Once again, the organised labour is in the trenches spoiling for a showdown with the federal government over minimum wage. GABRIEL ATUMEYI looks at the perception of the ‘common man’ whom the Nigerian Labour Congress is supposedly fighting for
The organised labour in Nigeria represented by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Nigerian Government have been at loggerhead over what should constitute the least take home pay of the average Nigerian worker. While the organized labour have shifted ground moving from their earlier demand of N65,000 to a compromise position of N30,000 which is just N12,000 above the prevailing N18,000, the federal government on the other hand, said they were ready to pay N24,500. But the tripartite committee made of representatives of the government, organized labour and organized private sector, set up negotiate and come up with an agreeable amount, proposed N30,000 which was finally presented to the President, Muhammadu Buhari.
So far people have been asking many questions, such as why now, is it feasible, can Governors who cannot pay the initial salary level meet this new one, what is the implication for the national economy?
Analysts have also opined that the leadership of the organized labour have become highly political that they can no longer be said to be pursuing the interest of the common man.
Minimum wage, sometimes called a living wage, can be calculated in the amount or magnitude of wellbeing it can afford for the average worker. These include, clothes, food, savings, education and even health.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend on his perception of the new minimum wage, Ahmed Sani, a taxi driver who spoke in pidgin, revealed that being in the private sector, he is in no way directly affected by it but that it is a step in the right direction. He said the federal government’s concession to labour is meagre compared to the cost of food stuffs in the market. “If it is implemented it will be good for common people like us,” he said. “This is because there will be a trickledown effect for us.”
One John Zakari, a civil servant in Abuja said that despite the fact that civil servants have not received anything, it is already affecting prices in the market. According to him, “In the market now there has been sporadic increment in the prices of goods.
“A small bottle of Coke which was formerly N100 now sells for N120. We only had of minimum wage and have not yet received it but it has started taking its toll on civil servants already. The market people seem to have raised their prices waiting for the minimum wage to come.
“My earnest prayer is if it is going to come into effect, let it come fast. It is only in Nigeria that you see that when prices go up, they don’t come down again.
Also speaking, Mr Adamu Gana yakubu, a civil servant said that he was happy when he heard of the new minimum wage. But expressed sadness that even before it has come into effect, the market is already reacting. “We have no option but to adjust to the new prices. That is why some of us were afraid when they started talking about minimum wage, I know it will push prices up. You can see now even before the minimum wage, prices are already going up. So it is better for government to look into our expenses. just last month I had to pay about 30,000 at my child’s school, so imagine what happens if I have about three or four kids. That is about seven month’s salary.”
Mr Yakubu Yohanna, a civil servant and taxi driver in Abuja metropolis, also disclosed that for him the minimum wage does not help matters. He said this is because if you estimate the total number of the workforce represented by labour, that is the federal, state and local government workers, they are not more than 5,000,000 workers in a population of almost 200 million.
“So I think it will lead to a rise in prices,” he said. “That is why the last time they talked of the strike I called them ‘lazy civil servants’. Some people depend solely on government and government cannot carry us all. People are not creative and innovative in their survival strategy in this country.”
Daniel Jude, a tailor said: “All these talk about minimum wage, about N30,000 or N40,000 cannot really solve the problem of the Nigerian people. We should not deceive ourselves, the N30,000 will not translate to any significant transformation in people’s standard of living. This is because if you relate the N30,000 to the cost of living, that money does not really add much. So the money they want to use as bazaar in the minimum wage, why don’t they invest it in power? If there is stable electricity, forget the minimum wage, citizens will be empowered.
“Even if one earns a mere N15,000 at the end of the month, you can also undertake a viable small scale business on the sidelines. The naira doesn’t have value. These are just distractions and we know that some states won’t be able to afford it.”
Adding his voice to the issue, Gambo Usman, an engine operator at a processing firm in Abuja said that the federal government did not get it right. In his words, “They should have gone into consultation with the state Governors and their houses of assembly to see if it is feasible. I believe some state governments can even pay more than that. If some people say they cannot pay salaries, it is because they are not asking the right questions, such as how much do they generate from their internally generated revenue and what do they use the money for? They use federal government allocations and their internally generated revenues for frivolous foreign trips and expenses.
“After spending public funds recklessly, the governors will come to say they cannot pay salaries. They have the means to pay N30,000 and even beyond that. There are states that arrange marriages for couples and even give them funds to start up businesses, is that Government business? When there are no books in our schools and our hospitals are poorly equipped. How much is the salaries of Governors and that of our legislators and their aides? By the time we reduce the cost of running government, we can pay more than N30,000.
He however expressed dissatisfaction with the leadership of the labour unions. According to him, “The labour union has become politicized, what they are doing is politically motivated. It is all a game plan by the ruling APC to promote their campaign for 2019. If not, why now. The labour union should have been out fighting for the poor man’s interest a long time ago. Like during the fuel hike time, that is when they should have raised their banners if they were truly pro-poor. N18,000 has been lingering for a long time and people have been surviving on it. But nobody cared, it is now they care because they are campaign for Buhari.
Mr Adam Ohiza, said it is a good development but presently, it is not viable especially if one looks at the implication for the economy. “It may lead to inflation in the economy and that won’t augur well for the economy,” he said.
On his part, Shehu Zakari who work with the National Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA), said: “Let’s look at it from two different perspectives, that is, how it affects your life as an individual, before you look at the economy. How does it affect your life? In that regard the minimum wage is well deserved because our country seems designed to favour the wealthy few.
“That is why you see the governors ganging up to say they cannot comply or they will be forced to down size. These governors have been spending massively on their welfare having a multiplicity of aides. So the minimum wage is well deserved. Why is it that in this country everything must be publicized? By the time the government enacts this law, I think the minimum wage will have a ripple effect on the private sector. If it is religiously implemented, the private sector will follow suit.”
Also speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, Mr Mike Golu, a public servant said the Nigerian labour unions have failed the Nigerian workers.
“My own personal grieve is that when fuel price was increased from 87 to 145, that was a good opportunity for labour to try to see that it was cushioned for the workers,” he said. “By that time, life drastically changed because virtual everything that you buy at N100, had a price increase of almost 200 percent. For instance, like food stuff which is the common need of everyone, a bag of rice was about N7000 and with the increment in the fuel price, a bag moved to almost up to N20,000 at that time. Then with the exchange rate that affected the economy at that time measures would have been put in place to cushion the effect then, not now when people have already almost gotten used to the situation.
“That is why it seems this is all politically motivated. I can assure you that many Nigerians have lost faith in labour. Not that minimum wage is not good, it is good. After every four to five years constitutionally the government need to do something about the minimum wage. The other problem is that inflation will rise.
“The mistake has been made, the government through its many anti-people policies have dealt with the common man. There is no more a middle class in Nigeria. The economy is in shambles. Minimum wage is good, there is nowhere in the world that there is no minimum wage.”