MINIMUM WAGE: OYO WORKERS RESUME STRUGGLE, REJECT ROTTEN OFFER FROM THE STATE GOVERNMENT
MINIMUM WAGE: OYO WORKERS RESUME STRUGGLE, REJECT ROTTEN OFFER FROM THE STATE GOVERNMENT
By Abbey Trotsky
Oyo State workers have gone back to the trenches in their struggle for implementation of the minimum wage. At a joint congress held on March 16, 2012, the workers overwhelmingly rejected the new salary scale released by the state government. The workers who belong to the affiliate unions of both Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) also removed the leaderships of the labour centres in Oyo as their representatives in the negotiation with the government on the minimum wage. The executive of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Committee (JPSNC) was also dissolved. The joint congress of workers took this action against the official trade union leaders for selling them out in negotiation with the government.
The Congress therefore set up a caretaker committee to prosecute the struggle in the true interests of the workers who have also resolved to boycott work and converge at the NLC secretariat everyday as from March 19, 2012 until the full implementation of N18,000 minimum wage is won.
A fraudulent salary scale was released by the ACN administration of Abiola Ajimobi on March 14. Going by the new scale, the basic salary of the lowest-paid workers in the state is N10,405 as against the N18,000. The claim of the government that it has started paying N19,113 is a ruse. The N19,113 minimum wage is just the total sum of N10, 405.00 basic salary and allowances like rent (4,682.25), transport (1,945.74), meal subsidy (1,040.50) and utility (1,040). Besides, this increase is only substantial for the salaries of workers in Grade Levels 1 to 4, but there are only extremely few on these levels in the workforce. The vast majority of workers, who are above these grade levels, only have some ridiculous amount like N1,000, N2,000 or N3,000 added to their salaries. Also, for the teachers their special allowance, TSS, which took them several months of struggle to win, has been removed from the new salary scale.
It would be recalled that the state workers went on a series of strikes and protests last year. The state indeed recorded the first mass protests of workers anywhere in the country against the refusal of all state governors to implement the N18,000 minimum wage. The struggle got to a head on July 8 2011 when the workers suspended the trade union leaders for their connivance with the state government which had offered the N9,400 “relativity pay” as against N18,000 minimum wage. Just like now a congressional committee was inaugurated by the workers to lead struggle for the full implementation. The Labour leaders were however later reinstated on July 21, 2011 and forced by the workers to immediately declare an indefinite strike for the full implementation.
The indefinite strike action, which lasted for five days, compelled the government to hurriedly sign an agreement that N13,500 minimum wage would be paid for the month of June and July, 2011 with the arrears on whatever the labour/government negotiation agreed upon as minimum wage structure in the state to be paid at the end of August.
Unfortunately, since July 2011, there had been a frustratingly criminal silence from both the government and the Labour leaders until March 14,, 2012, when the state government eventually released the new salary scale. The reality is that the official trade union leaders are hand in glove with the government to deny rank and file workers the rights to decent life.
The current industrial action being waged independently of labour leadership has enjoyed massive supports from workers. Though there are a few cases of some workers reporting to work, the majority of the workers are in support and active in the struggle. Most of them have been gathering at the state secretariat of the NLC every day since March 19.
Expectedly, the government has tried to weaken the resolve of the workers. Bayo Akande, the first chairman of the caretaker committee, was arrested on March 21. He was later released that very day but was accompanied to the congress of workers by the Speaker of the House of Assembly who asked him to prevail on workers to call off the action. This was roundly rejected by the workers.
However, having apparently fallen to the pressure and intimidation of the state government Akande himself came back to the Congress on March 22 with attempt of ending strike. The workers did not only reject his proposal but also removed him as the chair of the committee. A new leadership of the caretaker committee has emerged. This shows the steadfastness of the workers in the struggle. Even the official state Labour leadership who had initially signed the rotten salary scale was forced by the agitation and resolve of the workers to issue a press statement on Monday March 19 to reject the Ajimobi salary scale at the same time gave the Oyo state government a 7-day ultimatum to come out with a table that will be acceptable to workers. This ultimatum is laughable and indeed a mere face-saving attempt by the Oyo Labour leadership. The workers are already on strike, it is difficult to see what else the Labour leadership would do if the government does not meet their demand.
The DSM, whose members have been actively involved in the workers’ action, commends the determination and steadfastness of the workers. With correct strategies and approaches it is possible for the workers to win a much better deal from the government. The workers have said that they are not against dialogue with the government but that the caretaker committee should represent them in the negotiation with the demand for full implementation of the minimum wage. If the government agrees to this demand, we suggest that the workers should suspend the strike and give a two-week ultimatum for the government to conclude the negotiation. Besides, the workers should make it mandatory that the committee must come back to congress, which must be called at least once in a week, for its approval before any agreement or salary scale should be signed with government.
However, despite the determination of workers, there is possibility for the struggle to be derailed, given the characters and the level of the political understanding of individuals who constitute the caretaker committee. For instance, the first caretaker committee did not last beyond three days before capitulating. The former committee members have indeed tendered unresolved apology to the state governor. Therefore, in the absence of a radical leadership that is committed to fighting for the aspiration of workers and well-equipped to give appropriate and correct direction, it is very uncertain for the struggle to achieve the unconditional implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage for Oyo state workers across board.
Besides, the fact that the struggle is isolated as a result of lack of solidarity and intervention by the national leadership of Labour would limit the extent the workers could go before becoming struggle weary. We therefore call on the national Labour leadership to give a very active support to the Oyo state workers and help them win the struggle without any of the workers losing their jobs. The victory in Oyo would help motivate the workers in other states, who have either been denied the minimum wage or subjected to rotten deal, to rise up in the struggle for full implementation. The Labour leadership should indeed initiate a national action to compel all the governments to fully implement the new minimum wage.
However the election of the “caretaker committee” by the Oyo state workers just like the previous “congressional committee” formed last year to prosecute the struggle independently of official Labour leadership is a good example of how the rank and file workers can begin to take the control of the trade union. The workers in Oyo state should not go to bed after the minimum wage struggle but move a step further by agitating and calling for the appropriate congresses of NLC and TUC in the state with a view of replacing the current leadership with a new set that will be uncompromisingly committed to fighting for the interests and rights of workers.
It is important to state that the ongoing mass agitation of the Oyo state workers like every other mass struggle in Nigeria including the January general strike and mass protest against hike in fuel price has reaffirmed the fact that the problem confronting the working masses is the absence of fighting labour leadership and of a mass working people political party with a determined revolutionary leadership.
The refusal of all the state governments to fully implement the minimum wage in spite of huge resources at their disposal has further shown that all the governments are run by anti-poor political parties. Even, when concessions like minimum wage are granted in response to the struggle of the working people they are usually taken back by the pro-capitalist governments with attacks on education, health care, etc and other anti-poor policies like increase in fuel price, privatization and deregulation. All this shows that there will never be a permanent respite for the working people as long as we have governments formed by the pro-capitalist parties across the country.
DSM therefore calls on workers to join its campaign for transformation of Labour into a fighting and truly democratic movement with uncompromising leaders and class struggle activists who are not in the pocket of capitalist politicians but rather consistently struggle for a better deal for workers and appreciate the imperative of socialist transformation of the society. Workers are also called to join the campaign and efforts of DSM for the formation of a working peoples’ political party run on a socialist programme and which could win political power with a view of running governance and production on the basis of the needs of the vast majority as against the greed and super profit of the few.