NEW MINIMUM WAGE: Labour Must Demand Immediate Inauguration of Tripartite Committee and Be Prepared to Struggle
The astronomical rise in the price of goods and services across the country following the decision of the Bola Tinubu government to hike the price of the petrol and devalue naira has further underscored why the leadership of both the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, can no longer be silent on the urgent need for a new minimum wage that will reflect the current economic realities for mass of the Nigerian workers. The recent clamour by members of the national assembly for wage increase and N500 billion as palliatives are enough for the leadership of labour to insist that it is not sacrosanct that the four year gap for wage increase, though prescribed in the minimum wage act and lapses in 2023, must be exhausted before the move for a new minimum wage is initiated. Labour must demand that, given the current high inflation, the minimum wage must be rapidly adjusted to prevent falls in living standards.
By Abbey Trotsky
This is more so that the value of the current N30, 000 minimum wage has long been completely eroded and rendered worthless by the high rate of inflation and its attendant high cost of goods and services which has been on a steady increase since the approval of the so called N30, 000 minimum wage in 2019 by the Buhari government. Attesting to this is the FG’s recent decision to give an award of 40% pay rise to a selected category of workers in the federal civil service. This kind of gesture which has earlier been implemented by Lagos State government for its workforce and with a promise to replicate it in states like Oyo, Edo and Kwara in response to the over 150 percent hike in the petrol price, is nothing but an open acknowledgement by both the Federal and state governments that the current minimum wage of N30, 000 can no longer be supported by the prevailing economic realities in the country.
LABOUR MUSTN’T BE CARRIED AWAY BY PALLIATIVES
We of the Campaign for Democratic and workers’ Rights, CDWR, welcome the pay rise even though it is a palliative to cushion the effect of the current harsh and increasingly unbearable economic realities. At the same time, we strongly believe that such a pay rise must not be limited to a few number of federal civil servants. Other categories of workers like medical personnel and academic staff at state and federal level must also be allowed to benefit from the so call pay rise. This is regardless of whether or not they are on special salary structure.
However, we call on workers and the leadership of labour not to be carried away with the pay rise. It must also be ensured that the pay rise is not a backdoor move by the federal government to remove the national minimum wage as an item on the exclusive list in the 1999 constitution (something that must be determined centrally). As far as we are concerned, the pay rise is a mere gesture and must not be seen as a substitute to nationally negotiated new minimum wage that take into account the rising cost of living. A new minimum wage must be collectively negotiated in line with the principle of collective bargaining not just an award by either the FG or state government.
It is in the light of this, we call on the leadership of labour to immediately and officially notify the FG on a need to set up a tripartite committee as a crucial step to commence the process of the collective renegotiation of a new minimum wage. This is after the workers and labour leadership must have agreed within its rank a harmonised figure that is based on the current economic reality as a proposal for the new minimum wage. Most importantly, at the same time they have to commence the immediate mobilisation of mass of the Nigerian workers in preparation for the concerted struggle that will be required for the approval and implementation of a new minimum wage.
Such a struggle must be linked with the struggle against casualization, contract staffing and other forms of indecent labour practices. The danger is that if this kind of struggle is not waged side by side the agitation for the new minimum wage, mass majority of the workers who are currently under casual or contract employment will be excluded from benefiting from the new minimum wage. This could create divisions amongst working people. According to the new minimum wage act, only a worker under a regular employment is qualified to enjoy the implementation of national minimum wage. This must be rejected by the NLC and TUC! It is a deliberate ploy to ensure that the profit interest of the big business owners is adequately protected at the expense of the overall interest of the working people.
By and large, the overall interest of the working people cannot be fully guaranteed under any form of a capitalist government. It is against this background, we strongly hold that the struggle for new minimum wage must also be linked with a struggle to build a mass workers’ political party to wrest political power from the capitalist vampires. This is because only a genuine working and poor people’s government run on the basis of a socialist programme can utilise both the human and mineral resources to guarantee access to decent living condition and other basic need for the vast majority on a permanent basis.