As Nigerians savour the peaceful atmosphere between organised labour and the Federal Government, the latter appears to be fanning the embers of crisis by toying with the minimum wage agreement reached between both parties.
When everyone had thought that the battle was gradually coming to an end, the Federal Government has again displayed insincerity on its part over the date of implementation, thereby putting the workers’ movement at alert.
Labour’s position is not new as it had sent signals to government that it would go to battle with it if it continues to undermine the welfare on Nigerian workers. The unions put into perspective what might become of the country if the Federal Government failed to whip itself into line and take Nigerians out of the hardship currently being visited on them through deliberate and inhuman policies.
The deep-seated acrimony expressed is understandably sanctioned and quite appreciated by Nigerian workers, who have suddenly become victims of the change they had craved and voted for over three years.
Yet again, labour was jolted to reality a few days ago when the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, stunned the nation with the news that the implementation of the new minimum wage would no longer be possible in September as earlier promised.
Since the announcement, interested parties have publicly denounced the new position, which is contrary to what the minister himself had promised in February. With the constitution of an all-inclusive tripartite committee, interested parties had thought that an end was in sight to the frequent crisis between organised labour and employers.
However, with the minister’s new position, labour appears set to head for the trenches going by the position of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as recently spelt out by its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, in Geneva at the 2018 edition of International Labour Organisation (ILO) annual meeting.
To keep Nigerian workers on a minimum wage of N18,000 for such a long time, especially in the face of open display of opulence by politicians and those in high echelon of government, is, to say the least, most insensitive.
Apart from the fact that wage increase is a constitutional matter, which ought to be observed by administration once every five year, it is on record that as at the time N18,000 minimum wage was negotiated with the Federal Government, the exchange rate then was about N145 to a dollar compared to today’s N360. Since then, inflation had risen steadily from around 12 per cent to as much as 18.5 per cent before dropping down to 13 per cent.
To imagine that the N18,000 minimum wage fixed over five years ago would still be sustainable is unimaginable. In a society where education is not totally free, access to medical care, accommodation, transportation and other social services are cumbersome and expensive to come by, there is certainly a limit to what N18,000 can do today.
Little wonder official corruption in public offices is growing by the day despite government’s spirited effort at checking the menace. More annoying is the fact that the Federal Government, through the minister, was never in any way forced to make its promise that the implementation of the new wage would commence in the third quarter of this year.
To put an end to doubts and make the process total, the committee was well constituted to include private sector employers, federal and state governments and other relevant bodies. This was to ensure nobody cries foul at the end of the day or lament that he was not a party to the agreement.
Although some observers had shown concerns over some state government’s ability to fulfil their obligation on the new wage considering the huge salary arrears they owe even with N18,000, none of them has, however, complained publicly that the N66,500 new wage proposed by labour is an extra burden they can’t deliver on.
While the expected confrontation between labour and the Federal Government appears to be incubating, it is, however, surprising that up till this moment, the former has not come out to dispute the minister’s position that the September date is actually scheduled for the committee to conclude its assignment before handing it over to government.
While praying for a peaceful resolution among the parties involved, we call on the Federal Government to make the process faster and ensure the new wage is implemented this year.
We also appeal to members of the committee to take care of all the grey areas in the recommendations so as not to give the Federal Government the ground to justify its position. Ultimately, now that the problem of insecurity across the country is waning, efforts should be made not to derail the economy further through industrial action.