Topic: Minimum Wage Or Realistic Wage? By Chide Ibrahim  (Read 675 times)

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Minimum Wage Or Realistic Wage? By Chide Ibrahim
« on: October 26, 2018, 01:04:50 AM »
Minimum Wage Or Realistic Wage? By Chide Ibrahim

We are back to another round of arguments, negotiations, bullying and blackmail between the government and the Nigeria Labour Congress on the issue of minimum wage. It's the same cyclical drama socio-political observers are now used to. But then, the question is do we always have to get here?  Do we have to continually endure this distraction? Don't we have tougher meat to chew on as a people? 

Why can’t the federal government set an example by obeying its own laws? 

There is an existing law in the country which stipulates a review of workers wages after every five years, so one would expect that it should be automatic, right? Well, not in Nigeria. Don't get me wrong there are unavoidable socio-economic situations when salary review doesn't have to be automatic. A responsible government would show facts and figures why when these situations arise. However this writeup is about normal situations. Under these normal circumstances, do people in authority in this country need to be reminded to do their jobs or do they need to be blackmailed or cajoled into doing them as is the case most times when it comes to labour issues?  The last time, the wage was increased was over five years ago,  and that was when it was increased from N7,500 to N18,000.00 Since then inflation has risen, the price of crude (sadly the main index of measuring the economic well-being of the country) has gone down significantly, cost of living has gone off the roof and ordinary Nigerians are feeling hard done by.

During the last increment, the Federal Government put a benchmark of N18, 000 for all workers at the federal, state and local government levels. It called it the National Minimum Wage. This move was of course criticized by some governors, who maintained that the resources/ financial strength of states differ and as such their salary portfolios should differ. But despite the back and forth on the issue, the federal government refused to back down as it felt that every worker should at least earn the proposed minimum.  That was some years ago and as cliché as it sounds, that take home pay can no longer take our workers home! Quite frankly, I do not think it ever did.  To make matter worse for the hapless workers, only a few states have been complying with that law. Some who implemented the law, only did it on paper while maintaining the old status quo or reduce it through all sorts of backhand manner, including payment of only a percentage of the workers salaries. These payments are usually are at the whims of the governor depending on how he feels.

The argument that states should not be subjected to the same minimum wage law could be looked at from two angles. One is that states should be allowed to determine the wages of their workers based on resources available, considering that they all do not earn the same income. After all states are not naturally endowed equally. Fair argument as long as there's a sincerity of purpose. Nigerians know there's none whatsoever. The country is replete with greedy governors who would rather not pay workers and owe them as much as five months salaries while their own lifestyles tell different stories.  We live in an unjust and repressive society where the expensive lifestyle of our governors, lawmakers and ministers are flaunted without inhibition on the faces of those workers who are owed several months of livelihood. The well publicized obscene salaries and allowances of our Nigerian lawmakers have demonstrated time and time again that they are not at the hallowed chambers to represent the masses but their personal interests.  How is it possible that our governors who claim that they are not able to pay salaries maintain a retinue of aides who do nothing but massage their ego every morning. It is a common sight in Nigeria, to see young men and sometimes women hanging around Government Houses, to hail the governor simply for waking up! The governors also have thugs at their beck and call, who are also on state payrolls. Same goes for the long convoy which is also catered for from the coffers of the government.   The Nigerian workers are always at the short end of the stick unfortunately. Let's be brutally honest here, with the economic situation of the country, even if the minimum wage was N30,000, it would not do much to cater adequately for the Nigerian worker and his family. In a strongly communal society as ours, the worker not only looks after his immediate family but also a long list of dependents.

The NLC is taking advantage of the impending elections to demand for what ordinarily should be a right of every Nigerian worker and who can blame them? Everyone knows that the eve of an election is when you can get anything (including your fundamental human rights) out of these unfeeling politicians. So, I urge the NLC to maximise the opportunity. They have threatened to embark on another national strike on November 6, and I support the move. They should maintain their stance and ensure that they get a good deal. Workers are not beggars, they are not meant to take whatever crumbs drop off the table; they are critical stakeholders in this country. If we can make our politicians comfortable, we have the moral obligation to make our workers comfortable.  The Labour leaders should approach the table with a demand for a realistic wage. With the Naira exchanging at  N368 to 1$, N30,000 as minimum wage does not really cut it.  I don't have to be a Macro-Economist to know that the excesses of one class of people in a country can be curtailed to look after the shortage of another not so fortunate. It's circulation of commonwealth, put crudely. 

Demanding minimum wage is one thing though, enforcing it is another and much more important. We all know that the minimum wage is a law and violation should attract some sort of punishment. We know too the contempt with which highly placed individuals treat the law of the land.  The federal government should make it a point of duty to ensure enforcement. Governors who treat the minimum wage law with levity should have their allocation deducted at the source to cater for workers. The issue of inadequate revenue should not be tolerated. Governors should work hard at improving internally generated revenue and in any case, I believe that many states are at the moment generating a lot of money internally. They are just not adequately accounted for due to corruption.  

It's time the leadership of this country sees workers salary not as a privilege but a fundamental human right.



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Chide Ibrahim

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