Despite the harsh economic realities in Nigeria, some state governors still have reservations over the adoption of N30,000 as new minimum wage for workers in Nigeria. REGINA OTOKPA dissects the governors’ claims and their responsibility towards workers’ welfare
For over a year, the issue of a new minimum wage for Nigerian workers has been going back and forth, confronted with several hurdles. Every worker has a right to decent wage, which is expected by law, to be reviewed every five years to reflect and adapt to economic realities.
From a stand point of N65,000, organised labour, after series of meetings with the tripartite committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2017, had agreed to N30,000 as new minimum wage for workers.
Although this amount was jointly agreed and signed by all members of the tripartite committee consisting of representatives from the organised labour, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and private sector employers, the NGF, in a swift move, suddenly insisted it could only afford to pay N22,500 as new minimum wage.
No going back
According to the President, United Labour Congress (ULC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, the offer by NGF to pay Nigerian workers a paltry sum of N22,500 as new national minimum wage was “not just contemptuous but negates the principles and spirit of social dialogue as envisioned by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions.
“It is therefore unacceptable and disdainful of the vast majority that makes up the nation’s workforce and indeed the masses that create the nation’s wealth. It immediately makes the N30,000 compromise figure an orphan.”
Similarly, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said the sum was “unrealistic in the face of the harsh economic realities on ground.”
While the governors were insisting on an increment of N4,500 to the current minimum wage of N18,000, the National Council of States, presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, with past presidents and the governors endorsed N27,000 as the new wage, but again, organised labour rejected the amount.
The General Secretary of NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, stressed that the council had no jurisdiction to determine another amount after the tripartite committee had submitted its report.
“It is abysmal of government to be delaying the submission of an Executive Bill to the National Assembly and by wrongfully adopting N27,000 through the council of states,” he said.
After a public hearing at the National Assembly, the House of Representatives overrode the N27,000 by approving N30,000 as the lowest wage payable to workers in the country.
The minimum wage bill having passed first and second reading at the Senate, was passed for third readings and referred to a standing committee led by the Committee on Appropriations for further legislative action.
Appeal for sympathy
But in recent developments, some state governors have insisted they are unable to pay N30,000 as new wage for their state workers.
At the just concluded 12th National Delegates conference of NLC, Governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, had appealed to the conscience of Nigerians to sympathise with some state governors over their inability to pay the proposed N30,000.
“Many states are unable to pay salaries, not including Kebbi State, because we manage better. All the arguments about increase in wages and the clamour for a new minimum wage were compelling during the tripartite committee meetings. But I am sure that organised private sector will sympathise with what we are saying about the ability to pay.
“What do we need to do quickly so that workers can earn better and decent living? We are ignoring the most fundamental thing, which is the size of our economy, which leads to wider issue of globalisation.’’
Voting them out
From the onset, Wabba, who accused governors who claim inability to pay the new wage of wasting resources meant for workers and meaningful development on the purchase of campaign vehicles for the elections holding tomorrow and weeks to come, had directed workers to use their Permanent Voters’ Card (PVCs) against those saying they can’t pay N30,000 as minimum wage.
“We receive the lowest salaries in the world, while our president, governors, legislators, ministers and councilors are among the highest paid in the world. Every Nigerian provides electricity, water, road and security for himself,” he said.
“A new minimum wage is not a favour but a right; it is a crime to deny workers their rights. Give us our new minimum wage today. When it comes to salaries of political office holders, there are always enough resources, but when it comes to salaries of workers, the story changes.”
According to the Co- convener, Say No Campaign Nigeria, Jaye Gaskia, workers must be willing to flex their political muscles at the polls, to vote in leaders,who have their interest at heart.
Gaskiya, an activist, who spoke at a workshop organised by the Labour Correspondents Association of Nigeria (LACAN), noted that all over the world, there was no advanced economy where organised labour is not a major player in politics either by endorsing a party or floating its party to ensure the interests of its members were duly protected.
Speaking on the workshop theme: ‘The New Minimum Wage Question in an Election Year,’ Gaskiya, who argued that governors’ claim of being unable to pay N30,000 as new minimum wage was arising from sheer irresponsibility to the affairs of the people, said even if the present revenue sharing formulae was reviewed, some states would still owe salaries.
“For state governors who are saying they cannot afford N30,000, the problem with payment of salaries and pensions is not a resource problem, it is not because there is no resources, it is because of the failure of governance,” he said.
“I led a study where we looked at the amount of extra budgetary resources that have gone to government in the last three years; the Paris Club refund, which was struck at about N1.3 trillion, the various types of bailout funds two different types and the negotiation of bad loans from short term loans to long term 30 years loans and all of that. All of these monies and monies from the LNLG’s that have never come in before that went to the states, if you put all of these together, in the last three and half years, 36 state governments of Nigeria have shared close to N4 trillion that is not part of their annual budgets and yet they are owing salaries.
“The problem is how to reform governance and when a governor says I have more priorities than paying workers’ salaries then it tells you that governor understands nothing about governance because the civil service is the engine of governance. The public service is the service delivery arm of governance what else is the purpose of governance if it is not to deliver services. If you are saying that the workers and the institutions that are meant to deliver public services are not a priority then what are you doing. It is a sheer lack of understanding of governance.
“The private sector understands that if you want this economy to get out of recession particularly right now, you need to have workers who are right now earning monies that are disposable that can enable them buy the goods that are being manufactured by industries.”
Workers are the driving force of the economy, therefore, going forward, there is need for federal and all state governments to move away from the class struggle and make workers’ welfare an utmost priority.
With the elections holding tomorrow, it is indeed time for workers to move beyond sentiments, ethnic or religious factors to ameliorate their welfare by casting their votes wisely.
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