NON-IMPLEMENTATION OF MINIMUM WAGE: Neither Threat Nor Hot Air Will Do!
NON-IMPLEMENTATION OF MINIMUM WAGE: Neither Threat Nor Hot Air Will Do!
For General Strikes/Mass Actions Now!
By H.T. Soweto
“It is unfortunate that we can still be talking about the implementation of a mere N18, 000 minimum wage almost two years after it became law. It shows the kalo kalo mentality of those who claim to govern us, when they spend more than five times that amount to feed their dogs monthly” (The Nation 15/10/2012). That was Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) deputy president Promise Adewusi recently lamenting the non-implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage signed into law nearly two years ago.
What is incredible about this statement is not the lamentation, it is the inability of the top of the labour leadership to recognise, whilst they lament, how their weak strategy and compromises have contributed to the current debacle. They often make one mistake after another and are unable to draw a link between their actions or inactions and the pitiful results that follow.
Promise Adewusi talked about a mere N18, 000 and the fact that those who govern us spend much more than that to feed their dogs in a month without remembering to mention that the original demand, way back in December 2008, was N52, 200 from which the labour leaders sheepishly climbed down, citing recognition of the conditions of the states. Now their magnanimity and misplaced concern for the conditions of the ruling class is being repaid with contempt.
Well over 15 state governments have practically refused to recognise the minimum wage law or pay. Many have tried, in some cases successfully, to renegotiate. Most worrisome is that some states which labour claims are paying are actually paying less than N18, 000. Teachers in Lagos State have had their Teachers Salary Allowance (TSA) secretly withdrawn in exchange for the minimum wage. This was an allowance teachers struck and fought bitterly to win in 2009.
Workers in other sectors in Lagos have had similar experiences but both the state labour leadership and the national leadership are covering this up. Last year, the state chairman of Joint Negotiation Council (JNC) and the chairman of RATTAWU publicly disagreed during a live interview on television on whether or not the government was paying minimum wage genuinely. The RATTAWU chairman was reflecting the anger present among most activists and workers who feel betrayed. Promise Adewusi cannot say he is not aware of the sell-out in Lagos yet nothing resembling this is even reflected in his lamentation.
Most labour leaders are hands-in-glove with their state governments. In fact this is more worrisome in states led by opposition political parties where labour leaders practically compete to be in the good books of the government. Against this background, sell-out and short-changing of the interests of workers is the only possible outcome that can happen. This was one reason why the struggle for implementation of the minimum wage never really took off after the national leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) won the campaign to get the law signed by the federal government sometimes in 2010.
In most states, rank and file workers had to mobilize against their leadership before the struggle for implementation could get underway. Two bold examples are Oyo and Enugu states. Whilst all this was going on, the national leadership of the NLC and TUC blew hot air only just for a while but refused to do what was needed at that point which would have been to declare national solidarity strikes and mass actions to strengthen the struggle of workers striking almost with no official leadership in Oyo and Enugu states.
In these two states, workers are still paying a hefty price for their abandon by the labour leadership in their hour of need – in the midst of a battle for implementation of minimum wage. In Oyo state for instance, workers are being presently punished for daring the government. Over 3, 000 have been sacked! In Enugu, a worker activist who provided leadership when the official labour leadership sell-out was arrested and detained in prison on contrived criminal charges!
So it is incredible when the same leaders who failed to provide leadership when it would have mattered most now come around to lament that it is unfortunate that the minimum wage law has not been implemented in some states almost two years after. Activists have to recognise that it is the weak strategy of the labour leaders and their shady compromises that is responsible for this state of affairs.
Nearly two years after, N18, 000 minimum wage sounds like a joke given inflationary rise in the cost of food, transport and other basic needs since then. By now labour should have started negotiating for a new pay rise to meet current rates of inflation. But alas a majority of workers have not even benefited from the N18,000 minimum wage. Instead many have been sacked by State governments who insist they must reduce the workforce if they must pay.
It is the interest of workers that unions are created to defend. Workers have a right to a living wage. Unfortunately, the NLC and TUC leaders are more worried about whether a state receives enough allocation to be able to afford to pay the minimum wage than the real conditions of their members. In climbing down from N52, 200 to N18, 000 with the excuse that they were considering the revenue base of the states, labour leaders empowered the state to continue to use this excuse to attack further the interest of workers.
The only way to force the defaulting states to pay up is through a sustained mass campaign of strikes and protests. Only incurable illusionists would still expect otherwise after two years. Yet the NLC and TUC leaderships are still trapped in the same old unproductive tactics. According to Promise Adewusi “we have been engaging such states quietly to make them see reason unfortunately, the public will not see that now. It is only when there is a shut down that people will blame labour.”
The truth however is that no one will blame labour. The pro-capitalist labour leaders often try to create the impression that every time they make some shady compromise, they were giving in to the real feelings of the public. But this is a lie! Since 2001, almost every general strike of the labour movement has been massively supported not just by organised workers but equally by the masses in general. The strike against fuel subsidy removal/fuel price hike in January 2012 was called off by the labour leaders for similar reasons but there were hundreds of thousands still willing to continue the struggle until full reversal. The announcement that the strike had ended was greeted with mass anger on the streets. Such was the mood of disappointment people had about labour leaders.
After almost two years of fruitless “quiet” engagement with the defaulting governors, the least everyone expects is for labour to come forward with a program of action that includes general strikes and mass protests in solidarity with workers in the defaulting states. This is why we demand that the NLC and TUC name the day for strikes and protests and be prepared to call further actions until the state governments are forced to pay up.
To ensure that this is not just a strike for wages, labour must include demands for recall of all sacked workers for instance in Oyo state, job creation to absolve all unemployed persons, free education and health and reversal of all neo-liberal policies. This is the best way to ensure the interests of workers and the masses in general are properly defended.
Many workers rightly feel the labour leadership need to fight more seriously and with a better strategy that brooks no compromise. It is precisely for this reason the DSM campaigns for a trade union movement with no bureaucracy but whose leadership would be democratically elected, subject to control by rank and file and receives a union wage not higher than that of the workers they lead. It seems inconceivable that the top of the NLC and TUC would be “quietly engaging” the state governments for nearly two years for just a paltry N18, 000 if their own wage and living conditions was not higher than that of the workers they lead.