Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Time for a Living Wage

(By Emma Adikwu)

For decades, workers in Nigeria have been groaning under the weight of incessant hardship being imposed on them by successive governments, through unilateral increases in petroleum pump price that is usually accompanied by a corresponding rise in inflation that affects virtually all goods and services in the country.

As such, a host of workers were happy to receive news of a 15 percent increase in minimum wage, when it was first announced by the Obasanjo PDP led government. But the good news was short lived when the said wage increase was not implemented till the end of his tenure as president. Consequently, the recent general strike embarked upon by Labour and Civil Society Organisations {LASCO}, from June 20 to 24, 2007, had among its demands, the implementation of the 15 percent salary by government.

Against this background, the acceptance by Yar’Adua government to implement a 15% pay rise for FG workers with effect from January constitutes on of the achievements of the just suspended general strike. Most State governments have refused to implement this increment, claiming paucity of funds. This led to protests by workers in a number of states. But in Oyo State, the protest was met with repression. The Guardian newspaper of Wednesday, June 27, 2007, reported the story with the title: ‘Thugs Attack Protesting Oyo State Workers.’ The said story depicts the horror faced by the protesting workers while fighting for their rights, as vicious thugs, while rounding up the protest march, attacked them. The said workers were protesting a cut in their salaries by Mr. Alao Akala, the Oyo State governor, who claims that if he pays the minimum wage he inherited from his predecessor, there will be no funds left to run his government.

The NLC State Secretary gave account of the attack, “we did it successfully {the protest march} and while returning from there, we were attacked. Our vehicle, the only car we brought, developed fault and we were pushing it when some elements emerged and started throwing stones, brandishing cutlasses and throwing pellets… A good number of our members were attacked; there were cuts on their legs, heads, and bruises on their faces.”

Such brazen attacks on peaceful protesters are not only callous but also barbaric and must be condemned by every right thinking person. The NLC must ensure that the victimized workers are adequately compensated and their medical bills paid by the Oyo State government, while doing everything possible to bring the perpetrators of such dastardly acts to book.

In Ekiti State, workers demanded the implementation of the new minimum wage with effect from January 2007, but the State government said it could only effect payment from January 2008, claiming lack of funds. The workers eventually went on strike arguing, “the federal government has increased prices of petroleum products for more than thirteen instances without a concurrent increase in workers salaries and allowances. The Ekiti State workers desire more than the consolidated salary, they desire enhanced housing, land and vehicle loans.” (The Guardian, July 3, 2007). The strike action by the workers succeeded to force the state government to agree to the demand for pay rise.

But the ongoing action is not without its disturbing low points. The Daily Independent of July 11, 2007 reported that the Ebonyi State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) called on the State government to sack non-indigenes in its employ. The state chairman, Mr. David Ogba was quoted to have asked: “in the neighbouring States like Enugu, Abia, Imo, do they have non-indigenes in their employment?”

We support the resolve of workers nationally, including the Ebonyi State workers to fight for improved welfare and working environment. But we unequivocally condemn the use of short cut measures that will only end up dividing workers that have all along fought together, just to gain a little concession from their common oppressor. We call on the Ebonyi State NLC and every other trade union with such discriminatory and divisive method to desist from it. This is because it is very reactionary and counter productive to use oppressive weapons such as tribalism, racism etc in workers struggles because they end up estranging workers who ordinarily should be united.

As long as the present pro-rich and anti-poor economic order continues, the struggles for improved welfare of workers will only yield minimal results. This is because whatever concessions government makes to workers with the left hand will surely be taken back with the right hand. As such workers should expect more and more attacks from the government through sales of public properties, increases in fuel pump price, privatisation and commercialization of essential services, lack of basic social amenities etc. At present, a minimum wage a little over N10, 000 will be paid, but under the prevailing economic condition, a N50,000 minimum wage is not even enough to providing workers with the basic necessities of life such as qualitative education, decent housing etc.

Workers are the engine room of the economy, without them the economy will collapse. This has been demonstrated severally through strikes (a show of workers power) that have, at various times brought to a halt socio-economic activities. Such enormous powers, if used to take over political power, can turn around the fortunes of workers in a country like Nigeria that is stupendously blessed with abundant human and natural resources. To achieve such an end, Nigerian workers must be united in their struggles and must also build international solidarity.

In this regard, we call on the NLC, TUC and LASCO to immediately organise national intervention in these series of workers struggles to ensure that they achieve rapid success. This is very much important to avoid division in future struggle between Federal and States workers, between public and Private sectors workers. Labour leaders should be prepared to fight against any attempt to sack workers by the government/employers on the account of pay rise. They must also demand constant review of the minimum wage to match the rate of inflation.