N18,000 MINIMUM WAGE: AN UNFINISHED BATTLE
N18,000 MINIMUM WAGE: AN UNFINISHED BATTLE
By Kola Ibrahim
In December 2008, the NLC and TUC formally demanded a minimum wage of N52, 200. The agitation lasted until last year when N18,000 was granted as the new minimum wage. At the beginning of this struggle, we in Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) had proposed that the labour leadership must demand a living wage that will be linked with all the basic indices of living including inflation and cost of living. This position is vital because the capitalist politicians and their big business partners will always find means of eroding away any improvement in workers’ wage either through anti-poor polices of fuel hike and increment in the cost of living.
More than this, we had proposed that the labour leadership should undertake aggressive campaigning including mass production of educative materials, rallies, protest marches, and a warning strike among others. While of course some rallies were held at the six zones of the country, these were not translated into well-planned series of actions across the country, from grassroots to the national level. With such series of actions, it would have been definitely possible to build a movement that can win.
However, the labour leadership prioritized negotiation and lobby over a programme of nationally coordinated rallies, protests and strikes. The result of this counterproductive method of the labour leadership was the paltry increase of the minimum wage to N18, 000 minimum wage early last year, which fell far short of the N52, 200 originally demanded by workers. Even this concession was granted not because of labour leaders’ superior strategy but more because the government feared a dispute with workers during a general election and Jonathan wanted to make a cheap gesture to show he was “labour friendly”
But words are cheap, Even this paltry increase, despite being signed into law, has not been implemented by most governments and the private sector. According to Labour itself, the federal government that first signed the wage bill to law has not fully implemented it, while only eight, out of the 36 state governments have implemented it. Even among these eight states are those who only paid on papers.
At a time last year, the labour leadership muted the idea of organizing a national strike to compel governments at all levels to implement the wage law, only for the leadership to call off the strike by midnight. When most of the state governments decided not to implement the wage law, the labour leadership, rather than organizing national actions across the states to compel the state and federal government to pay, only asked the local labour leaders to take necessary actions.
Meanwhile, it is a common knowledge that most of the labour leaders in states are pro-government in various degrees. Indeed, embarrassed by the odious sell out of workers by labour leaders in Ondo State last year, the national leadership of NLC had to intervene in the local struggle of Ondo State workers; and even suspended the local NLC leadership.
Therefore, it is clear that nationally planned actions are needed to win the minimum wage battle at national, state and private sector levels. This however does not imply that the labour leadership will export struggles to various states. On the contrary, it will mean workers will be mobilized, through popular activities like congresses, rallies, etc., to decide on how to go about the struggle, with the national leadership coordinating the movement on a national scale for effectiveness. It is this rank and file participation and mobilization that can ensure victory.
WORKERS STRUGGLE FROM BELOW
It is interesting to note that workers are now independently taking up the gauntlet of securing their demands even when the labour leaders are becoming obstacle to achieving these demands. The recent action of the Oyo State workers, who shoved aside their compromising leadership in the state NLC and TUC and elected a rank and file congressional committee to fight for better wage deal, is a positive example.
Rather than being under the stranglehold of a rotten leadership, the workers challenged the state government that claimed to have implemented the new minimum wage, but actually short-changed workers by implementing the new wage for those in levels one to four only. Ironically, the official labour leadership (NLC and TUC) accepted this rotten wage deal. It took the direct initiatives of workers to reject, not only the ridiculous wage structure, but also the labour leadership that accepted it.
The action of Oyo workers and most particular the congressional committee formed to lead the struggle is a worthy example for workers across the country. It shows the kind of rank and file organization and mobilization needed by workers to compel their union to fight. Workers must start to put their unions under their firm democratic control. Most importantly, workers must begin to agitate for democratization of the trade unions and for a leadership that can fight uncompromisingly for workers interests.
THE STRUGGLE FOR LIVING WAGE MUST CONTINUE
On minimum wage, workers must start to compel their labour leaders to kick-start the struggle again. This must however be done on a democratic and mass based basis. This will mean that congresses must be called where workers will decide what they want and how they want the struggle to be conducted. Every decision on any negotiation with the governments and private employers must be put under the scrutiny of workers. This is to avoid sell out.
There is no excuse for any state or the federal government not to pay the minimum wage, as more money is now in the coffer of the governments than before. Even before this time, there was no tenable excuse for non-implementation. In February alone, the three tiers of government shared close to a trillion naira. More than this, the labour leadership must kick start the campaign and mobilization for the immediate implementation of the earlier demanded N52, 200 minimum wage, in view of the spiralling inflation and increasing cost of living, occasioned by recent hike in fuel price.
According to National Bureau of Statistics’ latest report, the recent hike in fuel price will increase inflation to more than 12.5%, while the poverty rate, already put at a conservative figure of 69%, is expected to rise as a result of same factor.
Therefore, workers must utilize every avenue, including this year’s May Day to demand better conditions of service and improved wages.