Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Labour Must Fight For Its Implementation across the Federation

By Chinedu Bosah

Finally, after much delay, the national minimum wage was signed into law on March 25, 2011, just days before the elections started. It was very two years ago that Labour had first tabled the demand for an increase and since then organized occasional mass protests and agitation for the increase. Back in December 2008 Labour had initially agitated for N52,200 and threatened to call a general strike to win the demand. At the same time Labour had called for a tripartite committee made up of government, labour and the private sector to discuss the demand and, a year ago, this agreed to N18,000. Obviously this was way below the original N52,200 call and, at time when inflation is running on government figures at 12.8%, fails to make up for the fall in real value of wages.

The last minimum wage (N7,500) was ratified 11 years ago and up till now some state governments are yet to implement it while most of the state governments only implemented N5,500. It took workers at different sector at different states and at the federal level to struggle for wage increment. Even before the Minimum Wage Bill was forwarded to the National Assembly, the Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, had said that his government did not have the capacity to implement the N18,000 minimum wage. Fayemi’s position mirrored the stand of most state governors who had gone ahead to suggest that the Minimum Wage Act, if passed should go give allowance for each state government to renegotiate with their workers for a ‘payable’ amount.

As the election was approaching, governors opposed to the N18,000 minimum wage could not come out viciously for fear of being seen as anti-worker, which they are anyway. The same was true for the federal government headed by the President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan had himself held down the process for about 14 months and was part of the government that held down the agitation for about 26 months. Jonathan only signed the act into law few days before the general election with so much fanfare just to boost his chances at the election. Now that the elections are over, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) will be forced to resume the struggle for its implementation in several states. The federal government can easily pay having implemented N17000 minimum wage to federal workers already and has more money by virtue of the fact that it controls about 45% of the total crude oil revenue.

In the Guardian of July 1st 2007, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) stated that political office holders across the federation, which was put at about 17,000 earn N1.12 trillion annually and will earn N4.5 trillion in 4 years. This was reiterated in the Punch Newspaper of February 13 2009. Political office holders earned about N751 billion annually before it was hiked in 2007 to N1.2trillion and ratified in April 2008 by RMAFC. Details of what the three tiers of the government receive are: N173bilion (federal), N360billion (states) and N592billion (Local Government). We should not also forget that the number of political office holders captured by RMAFC is less than what presently obtains, particularly when you consider the retinue of ‘special assistants, assistant to special assistant, special adviser, adviser to special adviser’ to different political office holders either appointed or elected that cost different tiers of government additional huge sums of public resources. This is outside huge kickbacks gotten from government contactors called the private sector and outright looting through the implementation of privatization, deregulation and other anti-people policies. Therefore, there is no excuse for any state government to fail or refuse to pay the new minimum wage, which itself is a huge comprise from the Labour having come down from N52,200 to N18,000.

However, as the past experiences have shown, it will take an organized struggle of Labour which includes rallies and strikes to win the struggle in most states. Even, the state governments that are forced to implement the new minimum wage will fight back by attacking the living standard of workers by increasing taxation, increment in school fees and other services. The rising cost of living, as a result of the anti-poor neo-liberal programme of the government will eat deeply into the new minimum wage.

This is why the Labour must not only struggle for implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage by all the states across the federation and the private sector, but also struggle for a living wage that will be increased in line with the rate of inflation. The labour leaders need to make the struggle for living wage a political struggle under a mass movement that will force government to concede to a living wage for workers and to be increased in line with the rate of inflation.

Even at that, it is not sustainable in the long run to have the same governments who have attacked the rights of the working people to remain in power and expect the gains or concessions won to remain without being eroded. The political mass movement of the working people must be elevated from the sphere of wining concessions to taking political power with the aim to implement socialist policies (nationalizing the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people) and programs that will see massive investment in social service and basic infrastructures and plan production and governance to meet the needs of the people.