No to threat on Minimum Wage
No to threat on Minimum Wage
Labour must Demand Increase in Minimum Wage to Not Less Than N52, 200
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) condemns the recent threat by the state governors to stop the payment of the N18, 000 minimum wage as a result of decline in oil revenue. This is utterly hypocritical. We note that even when oil was sold above $100, it took struggles of workers before the governors accept to pay the minimum wage which was not even fully implemented by many states. We hold that it is fraudulent of governors to claim that the minimum wage was imposed on them. It is convenient for the state governments to invoke “fiscal federalism” when the welfare of workers is at stake but fail to cry of imposition when the agency of federal government determines and prescribes the wages of all political office holders irrespective of the fiscal capacity of the states.
We strongly hold that, despite the decline in the oil revenue, the country and the states are still viable to pay living wage to workers and implement social program as well as infrastructure development. All what it takes is to place political office holders on the same structure of salaries and allowances as civil servant, cut wastages like security votes, unnecessary foreign trips etc., and acting firmly to stop corruption by opening the books to subject allocations and projects to democratic control of elected representatives of workers in order to ensure judicious spending.
We welcome the rejection of this threat by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) which has also indicated a plan to table proposal for increase in minimum wage. But, bearing in mind past experiences, we call on Labour not to make this statement another round of hot air. We observe that the labour leadership does not lack correct and logical argument to defeat the points of the government as demonstrated in the NLC statement of November 22. Unfortunately what seems to be lacking is the political will to fight for improvement in the pay and condition of workers under the guise of allowing the government to settle down. As the NLC itself noted, the declaration of the governors is an attempt to frustrate efforts by the organized labour to table a proposal for a review of the minimum wage which Jonathan signed in 2011.
It has been the relative inactivity of the broad labour movement since the January 2012 mass protest and general strike that has emboldened the state governors to attempt to make workers pay for the capitalist crisis and corruption of the ruling elite. This is not unprecedented. We recall that the national labour leadership did not respond to the crisis of unpaid salaries with a robust, nationally coordinated action as workers were left on their own to slug it with their state governors. A national day of action including a warning strike as a first step would have sent a clear warning to the state governors that a labour leadership prepared to call a strike over unpaid wages is too formidable to toy with. Unfortunately the current situation confirms the axiom that when you give the State your wrist, it would be emboldened to take the whole arm.
A break has to be made with vacillation and class-collaborationist approach of the past. We therefore call on the NLC and TUC to immediately table a joint minimum wage demand and request a tripartite meeting of government, private sector employers and labour to agree a new minimum. The proposal from labour must not be less than N52,200 which was originally demanded in December 2008 as a reflection of the cost of living as of then. The fact is that devaluation of naira as well as inflation and high cost of living has rendered untenable the current N18, 000 national minimum wage.
However if Labour is going to succeed in winning this demand then it must be matched with a series of nationwide mass activities including rallies and symposium to sensitize and mobilize mass support of workers and other sections of the working people. This should prepare the way for further action, starting with a 24 hour warning general strike. It should be stressed that the increase in minimum wage must be implemented without loss of a single job at both public and private sectors. Actually and as a matter of urgency, labour must now link the demand for increase in minimum wage with the unemployment crisis in society. At least 50 million Nigerians are unemployed. This is almost half of the labour force! Alongside the demand for an increase in wages, labour must demand job creation and mass employment of all unemployed people on decent, minimum wage jobs with trade union rights.
It should be noted that crisis of unpaid salaries has not been fully resolved despite the bailout from the federal government. Many states still owe workers arrears of salaries. Besides, the continued low federal allocation will be used as excuse by many state governors to deny workers prompt and regular salaries, or to try to actually cut wages and benefits. Therefore, the demand for a new national minimum wage must be combined with a struggle for regular payment and prompt payment of salaries and pensions.
More importantly, the labour leadership must be prepared to lead a mass resistance against looming austerity attacks which have been signposted with threats on minimum wage, planned electricity tariff increase and current fuel scarcity which could be a prelude to hike in fuel price, something that was suggested recently by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. Already many states have also increased fees in primary and secondary schools while there is a renewed call for scrapping of unity schools (federal government owned secondary schools). The government at all levels must not be allowed to make workers and youths who enjoyed little or nothing at the time of the boom to pay for the current capitalist crisis worsened by the failure and corruption of the ruling elite.
The fact that all the pro-establishment parties (APC, PDP and APGA) are united in the attack on pay and condition of workers has further shown that there is no fundamental difference between them as they all operate on the basis of capitalism. Besides, the last 6 months of Buhari government has shown that it cannot bring about the real change in conditions of the people and economy, something confirmed by the overwhelmingly pro-capitalist character of Buhari’s ministers. All these have underscored the need for a genuine mass political alternative. Hence, we call on the labour leadership and workers to link the struggle for improved pay and condition as well as against austerity measures with the formation and building of a mass working people’s alternative on a socialist program.