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For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

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1 May 2003

2000 MINIMUM WAGE AGREEMENT:
NLC MUST FIGHT FOR A LIVING WAGE

 

In May 2000, the Federal Government announced N7,500 and N5,500 new minimum wage for federal and state civil servants respectively. Recognising that the wage increment was inadequate to meet the prevailing high cost of living, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Federal Government signed an agreement for 25% and 15% increment for year 2001 and 2002 respectively. In fact, President Olusegun Obasanjo announced this agreement at the year 2000 May Day rally in Lagos.

But on the excuse that the economy was not recording any remarkable improvement and that most state and local governments could not cope with the new wage, the Federal Government appealed to NLC to shift the implementation of the 25% increment planned for year 2001 to 2002. NLC agreed to this shift. During further negotiation, the increment was even reduced to 12˝ %. Yet year 2003 has come and the government still has not effected any wage increase.

In July, 2002, the NLC suspended a one-day warning strike which was planned to protest against the refusal of the government to implement the year 2000 minimum wage agreement. According to the NLC at the end of its Central Working Committee on 9th July, 2002, the strike was suspended to allow for further negotiation with the government. Another planned strike scheduled for early April, 2003 on the same issue was also postponed by the NLC based on the excuse that it did not want to disrupt the elections.

There is even a lot of confusion on the issue. While the NLC leadership claims that an agreement has been reached for a 12˝ % increment, President Obasanjo and his lieutenants have been saying that such an agreement does not exist and that the rate of increment will be determined only through further negotiation.

We in the DSM consider the demand of the NLC and Nigerian workers for the implementation of the 2000 agreement as just and necessary and we still call on the NLC to pursue this demand to its logical conclusion.

First and foremost, Federal Government is honour bound to implement this agreement. Its excuse that the economy is not improving is not a reason for the working people to continue to suffer. The opulent and ostentatious lifestyles of political office holders while workers are swimming in the stream of hardship make the Federal Government's argument unacceptable. When they are not paying themselves fabulous and over-bloated salaries and emoluments in terms of furniture, sitting, out of station, etc. allowances, the political office-holders and politicians award and inflate contracts for themselves, multinational corporations like Julius Berger Plc and their local allies. A case in point is the Abuja Stadium project which has been constructed by the Federal Government for the All African Games coming up later this year. This project which was initially billed to cost a sum of N38 billion was scaled upward to N97 billion.

The NLC must argue that the resources of the country is capable of paying for the increment and ensure living wages for workers and decent living for all if the well-being of the working masses forms the pivot of the economic, political and social policies of government.

But unless the NLC gets serious by organising mass actions on this issue, the matter will continue to be treated with levity by the government as it has being doing in the past two years. Against the certain opposition of the capitalist elites, in both public and private sectors, to any increment in workers' wages, labour leaders need to re-enact its tradition of mass awareness and mobilisation through posters, leaflets, lectures, seminars, rallies and demonstrations and strikes. This, to us, is the best way to ensure that the bankrupt anti-poor arguments of the pro-capitalist elements are thoroughly debunked and workers' morale boosted in the process.

Also, the NLC leadership needs to show that it will fight against any retrenchment of workers as a result of any wage increment and also come up with strategies and tactics to combat the evil of irregular payment of workers wages. For instance, the NLC leadership did little or nothing to fight the cause of the tens of thousand of workers sacked and victimised by states like Osun, Oyo, and Lagos etc as a result of workers' agitation for the implementation of the year 2000 minimum wage agreement. As of today, states like Anambra, , Imo, etc are owing workers salaries. Unless all these issues are seriously tackled, labour leaders will find it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm among workers, which is crucial for the successful prosecution of labour's just demand for wage increment.

Finally, the NLC leadership needs to link the struggle for decent wages to a comprehensive anti-capitalist economic and political agenda. The idea of piecemeal attack on symptoms of capitalism while the anti-poor, exploitative system itself is not centrally confronted, is an idea that cannot be sustained on a long-term basis. Experience has shown that even if labour wins the current demand for 12˝ % wage increment, the employers of labour characteristically will do everything possible to neutralise this gain in several ways such as hike of prices of goods and services, mass retrenchment, etc.

Therefore, labour leaders need to fashion an economic and political agenda that can serve as alternative to the present anti-poor, capitalist system. In place of the prevailing self-serving system where all the essentials of living are being privatised, labour must fight for an equitable system where the commanding heights of the economy and the resources of society are used for the benefits of all and not just a rich few as is the norm under capitalism. Labour needs to evolve and support an independent political platform which will ensure that the rule of the perpetually corrupt and selfish capitalist politicians are replaced by a government of workers and poor peasants whose central goal will be the satisfaction of the basic needs and aspirations of all. Only this approach can bring appreciable and lasting respite for the working masses economically and politically.