Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Osun State Workers’ Strike: Government must implement the N18, 000.00 minimum wage

Osun State Socialist Democracy (SD) August 2011 Edition

Osun State Workers’ Strike: Government must implement the N18, 000.00 minimum wage

The decision of workers in Osun State to embark on strike to demand their legitimate right to a modest minimum wage of N18, 000, is commendable after the Osun State government had stubbornly and arrogantly refused to accede to this minimal demand of workers.

That the workers have to embark on strike before a minimal increase could be added to their wages shows the anti-workers, pro-rich character of all the capitalist political class in Nigeria. All the state governments, federal government and the private sector are totally opposed to this meager increase in workers’ poor wages. This is not strange, because any increase in workers’ wages will mean reduction in the money available to the politicians in power and the private capitalist employers to amass for themselves. What makes the current situation more disgusting is that the original, December 2008, demand of workers was for a N52, 200 minimum wage, which the politicians in power and private sector brutally reduced to N18, 000. Despite the reduction and the fact that the N18, 000 was passed into law by the same set of politicians in power after over two years, the governments, especially the states, have been using all tactics to avoid payment e.g. postponement of implementation until new revenue formular is introduced; arbitrary reduction of the wages through relativity pay as in Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Lagos; payment for some categories of workers while leaving the rest as obtains in Edo state, etc. Workers must reject these antics and demand total payment of the N18, 000 legal minimum wage without retrenchment of a single worker under any guise.

Hypocrisy of the Osun State government

It is absolutely irresponsible for a government that emerged from mass struggles of workers and the oppressed to illegally deny the workers their right to increased wages that will improve their conditions. The excuse that the government does not have enough money to pay workers a better wage is absolutely unfounded. This is a government that pays over N300, 000 monthly to just 300 local government caretaker members, making them to earn N1.08 billion naira yearly. This is more than twice the minimal increase in the monthly wage bill of the state if the N18, 000 minimum wage is implemented. In March 2011 alone, the state got over N6 billion from the federal allocation, but the government finds it difficult to spend just one quarter of this on its workers. Recently, there federal government came with a report published in newspapers showing Osun state government just got N12 billion from the federation account. You can be sure where this money will end up: bogus and inflated salaries for political office holders, traveling costs and allowances in search of so-called ‘investors’, award of inflated contracts even when Ministry of Works can be equipped to undertake many projects, etc.

The attempt by the government to pit the workers against the generality of the oppressed people in the state with the argument that there will be no money to undertake projects is funny. What kind of development projects will government implement when workers, who will do the real job, continue to live in poverty? Government officials, just like the bankrupt Oyinlola government before it, have been junketing round the world for ‘investors’, spending millions of naira on such trips; meanwhile all the basic facets of the state economy and infrastructures continue to collapse. Public primary and secondary schools are in rot in the state, with the state government declaring free education but refusing to fund schools in terms of adequate facilities (well equipped laboratories, libraries, more classrooms, more teaching and non-teaching staff, sports facilities, etc) and running cost, yet billions are budgeted for education in the 2011 capital budget. In fact, the little gains of the past corrupt Oyinlola government, such as free school feeding programme (where children in public primary schools are given free meals) has been cancelled under the excuse that the cost of the programme was corruptly inflated. While it is true that the past Oyinlola government was corrupt, this is not an excuse to cancel a programme that is an improvement for the poor children in the state in terms of nutrition and school enrolment.

In the health sector, the over eight month government of Aregbesola has been a dismal failure as currently health workers in the state have been on strike for over five months over poor pay and dilapidated facilities, while the government that claim to stand on the welfarist policies of Awolowo looks the other way.

The so-called OYES job creation scheme has become nothing but illegal and criminal exploitation of the poor, unemployed youths in the state. While we share the idea that there is need to create tens, if not hundred of thousands of jobs for youths in not only Osun State but throughout Nigeria, we are completely opposed to the inhuman exploitation of poor people under the guise of job creation. The OYES volunteers are paid poor wages (less than N10, 000); they are denied right to unionize and work under undignified and insecure conditions. This is even against the enabling labour law of Nigeria which compels every employer of over 50 workers to give them right to unionize and also regularize their work.

Therefore, workers and indeed the poor and oppressed people in Osun State must not allow themselves to be deceived by this government. Workers must mobilize the poor people in the state in support of not only total implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage without retrenchment or increase in taxes, but must raise other general demands that will guarantee better living for the generality of the working and poor people in Osun State.

