE STRUGGLE: ANOTHER MASS ACTION NEEDED
By Bosah Chinedu
It should be clear by now to trade union leaders that there will be another round of mass action and general strike to force the government to implement an agreement on a new national minimum wage of N18,000, as against N52, 200 first demanded by Labour in December 2008, that has been finalized since November 2010. It should be recall that it is the struggles that forced the government to consider a new minimum wage for the first time in a decade. The last minimum wage of N7, 500/N5500 fixed in 2000 has been undermined by the high rate inflation, made even worse by the collapse of basic infrastructure and anti-poor neo-liberal programme that means that the working people have to pay exorbitantly for education, health care, etc.
Since 2008, the government has been playing a “hide and seek” game with Labour on the subject matter. After nationwide rallies held in 2009, the Labour leaders shifted their methods to engaging in trade union diplomacy with the government which eventually failed. It was only when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) resolved to call a 3-day warning general strike that only took place on November 10, 2011 before the federal government claimed that a bill would have to be prepared and endorsed by the Council of State before sending it to the National Assembly for ratification. Council of State is an advisory body to the federal government comprised of the President, Vice-President, former President, former Chief Justices, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representative, all Governors and Attorney-General of the Federation. The same Council of State was never a factor when jumbo pay was speedily endorsed and implemented for top government functionaries.
The general strike forced the government to hasten the process of getting the national minimum wage bill, which included presenting it to the Council of State and the National Assembly. But this is not enough for the Labour to go to bed expecting goodies from the national assembly without struggle.
Already, there is a report that the bill sent to the National Assembly has a provision that gives room for the respective governors to renegotiate the new minimum wage. This means that benchmark of N18, 000 may not be binding on state governors who are at liberty to pay less. All along there have been indications towards this direction. The state governors had earlier advised President Goodluck Jonathan to remove the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to pave way for governors to evade paying national minimum wage. In fact, governor Fayemi of Ekiti and Fashola of Lagos, both ACN governors were the first to oppose the N18,000 minimum wage as unrealistic citing lack of finance and “true federalism”. This position is the thinking of most governors who have failed to honour similar agreements in the past and when they do, it is partial and with consequences like mass retrenchment and increment in taxes and levies.
Besides, it is the next parliament that may consider the bill since some of the legislature are neck-deep in the forthcoming general election except there is a mass action from NLC and TUC.
While everything is done to undermine an increment in workers’ wages, political office holders have continued to feed fat at the expense of the public in such a way that guarantees them jumbo pays and other avenues to enrich themselves including awarding inflated contracts to themselves etc. According to Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), just 17000 political office holders (President, minister, governor, local government Chairman and councilors etc) earn a whopping N1.13 trillion annually.
The Labour leaders have issued a subtle threat to the government to implement the agreement while it awaits the ratification from the assembly or else they would call for a strike. However, no ultimatum has been issued to this effect. This is perhaps because that both two labour centers (NLC and TUC) are also involved in the election, not as a political platform providing an alternative for the working masses, but one monitoring an election among different sections of anti-worker politicians. Of course, this involvement makes labour leaders receptive to blackmail of trying to derail the general election if it undertakes any major struggle.
The labour leaders must shake off their lethargy and seriously redirect their focus to the wellbeing of workers. As earlier stated, it was the threat of a general strike and the eventual one day action that took place that forced the federal government, who have all along been averse to a new minimum wage to send the bill to the National Assembly. It would require another round of mass action including general strike to force the quick passage of the bill and the subsequent implementation.
Therefore, there is a need for the labour leaders to immediately declare another three day-general strike and follow it up with mass mobilization of workers and Nigerians towards these days of actions by setting up strike/action committees at local, state and federal level including workplaces and communities to oversee the successful prosecution of the strike. This is the only way government and the National Assembly will pass the bill and implement it. Labour must also insist on implementing the N18000 across board without retrenchment or increment in tax and also for the minimum wage to be increased on a regular basis in line with the increasing rate of inflation. Labour should however prepare for a protracted struggle because even if the national minimum wage becomes a law, the next phase is the struggle for implementation particularly at the states whose governments have already shown non-willingness to pay the agreed amount. This is the experience with all similar agreements reached with different categories of workers nationally e.g. teachers, medical doctors, etc
However, as long as the economy is run on profit first exploitative basis, attaining living wage for workers will be a fantasy. While the struggle for improvement in workers wage to the extent of paying living wage is imperative, it is a matter of time before gains achieved would be eroded, either through inflation, increment in taxes/levies, job losses etc. The only way out is for workers and other oppressed strata of the society to build a mass political party of their own with an alternative economic and political program different from anti-poor capitalist policies as a vehicle for change. There is a dire need for such an alternative considering the fact that the privileged few have many political parties (PDP, ACN, ANPP, CPC, APGA, unfortunately Labour Party and the rest) that champion their own cause and interest. Such mass political party of the working masses must be armed with socialist programme and methods if it must succeed in transforming society from the present exploitative situation to a situation where production and governance will be democratically planned to meet the overall needs of all.