Yesterday, Nigeria celebrated the International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day, with the rest of the world.
As usual, the federal government has declared a public holiday on Monday, May 3, 2021, to commemorate the yearly event.
As we commend workers for their contributions to nation building, we also call on the federal government to use this day to reflect and set in place modalities to implement fully the new minimum wage which has met with snags across most states.
The International Workers’ Day, as it is known globally, is essentially linked to the celebration of the achievements of the labour movement and is commemorated in more than 80 countries across the world.
Historically, the first Labour Day took place on May 1, 1890, after the announcement by the first international congress of socialist parties in Europe on July 14, 1889, in Paris, France, to dedicate May 1 annually as what it tagged the “Workers Day of International Unity and Solidarity.”
The date was chosen due to events on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1884 the American Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions demanded an eight-hour workday to come into effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the Haymarket (in Chicago) Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday.
Labour Day in Nigeria was first announced as a public holiday by the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) government of Kano State in the 1980s. It eventually became a national holiday the following year on May 1, 1981.
In Nigeria today, the two major labour centres are the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). They have to continually engage with employers of Labour, both public and private, to get the best working conditions for workers. They must never derail from this duty.
And as Nigeria marks this day, it is vital to look back at the history of national minimum wage struggle in Nigeria. This has been a journey riddled with challenges, protests and industrial disputes as a result of unmet demands and fulfilled promises and agreements.
In Nigeria, the minimum wage, which was previously N18,000, was increased to N30,000 and was signed into law in April of 2019. However, most states are still struggling to pay workers this new wage.
It is worrying that nearly two years since the new law, several states have not yet implemented this minimum wage, basing their reasons on insufficient resources.
Before Hassan Sunmonu became the first president of the Nigeria Labour Congress in 1978, it was reported that there was no history of a structured minimum wage for workers. Sunmonu was inspired to begin agitation for a minimum wage following a pay rise for political leaders at the time.
He called for a N300-per-month minimum wage in 1981, which led to a major strike that culminated in President Shehu Shagari and the Hassan Sunmonu-led executive agreeing to a N125-per-month pay package.
The issue of minimum wage later became a constitutional matter and included in the Exclusive Legislative List in the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
Recently, there was the debate over minimum wage as moves by the National Assembly to remove the minimum wage from its Exclusive list to the Concurrent legislative list was opposed by organised labour as this move, in summary, would leave workers at the mercy of state governors in terms of their wages.
For a long time now, workers have faced a lot of challenges, ranging from unpaid salaries, deduction in salaries to unfair treatment by their employers, even in these times of COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, the main focus of the celebration of workers’ day ought to be implementing fully the new minimum wage and ensuring that all states adhere strictly to the payment.
The federal government should take this matter seriously. As a newspaper we believe that N30,000 in today’s Nigeria will not go so far as to cater for the needs of a worker and his or her family.
While there is a long list of challenges to be addressed and ticked off for workers in Nigeria, starting with the issue of paying the minimum wage be a good place to start.