FOR A NEW NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE!
FOR A NEW NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE!
By Segun Sango, National Chairman, SPN
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) urgently calls on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to now take seriously the need to fight for a new national minimum wage. We hold that apart from the fact that the current minimum wage, which was last negotiated 5 years ago, is already legally due for a review, the excruciating high cost of living that has been worsened by the recent devaluation of the Naira calls for an urgent increase in the national minimum wage.
We note that while various leaderships of the trade union movement have argued for a new minimum wage, there has not been a harmonized demand let alone concrete steps on the struggle for its actualization.
For instance, while the Joe Ajaero’s faction of the NLC has demanded N90, 000 as a new minimum wage, the Ayuba Wabba’s faction of the NLC has been mandated by its NEC to draw a proposal for a new national minimum wage.
The TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama was quoted to have said in August that, “The NLC and TUC have not harmonised our position or adopted a common position. The tripartite negotiations will commence this year. We are looking forward to having a joint position before the end of the month.” (Punch, August 12). However, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCN), an affiliate of the TUC, has demanded N46, 000 as minimum wage for workers.
We call on the leadership of the trade union movement to immediately come up with a harmonized figure which must take into account the devaluation of the Naira and the high rate of inflation. We recall that the NLC and TUC had demanded N52, 200 as the minimum wage in December 2010 based on the then prevailing economic situation and indicators before they succumbed a few months later to the Jonathan government’s offer of N18, 000. However, to date, even this low figure has not been fully implemented by all the states and most private sector employers. Given the high rate of inflation since 2010, we hold that the new minimum wage must be much higher than N52, 200.
To better protect the living conditions of workers especially in the current volatile condition of economic slowdown which is fast worsening almost by the day, the labour movement must not just fight for a one-stop minimum wage agreement that can only be renegotiated until the next five years but a sliding scale of wages that rises in tandem with the rise in inflation and cost of living. The current pattern in which minimum wages remain in force for a period of five-years before they are renegotiated, regardless of subsequent rise in inflation, currency devaluation and other unforeseen economic developments, is unreasonable and unacceptable. Instead of protecting workers, such a minimum wage arrangement stagnates wages for a long period thus ensuring that workers suffer atrociously at a period of economic decline and are not able to immediately benefit from periods of economic boom.
In fighting for a raise in the minimum wage, labour should aim to raise the condition of living of the mass of low paid and impoverished workers in the public and private sectors while at the same time closing the income gap and inequality in society which at current levels is alarming. Aside from political office holders who collect perhaps a hundred times more than an average civil servant, the reality is that top bureaucrats (directors, permanent secretaries, etc) in ministries and other government agencies and parastatals who are classified as civil servants already earn several times more than average workers.
Therefore, a minimum wage agreement that places both the poorest paid civil servant and the top bureaucrats on the same scale will only raise the pay of the lower cadres marginally while raising that of the top bureaucrats outrageously thus helping to maintain the income gap and inequality in society. More than that, it also plays into the hands of the government and bosses who can readily blackmail labour that they cannot afford a high wage bill thereby forcing labour to accept a lower minimum wage, like they did in 2010, to the detriment of the mass of low-paid workers in the public and private sectors. Bearing the above in mind, the SPN urges the labour movement to fight for a national minimum wage that aims to raise the pay of the mass of low-paid and middle level workers in the public and private sectors. This needs to be linked to a determined campaign to prevent any increase in the minimum wage leading to a wave of retrenchment.
CAPITALISM AT ROOT OF PROBLEM
Under capitalism where blind economic forces dictates the fate of society, the labour movement must fight energetically for the best possible arrangement that can ensure that workers’ welfare including wage and working conditions are insulated from the vagaries of a decayed and outmoded socio-economic system. This is why the struggle for a minimum wage is crucial.
However no improvement fought for and won can permanently insulate workers and the poor masses from ruination as long as the capitalist system continues to exist. Under capitalism the economy is run in the interests of the capitalists, not the mass of the population who are also the ones who suffer when capitalism goes into one of its regular crises. This is why only enthroning genuine working and poor people’s government that is prepared to run a planned economy and democratic socialist policies can begin to guarantee a permanent living wage and improved condition of life for workers and poor masses. This is the reason why, side by side with the struggle for reforms and improvements, there is an urgent task to build a mass workers’ political party to wrest for political power from the capitalist vampires.
However, it will not be enough to put forward a minimum wage demand for negotiation; the labour leadership must be prepared to struggle for it with a series of actions including mass protests and strikes. The fact is that without struggle the anti-poor politicians in government or the private bosses, who have not implemented the current minimum wage, will not willingly agree to an increase in wage. Increase in national minimum wage reduces the public funds they set aside for looting or the super profit of the bosses. As a starting point there should be a large-scale sensitization campaign to build a ground swell of support to national action to demand higher wages with no retrenchment.
NO TO BLACKMAIL
We urge the labour leadership not to accept the possible excuse of the government that the decline in oil revenue would not support an increment in national minimum wage or the threat that a rise means retrenchment. Despite economic crisis, the pay and profit due to politicians and bosses continue to rise.
A few months ago, the members of the now defunct 7th National Assembly were settled with a princely N2.4 billion severance package. This is a country where pensioners die on queues waiting to be paid a monthly pittance that is rarely paid as at when due. Despite cash crunch, seven (7) State governments cutting across both APC and PDP own 11 private jets and helicopters which cost N6 billion annually to maintain (Punch, September 13, 2015). Osun State which as at June was owing 7 months’ salary owns a French-made Eurocopter ASS 355 helicopter acquired for N500 million ($2.538 million).
Rather, the government should be told to stop monumental wastages of public funds which are a permanent feature of government, scrap the odious security votes, cut the outrageous salaries and allowances of top government functionaries, reduce the bloated political offices and end neo-liberal policies that guarantee profit for a few at the expense of the vast majority, and thereby free resources that would be used to implement a new minimum wage.
UNITED WORKING CLASS ACTION NEEDED
We call on labour activists and workers not to leave the demand and struggle for a new national minimum wage to the whims and caprice of labour leaders, who failed to fight for the full implementation of the current minimum wage. We need to start agitation and mobilization at factories and workplaces for it and thereby pile pressure on the labour leadership.
However, the struggle for the demand on the national minimum wage cannot be successfully waged with a divided labour leadership working at cross purposes. We welcome the ongoing efforts at reconciling the two factions of the NLC, but it needs to be achieved on a principled basis. In this regard, we stress that such efforts must not be limited to just ending the factionalisation but to also seek to enthrone internal democracy in the workers movement and evolve a fighting program for the leadership to implement. Whatever the outcome of the reconciliation efforts, we call for united actions of all trade unions, at all levels local, state and federal – for living wage and against other anti-labour policies such as privatization, casualisation, unpaid salaries, retrenchment etc.