Minimum Wage: Urgent Issues which Labour must Address to ensure Total Implementation
Minimum Wage: Urgent Issues which Labour must Address to ensure Total Implementation
By Peluola Adewale
By 12 midnight on Wednesday July 20, 2011, when most workers and Nigerians had probably gone to bed, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) called off the three-day warning general strike they had planned to commence later in the day. This volte-farce, according to Labour leadership, was as a result of the agreement they had reached with both federal government and the state governments represented by the Nigeria Governors Forum which purportedly committed the governments to pay the new minimum wage by August 1.
However, before the ink could dry up from the agreement, some state governors had openly rejected it saying that they could not simply afford to pay their workers this modest minimum wage. It even took a few days of further negotiation after the call-off before the federal government could be forced to reverse its plan to renege on the previous agreement of July 19 which the minister of information termed “mere understanding”. This was not the government’s only delaying tactic. According to some newspaper reports the signing of new agreement on the wage table, jointly worked out at last round of negotiation between government and labour, which was supposed to take place on Tuesday August 9 could not be held as scheduled because the government was not yet prepared to do so.
This profound insincerity of governments at all levels has actually underscored that the strategy of the Labour leaders wanting to make an omelette without breaking eggs is fallacious. In other words, it has further shown that it would require struggle to compel the elements in government to play ball on the implementation of the new minimum wage. It should be noted that payment of an increased minimum wage would eat deep into the public funds that the thieving ruling elites in government usually set aside for looting, hence their recalcitrance to implement the new wage.
This is why we hold strongly that in spite of the so-called July 20 agreement with the government, Labour should still have gone ahead with the planned strike at least for a day as a strong warning to both government and private employers of labour. But, the manner of the call-off actually reflects the mindset of the Labour leadership who apparently did not expect or prepare for a fight before the minimum wage would be implemented.
Workers are prepared for mass struggle
However, the disposition of the Labour leadership is at variance with the fighting spirit of ordinary workers who have demonstrated a willingness to struggle for the implementation of the new minimum wage whenever they have been called upon to take action. This was shown by the mood nationally ahead of the botched strike and specifically in recent weeks by workers in Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Enugu, Anambra and Edo states who have held one form of strike or another. The suspended planned strike also revealed that most Nigerians, having juxtaposed workers’ modest demand to the outrageous and jumbo pay of top government functionaries, do not only support the workers in their agitation for a higher minimum wage they are also ready to struggle along with them in solidarity.
The various struggles that have broken out in some states and the insincerity of the government at all levels have shown that without mass struggles it would be extremely difficult to win the demand for total implementation of the new minimum wage. The developments in various states have also called for centrally coordinated mass activities from the national leadership which will have to include a general strike. The development in Edo state, where all categories of workers went on strike for four days in solidarity with teachers and judicial workers who have been excluded by the state government from the new minimum wage regime, is inspiring and shows the grim determination of workers to fight to ensuring the full implementation of the new minimum wage.
Besides, the leadership of labour at the state levels must not be left alone to sort out the minimum wage with their respective governments. The national leadership must develop a wage structure template as a standard basis for state negotiation teams and detail a national minimum wage committee to work closely with the state leaderships. A key part of preparation for serious struggle is the formation of strike committees, including trade union and pro-labour activists, which would organize mass activities and mobilize mass support for the strike. It must also be stressed that agreement with government on the new minimum age should be subject to the approval of the state congresses of workers. Any governor who says he could not pay should be told to scrap his security votes, cut the outrageous salaries and allowances of top government functionaries, reduce the bloated public offices and stop monumental wastages of public funds which are a permanent feature of government, and thereby free resources that would be used to implement the new minimum wage .
It is also important for labour to ensure that the N18, 000 minimum wage is what the least-paid workers take home after tax. Labour must also ensure that no worker loses his or her job on account of the implementation of the new minimum wage. Already, Ondo state has threatened to downsize its workforce in order to implement the new minimum wage while Ekiti state has already sacked about 5,000 workers under the guise that they secured appointment with fake documents. Meanwhile, it is pertinent to state that the suspended solidarity strike by workers in Edo state is a wake-up call on the Lagos state leadership of labour who have been going to town with the tale that the state government has implemented the new minimum wage when the details of the wage structure are misty and teachers have been made to forfeit Teachers’ Salary Allowance (TSA) which took years of struggle to win.
Unfortunately, so far it appears that labour has only paid attention to the implementation of new minimum wage in the public sector while making only fleeting comments on the private sector which in fact is dominated by workplaces where slave wages, casualisation and inhuman working conditions are the norms. We therefore call on the Labour leadership to mandate and work with the relevant industrial unions to commence the process of the implementation of the new wage at the private sector. Also, in workplaces where workers are not allowed to unionise like most Dangote and Asian owned companies, national labour leadership must make conscious efforts to ensure the affected workers benefit from the new minimum wage. All this has also called for the labour leadership to work with relevant industrial unions and pro-labour activists to initiate a committed struggle to unionise workers who are yet to be organized and fight against casualisation of labour in workplaces.
For consistent struggle against neo-liberal attacks
It is also imperative for labour to realize that winning a minimum wage struggle is not enough without social transformation of the society. This explains why the modest benefit of the new minimum wage will be eroded by inflation, increasingly high cost of living and anti-poor neo-liberal economic agenda which mean that workers and ordinary people have to pay dearly for private education, health care, etc. It should not be forgotten that the new N18, 000 minimum is just over a third of the N52, 200 minimum that the NLC demanded way back in December 2008. The new minimum should not be an excuse for Labour to cease agitating for a minimum which would be a real living wage.
Besides, most state governors have threatened that if forced to pay the new minimum wage, they would not be able to fund social program and developmental projects. The reality is that even with not taking the minimum wage into account ordinary people have not benefited from the government. The nation’s infrastructure is in sorry state despite the fact since the advent of civil rule in 1999 the country has witnessed the longest run of oil windfall in its annals. Therefore, labour in coalition with socialists, left groups, youth organizations and communities must develop an immediate program of action with which to agitate and struggle, among other things, for the national minimum wage to be subject to regular review in line with the rate of inflation, the commitment of adequate public resources to the provision of the education, health care, jobs and infrastructure developments (roads, water, electricity, etc) and against anti-poor neo-liberal agenda of privatization, deregulation and casualisation.
Working Peoples’ Political Alternative
Most importantly, the lesson of this current minimum wage agitation which cuts across the country irrespective of the political parties in power and the previous struggles against deregulation and neo-liberal attacks on education, health care, etc as well as the prevailing infrastructure decay in the face of huge resources at the disposal of the government at all levels must not be lost on the labour leadership. The lesson that must be learnt is that none of the major political parties represents the genuine interest of the working people and therefore, without a fighting working people political party armed with a socialist program to wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels and use the resources of the society for the benefit of all there can never be a permanent respite for the working people. This is one of the reasons we of the DSM have been calling on labour initiate a process of establishing a genuine working peoples’ party that is formidable enough to form a workers’ and poor people’s government and prepared to put the commanding heights of the economy under democratic control of the working people while the public officials from the party earn the average wage of skilled workers with only relevant allowances.