The President Bola Tinubu-led administration is forging ahead in its plan to review and subsequently make public the new minimum wage in Nigeria. This is evident in the inauguration last week Tuesday by the Vice-President, Kashim Shettima, the 37-man Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage in Abuja.
From all indications, the Committee looks expanded, inclusive and a good representation of all vested interests.
But that remains a perspective – an opinion, just as one of the critical stakeholders in the subject under review, the Nigeria Labour Congress, has kicked, faulting the choice of membership and upbraiding the Federal Government for not doing a thorough job prior to the unveiling of the Committee’s membership and last week’s formal kick start of its tasks.
The latest move to jerk up wages is connected to the removal of fuel subsidy by President Tinubu since last year May, at his inauguration, the attendant downturn in the economy and prevalent hardship in the country.
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Having faced the reality – the consequences of his directive on businesses and families on one hand, and the impending strike on the other, Tinubu immediately appointed his Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, as the Head of the Federal Government’s team that would negotiate with the organised labour on subsidy removal palliatives.
Another build up to the formation of new Wage Committee was one of the pronouncements by Mr. President in his 63rd Independence Day Anniversary national broadcast, last year. Then, President Tinubu announced the approval of N25,000 provisional allowance for junior federal workers for the next six months. The gesture, the President affirmed, followed negotiations with labour unions and other stakeholders in the business community to increase the federal minimum wage without further prompting and undue inflation.
On the new minimum wage, Tinubu, in his New Year, 2024 nationwide address, promised: “The economic aspirations and the material well-being of the poor, the most vulnerable, and the working people shall not be neglected. It is in this spirit that we are going to implement a new national living wage for our industrious workers this new year. It is not only good economics to do this; it is also a morally and politically correct thing to do.”
The Tripartite Committee rubbished by the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, is headed by a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Goni Bukar Aji. Representatives were drawn from the Federal Government (Ministers), State Governments (Governors representing different geo political zones), private sector and organised labour. With this, is Ajaero right in his dismissal or not? His reaction and allegation will definitely provoke a position on the matter.
Ajaero alleged: “Most of the governors in the minimum Wage Committee are those who are not paying minimum wage or paying them in breaches. The governors who are in full compliance with the minimum wage are not adequately represented. So whatever made the Federal Government bring in those who are not compliant or compliant in breaches to form the bulk of the membership of the minimum Wage Committee from the State government, that will unfold with time.”
On poor or lack of compliance to the existing minimum wage, the NLC leader speculated: “A state like Zamfara, I don’t know how much Borno and Bauchi are paying, there is a minimum wage law, which criminalises the non-compliance of the minimum wage. And the Nigerian State has not tried to enforce these laws. Others are just enforcing them in breaches. Take Anambra State, for instance, Anambra State pays N30,000 for the least paid. I challenge anybody from Anambra to prove that even a Permanent Secretary is earning up to N170,000 or N180,000.”
If Ajaero is embittered about the choice of composition and conflicting moral issue in the Committee, he and NLC are equally wrong in the historical agitation and concentration by the labour movement only on wage increase. We challenge the labour leaders, present and previous, to come out and evaluate the substantial values minimum wage rise or provisional wage, has added in long term to workers and our economy in general. The point should not be lost. It’s related to questions on a wage increase in an oil-based economy of a country with moribund refineries, fraught with capital flight and various damaging sharp practices within its oil and gas industry. It’s all motion without movement! More on that later.
The immediate past President Muhammadu Buhari was the one who signed the existing minimum wage Bill into Law on April 8, 2019. This happened after the National Assembly passed the Bill on March 19, 2019 and transmitted the same to the former President on April 2.
It’s important to put on record that the predecessors or few among the Governors who belong to the new Wage Committee kicked against the last increase to the present N30,000. They may not be blamed really, as they lack the foundation and fundamentals to pay and sustain the current minimum monthly take home.
The noncompliance was despite the revelation by former President Buhari’s aide on National Assembly Matters Ita Enang, that with the new law, workers enjoy the right to sue their employers who fail to pay them the new minimum wage. Enang also indicated that the Act empowers the Minister for Labour or his representative to act in the case of such denial of the new wage. Well said. But the truth of the matter is that the caveats and threats in the Act were mere academic exercises! If not, how many of the adamant State Governments the organised labour took to task in ensuring that they abide have done so?