No to Divisive Payment

Governments have argued that they are only duty bound by law to pay the minimum wage for the least paid worker, which justify the divisive level 1-6/7 policy of government. This again shows the bankruptcy of and cynicism of capitalist politicians in power to even their own rules. Grading of workers on level/years of experience and certification/education is not a new policy; and it is meant to, aside other factors, reflect workers’ right to hope for improvement in their conditions as they move towards their retirement. Since workers’ salaries are fixed monthly, the idea of protecting them against vagaries of the market economy and meeting their basic needs as they grow older (for instance, raising of children).

It is thus, a general rule of labour practice that workers’ wages are increased in vertical (through increase in grade levels) and horizontal (through increase in basic wage, which must reflect the economic indices) direction. More than this, one is expected to reflect on the other. This is victory that workers have won in the past, but which the capitalist ruling class wants to take away. The ability of the leadership of the labour movement to defend this against the attempt to erode it away will show how prepared they are to defend workers’ interests on a long term basis. Those who fail to defend the victories already won can hardly fight for new ones.

Strategies for total victory

While the decision of the workers to take their destinies in their hands is commendable, workers need to employee the best strategies that will guarantee total victory. First of all, workers must not allow themselves to be hoodwinked into resuming work without concrete commitment of the state government to pay all workers. But this will require workers taking the best strategy that will defeat the government politically. To this end, we enjoin the workers to go beyond the sit-at-home strike and organize mass actions such as rallies, protest marches, picketing, etc that will mobilize all the rank and file of the working people, which can be a basis to show the mass force of workers in the state. Sit-at-home strike gives the government opportunity to mobilize its resources to break the strike while workers are at home. Also, sit-at-home strike denies workers of opportunity to interact with each other, share ideas and interact with other oppressed people, and take collective decisions. The slogan, “Workers united can never be defeated” is only realistic when workers are organized in mass actions.

Flowing from this, we enjoin the labour leaders to make workers’ congresses more regular so that workers can organize effectively. Moreover, there is need to have strike committees at both local and state levels which will include all the officials of all unions at the local and state levels, and other pro-workers’ organizations like socialists, students’ unions, university and tertiary institutions staff unions, market men and women associations, artisans associations, etc, who support the workers’ demand and the strike. Such strike committee will organize local protests, rallies, congresses, picketing of government offices that want to break the strike. Workers must not be bounded by the blackmail of the government apologists that mass actions will be hijacked by hoodlums or politicians. Indeed, with strike committees, it will be easy to identify saboteurs and government-sponsored agents among workers who want to cause violence in order to discredit workers’ demand and struggle.

Also, there is need for workers to organize means of information such as regular bulletin and newspapers to popularize the struggle and defeat government’s propaganda. Such an organ of the workers will not only be useful for the present struggle alone but for subsequent struggles. With regular publication, it will be possible to mobilize even the support of the poor rank and file of the police and civil defence corps, who the government may want to use to break the strike. This layer is also poor and exploited; workers campaign among them can win them over.

Workers’ demands must be Collective

In order to mobilize the widest layer of the poor people in Osun State for the current struggle, the DSM advocates that workers must not limit their demands to N18, 000 minimum wage alone. For instance, the teachers must include the demand for improvement in the educational facilities in schools including employment of more teachers while also demanding proper funding of education and provision of free and quality education (the state government under the guise of providing free education has refused to fund schools or improve facilities and provide materials for schools). More importantly is the need for the labour movement to take up the OYES issue and demand living wage for the OYES volunteers among other demands.

Our Demands

Consequently, we raise the following demands:

1. Total implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage at all levels without retrenchment of a single worker or increase in tax.

2. Immediate concession to the demands of the striking health workers in the state and for massive improvement in health facilities in the state. For free and functional health facilities in the state.

3. Immediate end to the slave conditions of OYES Volunteers. For their immediate integration into the civil service, implementation of N18, 000 wage for them and allowance to join unions.

4. For massive improvement in education facilities in public schools including provision of free and functional education at all levels and payment of adequate running cost for schools. For restoration and improvement of the school feeding programme for all children of school age.

5. Immediate improvement in public infrastructures in the state. No to government of contracts; for immediate equipping of Works Ministry to undertake government project.

6. All political officers must not earn more than the salaries of workers.

7. Public ownership of the commanding height of the economy under the democratic control of the working and oppressed people.

Ultimately, workers must go beyond mere economic demands. We need to ask ourselves why we continue to elect anti-workers politicians into power only to fight them when they get power. Why don’t we stop electing our enemies (who are organized in all the major capitalist political parties in Nigeria today) into power. Workers and oppressed people need their own working people’s party that will implement pro-workers and pro-poor peoples’ policies.

Other labour activists also spoke on the need to make the struggle effective. Leaflets were circulated while fighting fund was also raised.