Issues around minimum wage demands

TUESDAY, May 1, 2018, was May Day all over the world. It is the day set aside to mark the struggles, pains, victories, contributions and aspirations of the working peoples. Here in Nigeria, in spite of the peculiar security, economic and political situation, workers still trooped out under the Organised Labour unions in solidarity and tabled their demands.

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, revealed a new national minimum wage demand of N66,500 ($184.87), up from the N56,000 that had been on the table for some years now. This is N48,500 more than the current National Minimum Wage of N18,000 ($50) which many state governments have found difficult to implement. This N66,500 or a little over N2,000 or six dollars a day, is well within the United Nations living wage. But since a typical Nigerian worker caters for many dependants and pays through the nose to provide himself electricity, water, security, healthcare, transportation and educate his children, it still falls far short of what is needed to keep a worker comfortable and corruption-free. More than minimum wage increase is needed to keep workers gainfully employed. On the other hand, most state governments and private sector employers have fallen far behind since they started paying the paltry N18,000 minimum wage. The Trade Union Congress, TUC, President, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, says that 35 out of the 36 states of the Federation owe salaries and pensions though the Federal Government has offered them bailouts and refunded the Paris Club over-deductions worth trillions of Naira. Complicating the workers’ minimum wage conundrum is the fact that the Federal and state governments spend about 70 per cent of their annual budgets on overheads, including salaries and pensions, leaving very little for development. It also virtually crowds out other citizens who are not on government payroll from the dividends of governance. Obviously, the nation is in a mess. Organised Labour is making legitimate but unrealistic demands. They know the governments and employers cannot pay, yet efforts are being made to sign a new minimum wage into law. We can only see a future where governmental activities will be paralysed by workers’ strikes to force implementation.

The call for restructuring resonates. There is no way a new national minimum wage can be implemented. By virtue of our exploding population of nearly 200 million and GPD growth rate of less than two per cent, Nigeria is living in abject poverty. The prediction that Nigeria would become the “poverty capital of the world by 2018” is now a concrete reality. Over-centralisation must go! We must decentralise the system, give power back to the people and allow them to create sustainable economies at all levels. We see no other viable way out.