It appears that successive administrations have been using the new minimum wage as a tactic to calm nerves, just for a while, understanding that it has always been the ultimate desire of the labour union. Whereas, they seem to understand that wage increase by Nigeria standard of today and before is mere palliative, and that the real solutions lie in working on basic economic indices for long term effects, even without frequent wage increases. Sadly, the same government always falls into error with the intention to check organised labour’s lopsided agitation, mounting pressure and unavoidable distraction.
It’s all garbage in and garbage out! The organised labour’s agitation is not well thought out and the government’s approach is not bringing any lasting solution either.
For instance, instead of the NLC agitating or grousing over the choice of membership of the FG new minimum Wage Committee, why can’t the labour leaders tackle the government on fixing some economic variables and embark on strike should the authority fail to yield?
Here, we shall return to our previous but persistent advocacy. The fact that our economy is oil-based, the capital flight recorded through exportation of crude oil and importation of the refined products is crazy and nothing but an indication of being penny wise, pound foolish! Similar to this is the sorry state of our refineries. To worsen the situation, the world’s largest single refining facility, Dangote Refinery, which many have thought would bring succour is not there for Nigerians. Reason: The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited has failed to meet up with its crude oil demand due to commitment with other entities.
And the situation is likely to be worsened as the $3.3 billion crude oil for loan deal between the NNPCL and non-deposit African Export-Import Bank has recently taken effect. We have said it before and we’re repeating it: Nigeria won’t make headway and the country would hardly prosper as long as we stick to this old, but inefficient economic approach.
With our present state, wage increases won’t make any desirable difference. Perhaps, the organised labour needs to hear this and review its agitation and demand. Ajaero himself has alleged that most States are yet to pay current N30,000 minimum wage, almost three years after its existence, yet, the same labour union he is leading and others, by his fellow comrades, are going to be part of another negotiation for a new minimum wage being speculated to be pegged at N55,000. That’s very ironic and not funny. Ajaero and his colleagues should realise that once the new minimum wage is announced, it would impact on all aspects of social and economic lives.
To this end, the relief new salary is targeted to provide would be lost and would have no value. To worsen that, if the present administration would be serious in enforcing the new minimum pay, then, Ajaero and his colleagues should expect possible downsizing of the workforce by business organisations, most especially in the private sector. In any case, they shouldn’t be taken by surprise if some State Governments begin to rationalise and insist that the only condition that would make them abide by the new minimum wage law is to relieve workers of their jobs. Already, with the current minimum wage, many business organisations are finding it extremely difficult to survive the effects of the raging economic hardship.
Apart from our refineries working optimally, another measure for economic prosperity is for the government to look into areas it can influence and impact in the life of the common man. As we have advocated before, the government can improve the quality of family lives by using what is saving from oil subsidy to offset the hike in tariffs of utility items like electricity, domestic cooking gas, and telecommunication. The yet to take off Students’ Loan scheme is one of the best approaches by the government to support the average and poor Nigerians.
If the government is also keen, transportation is another key area it could assist the cause of the general public. Transportation and communication are critical and central sectors, which the government must focus serious attention on. After all, the beneficiaries of the last Yuletide 50 percent Federal Government transportation fare discount have acknowledged and hailed the scheme. This is one of the impactful directions.
Just like fuel, good electricity supply is also fundamental to our economic growth. Why can’t Ajaero and other labour union leaders agitate for a revolution in the power sector, threaten industrial action and hold the government accountable for all that has been spent on power generation and transmission over the years? Why can’t the organised labour task the government to belabour our Electricity Distribution Companies to be up to task in their contracts with the customers? All of these variables are what would make workers’ monthly earnings draw values and lives bearable.
Meanwhile, one area that the government must put a final stop to is the allocation of monies to lawmakers to provide palliatives as well as execute constituency projects. The recent over N57 billion vote to National Assembly members for rice palliative was a waste of public funds. It should be stopped forthwith!
The NLC has refused to heed the words of wisdom with respect to its agitation. Wage rise demand falls short of an inclusive thought. Painfully, it’s about to resume negotiations for a new minimum pay, which would hardly have any sensible far reaching effect (s) in the long run. Needless to say therefore that the organised labour is heading towards yet a direction with no desirable end.
We insist that unless organised labour influences the government positively on right steps to grow the economy, calling for new wages would take us nowhere. It’s not the solution. Again, the labour leaders should know that if our approach remains as present and other indices stand awkward, then they are not resolving any problem. Instead, they digging the grave for further critical challenges in the future. So, if it’s not too late, the labour should review its stand, change the gear and watch if it would not have the backing of many suffering Nigerians.