MINIMUM WAGE STRUGGLE The Need for Nationally Coordinated Actions
MINIMUM WAGE STRUGGLE The Need for Nationally Coordinated Actions
By Kola Ibrahim
April 2012 marked the one year of singing of the new N18, 000 minimum wage into law. However, across the country, the implementation of the new wage has been stalled by the government irrespective of political parties. In most states including the so-called opposition parties’ controlled states, workers are being shortchanged by the state governments. As against the pro-rata arrangement that ensures reasonable rise in the minimum wage for all categories of workers based on the new minimum wage, most state governments have introduced various policies to rubbish the implementation of the minimum wage. Such policies as the ‘relativity wage’, increase in taxes on workers’ incomes, concentration of wage implementation on few workers on lower grade levels (mostly grade level 1 to 6), etc are being used to avoid full implementation of the new wage.
All of this is coming on the heel of higher cost of living occasioned by rising inflation induced by the hike in fuel prices, and commercialization and privatization policies of governments that have made cost of accessing social services like education, healthcare, potable water, etc hugely higher. This is not limited to governments alone but also the private sector, where capitalist employers are exploiting the huge unemployed population to drive down wages and casualise most of their employments.
For instance in Lagos State, despite the implementation of so-called N18, 600 minimum wage, workers are being shortchanged with huge tax burden. Added to this is the removal of some already won concessions like the Teachers’ Peculiar Allowance that guarantees 27.5 percent wage rise for teachers. This allowance was won by teachers nationwide after a huge battle with state and federal governments in 2009. Under the guise of implementing the minimum wage, the Fashola-led Lagos ACN government has removed the allowance. In Oyo State, despite courageous struggles of workers â€“ even bypassing the lame official trade union leadership â€“ the Ajimobi-led ACN state government has refused to pay the new wage. The state government is also employing cheap propaganda against workers while inciting poor section of the society including the new casuals employed by the state government under a scheme tagged YES-O, against workers.
In Ekiti State, the Fayemi-led ACN state government is using strong arm tactics of dubious promotion examinations and screening to threaten workers’ employment and reduce cost of minimum wage, which it has not even implemented. Just recently, over 5, 000 workers were sacked by the government under the guise that those workers are unfit. All of this is meant to reduce the workforce and limit the number of workers who will enjoy the new minimum wage. In place of regularized employment, the state government employed thousands of casual workers, whose employments are insecure. Already, the PDP Abia State government has sacked close to ten thousands of those it termed ‘non-indigene’ among its workforce. This is meant to reduce the wage bill of the state. This policy, which was not resisted by either the state or national leadership of the labour movement, is a mockery of the wage law.
In Osun State, the Aregbesola-led ACN state government, despite declaring that the state had saved over N35 billion, has refused to implement the minimum wage. In a clearly anti-worker move, the state government had dragged the workers to National industrial Court and secured an injunction against a planned strike of workers against non-implementation of the minimum wage. It is praying the court to, among other things, make extension of the minimum wage to workers earning above N18, 000 wage illegal. If this is allowed, it will throw the struggle of workers back, and may give many state governments excuse to walk away from implementing the new minimum wage for all categories of workers.
This worrisome development in Osun State again underscores the need for a nationally coordinated response to the flagrant refusal of governments and private sector employers to fully implement. The national leadership of NLC had sometimes ago said that 28 (twenty-eight) states have not implemented the new minimum wage. This is itself is coming on the heels of the growing cost of living occasioned by hike in fuel price by 49 percent and rise in cost of accessing social services due to commercialization of education, healthcare, water, etc. On the other side, the country has earned increased wealth, which is being siphoned away by the capitalist political class and its big business collaborators. For instance, the House of Representatives, in its probe report of the fuel subsidy since 2006 claimed that over N1.7 trillion was looted out of the N2.6 trillion (of course the members of the probe committee has been fingered in another related bribery scandal). Also, the Excess Crude Account (ECA) has been looted off by all the tiers of governments, with no fundamental impact on the working and poor masses. All of this reflects the insincerity of the capitalist politicians and big businesses, when it comes to the demands of working people.
Unfortunately, the central labour leaders, blinded by its illusions in capitalism and its politicians, seem lost on how to defend workers’ right to a minimum wage. On the basis of the widespread refusal of the capitalists to implement its own laws, the labour leadership should organize national actions to compel the state and the private sector to implement the new wage.
This will not mean importing struggles from Abuja to the states and workplaces, but on the contrary will mean mobilizing all layers of the working class, on their own strength to organize a coordinated series of actions. This will mean forming strike committees across localities in each state and mobilizing the people with campaign materials and mass actions such congresses, rallies, protest marches, pickets, etc. In order for this to be much effective, workers need to link their demand for minimum wage with other social demands of the poor people. For instance, trade unions must lead the opposition to employment of casuals without minimum wage and right to unionize. They must demand full and regularized employment for all casual workers. Also, they must raise demand for free, properly funded and democratically run education sector and health services, as a necessary way of making any increment in wage have effective value.
On the strength of these campaigns and mobilizations, warning strikes must be called across defaulting states with continuous mass actions. The national leadership can then have coordinating teams across states to monitor and coordinate along with the strike committees set up across localities and workplaces. This national coordination is vital in order to galvanize together the strength of workers across states and workplaces and ensure that gain by workers in any state or industry is used to mobilize support for other states and industries. This is even important when viewed against the backdrop of the weak nature of most state and industrial labour leaders, who based on their pro-establishment and bureaucratic outlook, easily use flimsy excuses to accept rotten wages from managements and governments as witnessed in Oyo, Osun, Lagos, Abia, Ekiti, among others.
Ultimately, the labour leaders must realize that the failure of governments and capitalist employers to pay this meagre wage is not accidental but a product of the logic of capitalist system itself, to which these capitalist politicians and employers are committed. The more money that is given to workers the lesser is the wealth available for corrupt politicians and their big business capitalist collaborators to loot. Even, if capitalist employers are compelled to pay the N18, 000 minimum wage across board, this, while it may give some respite to working people, will not in the long run end suffering of the working people. Capitalist politicians and big business will find other means of taking back with left hand (and in manifolds), what is given with the right hand, as reflected in hike in fuel prices and electricity tariff. This is why workers and their unions must realize the necessity to form their own party with clear-cut socialist programmes, which will put public resources under public ownership. Workers cannot continue to vote for their class enemies every four years, only to be confronted with their anti-worker policies.