RISING COST OF LIVING: NLC and TUC Must Lead Struggle for a New Living Wage
RISING COST OF LIVING: NLC and TUC Must Lead Struggle for a New Living Wage
By Bosah Chinedu
Since 1945 when Nigerian workers embarked on 45 days general strike against the Colonial authorities for a 50 percent increase in the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), every slight increase in the wage and condition of workers since then has been won only through stiff struggle. In 2009 the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) computed what it takes a worker to survive minimally and arrived at a figure of N52, 200. But after a few days of strike and protests, the labour leadership backtracked and settled for the meager N18, 000. However even this N18, 000 Minimum wage has only been implemented in an adulterated form by many states while some of the states bluntly refused to implement it.
Governments at all levels have always reneged on wage agreements. While the 2000 Wage Review Agreement provided for 25% increment in 2001 and subsequent 15% increment from 2002, the Obasanjo government steadfastly refused to implement this agreement. Only 15% was implemented in 2007. The reality of the matter is that the ruling class hardly respects agreement, particularly when it has to do with re-distribution of societal resources and wealth. When they implement any agreement or certain pro-working people reforms, it is only because they have been forced by mass struggle to do so. This lesson is yet to be learnt by the trade union leaders who prioritize board room diplomacy, which has always failed in meeting the yearnings of the working class.
In line with the 2010 Minimum Wage agreement, a review ought to be done every 5 years. The state governments have seized the initiative to demand either a reduction in the minimum wage or mass sack of workers while the federal government has come out with a wage freeze. The trade union leaders have since been procrastinating on the need for NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to jointly present a new minimum wage proposal.
The governors through their forum have hinged their decision on the dwindling oil price that is currently around $30 and could still possibly go down. But the very argument of oil price decline and economic crisis actually raises the need to urgently raise workers’ wages and not to reduce it. The fact of the matter is that dwindling oil prices and foreign exchange crisis has led to increase in the cost of many goods and services since Nigeria is largely an import dependent country. Inflation, increment in taxes (including import duties) and decrepit state of infrastructure has further rendered workers’ wage useless. Hence, in line with the rising rate of inflation, workers will require a living wage much more than the current N18, 000 template.
Already, state governments aside owing backlog of salaries and allowances despite getting federal government bailout in August 2015, have started implementing austerity attacks on workers. Rochas Okorocha, the Imo State Governor, has not only concessioned some parastatals, he boldly announced on January 12 that all workers who are above 45 years of age would be deemed retired or alternatively salaries would will be cut by 30% across board. The Oyo State government has not only stopped paying for WAEC examinations for secondary students, it has introduced fees in schools. Osun and Ekiti have also introduced fees in public schools. Fees introduction will begin the process of commercialization of public education as a step towards full scale privatization of these schools. Now we see the attempts to implement the 45% electricity tariff hike announced in December 2015. This is in addition to different forms of attacks being unleashed in virtually all the states of the federation.
Last year, the federal government came out with bailout intervention to assist the various states government owing salaries to pay outstanding salaries. Like we have said before, this bailout will only create temporary relief. As at today, many of these state governments are already owing backlog of salaries and pensions aside carrying out more attacks.
However while governments at all levels is heaping the economic crisis on the working masses thereby forcing them to pay for economic problems they have no hand in, political office holders and their private top management staffs continue to earn jumbo allowances and perks as before aside the looting of the treasury. Meanwhile aside the effect of the fall in oil price, it was the corruption, waste and mismanagement by the ruling elite that contributed to the economic crisis.
Besides, many of the past governors are drawing huge pensions from the coffers of the state running into hundreds of millions annually. The revelation of the ongoing investigation into the arms deal would be a child’s play compared to what has been looted from the oil sector, power sector etc. It has been estimated that about $300 billion public funds has been looted since independence. Back in 2009 when it was setting out a detailed case for a N52,200 minimum wage, the NLC pointed out that between 2006 and 2007, workers’ salary increased by 15%, while the salaries and allowances of political office holders rose by a staggering 800%!
Living wage to all workers including social security is possible if pro-working people policies are implemented including paying political office holders no more than the wage of skilled workers. Had it been that Nigeria’s enormous human and material resources were planned overtime to meet the needs of all instead of the profit of the few privileged class, not only would workers be paid living wage, basic infrastructure across all sectors of the economy would have been provided such that falling crude oil price would not have had much significant impact on the Nigeria economy as we presently have it. Unfortunately, these same ruinous capitalist policies are still being implemented today – something that widens the rising inequality, heightens profligacy, consolidates corruption, leaves basic infrastructure decrepit and consolidates the poverty level of the vast majority.
Unfortunately, it appears the NLC and TUC have succumbed to the argument that wages must be frozen given the decline in government revenue.
To save the working masses and their families from impending ruin, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on the NLC and TUC to come out urgently with a new minimum wage proposal that will take into account the current rate of inflation and cost of living and begin sustained mobilization of workers towards achieving it through general strikes and mass protests. With the current economic reality, such a new minimum wage proposal must be a figure higher than the N52, 200 initially proposed by the NLC in 2009.
While fighting to defend and improve living standards immediately by fighting for a new minimum wage and against retrenchment, Labour must also answer the ruling class’s arguments that “belts have to be tightened” due to the ongoing economic crisis. Labour absolutely must reject this. If this capitalist system cannot afford a living wage, then that is a crushing argument that working people cannot afford capitalism. Nigeria is potentially a tremendously wealthy country. Instead of succumbing to the ruling class’s blackmail, Labour must seriously work to build support for the idea of a socialist way out of the deepening crisis the country is in. Without this, there are grave dangers ahead for all working people.
- Pure water N60 (bag) N120 (bag)
N5 (Sachet) N10 (Sachet)
- Yam N200 (Small) N300 (Small)
N400 (medium) N600 (medium)
- Rice N9,000 (bag) N13,000 (bag)
N150 (1 de rica) N220 (1 de rica)
- Gari N250 (1 rubber) N350 (1 rubber)
- Frozen fish N450 (kg Titus) N700 (kg Titus)
- Meat N500 (quantity) N800 (quantity)
- Kerosene N70 (a bottle) N120 (a bottle)
- Electricity N140 per point N400 per point
- Veg. oil N1,000 (5 litres) N2,000 (5 litres)
- Red oil N1,000 (5 litres) N1,700 (5 litres)