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Minimum wage: Govt, labour on warpath

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Minimum wage: Govt, labour on warpath

Last week’s decision by organised labour to go ahead with the November 6 strike following Federal Government’s failure to accept and adopt the report on N30,000 minimum wage by the Tripartite Committee on New Minimum Wage did not come as a surprise.
Having given the federal and state governments enough leash to put their houses in order and give Nigerians a living and befitting wage, it was expected that the unions would resort to its last option of going on strike as the former are not forthcoming.
It has, however, become ironic that in order to prevent labour from going ahead with the strike, the government has suddenly run to court to stop the industrial action.
Good enough, labour has claimed not to have seen any of such court order, and as a result, it will go ahead with what has been planned except the Federal Government retraces its step by accepting the committee’s recommendation for onward passage to the National Assembly.
The root cause of the impending strike is the insistence of the state governors to pay only N22,500 as minimum wage for workers whereas the labour unions are insisting on N30,000.
Since 2017 when the tripartite committee was inaugurated, the Federal Government never pretended as if it was not going to deliver on the report of the committee until the first quarter of this year when the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, suddenly realised that the promised date of implementation was no longer an eternity.
There have always been fears within labour circle that the Federal Government would renege not only in paying the recommended wage, but also failing in implementing it in the third quarter of the year as promised.
For Ngige, who radiated excitement at the beginning of the whole process to later lean on the flimsy excuse that the capacity for state governments and private sector employers to pay is paramount to the implementation of any report, is tantamount to complete mockery of the committee’s efforts and eventual delivery.
That remains a huge slap on the faces of most Nigerians, who daily behold a government with officials and families’ members that are neck deep in extravagant lifestyle.
Pragmatically, the minimum wage of N18,000 has become out of tune. Even when it was introduced more than five years ago, Nigerians had condemned it based on the fact that the economic realities on ground then far outweighed the figure.
Even with recent statistical drop in inflation from as high as 18 per cent to 11 per cent consecutively, the positive effect hardly permeates the ordinary Nigerians’ daily living as prices of commodities are still on the very high side, making the current N18,000 an insult and a direct marker for economic and social marginalisation. To state it succinctly, what do some state governors do with security votes, and large convoys?
The most appalling aspect of the whole issue is that whereas Nigerian government is haggling with labour over N30,000, some African countries pay higher minimum wage. For instance, Chad pays an equivalent of N60,000 as minimum wage; Cameroon, N38,000; Algeria, N83,000, while Libya that is still struggling out of crisis pays as much as N190,000.
For a committee in which government representatives including the minister actively participated in, it is rather nauseating to behold that the implementation of the final report has become a problem to the same government, up to the extent of going to court to seek an injunction stopping the planned strike.
However, as labour is certain to go ahead with strike, most people will, as usual, see it as a battle for a few and even though it is likely to extend it to the private sector after succeeding with government, there is certainly a limit to which it can go as the capacity of the private investor is ultimately dependent on the state of the economy.
One thing must also be taken out from labour’s agitation for the strike. While it feels at ease telling Nigerians to stockpile food and necessities, the directive, however, becomes ironic considering the fact that most Nigerians do not have enough resources to heap food at home for an indefinite strike as they live on daily allowances as little as between N500 and N1,000.
To stretch the matter further, in a country where electricity is as good as not functional, and for the fact that electricity workers and those in oil sector will be joining the strike, even those with enough money to stockpile food might end up having a smelling home from rotting food items.
As much as it is necessary for labour to make a statement, we believe it is very expedient for them to become more proactive by looking for other ways to make employers do their bidding.
While we enjoin government to do all it can to forestall the strike as room for deliberation is still open till midnight today, we also appeal that the poor masses must not be allowed to suffer unnecessarily.
We call on both the government and organised labour to reach amicable settlement on this new minimum wage. The nation cannot afford another strike.

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