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NLC and Minimum Wage: The Task Ahead

By Salihu Moh. Lukman

This edition is the concluding part of the article by Comrade Salihu Lukman, a former assistant general secretary with the Nigeria Labour Congress on the inclusion of the National Minimum Wage on the concurrent rather than the exclusive list as it is now. The first part was published on August 1, 2013.

The point is, elementary analysis would caution about the consequence of adopting a bandwagon framework for minimum wage legislation that is not informed by economic indices that are related to work output. Such a framework can only result in either shortchanging workers in high-revenue states/areas or over-stretching employers in low-revenue states/areas. Certainly, a review of wage fixing theories would highlight these challenges and perhaps dangers.

It needs to be stated emphatically and unequivocally that although there is increased revenue which has resulted in improved financial profile of especially states and federal governments in the country, it has not favourably alter the structure of government finances. The main predictable reasons would be factors of corruption. Besides, given characteristically unstable international oil market, current levels of oil revenue are hardly sustainable and therefore to plot them as determining variables for price indices such as minimum wage with long term implications would be almost suicidal.

Protesters along Ikorodu Road in Lagos.
Protesters along Ikorodu Road in Lagos.

Be that as it may, there are certainly challenges that need to be addressed. The challenges border on ensuring that there is in truth “enormous resources” to guarantee higher levels of wages in the country, in the context of which issues of minimum wage can be correctly computed taken all indices into account. NLC should approach this based on a strategy of strengthening its own organisational capacity and not look for easy quick-wins that are not sustainable, which include a faulty constitutional provision such as the provision of item 34, Part 1 of Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.

As it stand, item 34 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule is not is not sustainable and could only expose Nigerian workers to greater risks and danger. Being conversant with internal logic influencing leadership thinking in Nigerian trade movement, it is quite worrisome that NLC is approaching these matters less objectively. It has never been the case that workers will get justice on matters of employer/employee relations bordering on pay and entitlements with simple reference to the law.

Had that been the case, there would be no need for unions. The business of unions will always be to develop strategies and carry out actions that can result in improved working conditions and better pay. These are issues bordering on workers input to the process of revenue generation. The big worry is when matters of pay and benefits are delinked from these factors, which appears to be the logic of the NLC argument with respect to national minimum wage legislation in Nigeria.

Of course it could be argued that this has been the case, perhaps since the 1970s. That it has been the case does not make it right. What has been the tradition of NLC and Nigerian trade unions is the courage to campaign for what is right especially in relation to workers benefits and welfare. It is a matter that requires good measure of intellectual and political capacity. The position of NLC with respect of minimum wage fixing in Nigeria is weak intellectually and politically unfounded.

Part of the political imperative is the need to engage our national politics in such a way that workers entitlements are not threatened by factors of bad governance which include corruption. This is where the recent NLC scorecard is low especially given the standards that it is known for. NLC’s voice on matters related to our political development as a nation has been very remote. Partly as a result of that, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had at the TUC Conference on June 21challenged organised labour “to stand up and be counted”.

Union organisation and their political roles on matters of governance are important in this respect. Somehow, it would appear that Nigerian trade unions, including the NLC have vacated their political roles and in the circumstance their capacity to correctly assess national realities and intervene based on rational consideration is weak. In so many ways, Nigerian trade unions and NLC are very lucky to have rich reservoir of history and public goodwill on account of which currently leadership seems to be very relaxed.

In summary therefore, the message to NLC and all Nigerian trade unions is that they need to wake up and reconnect themselves with their historic responsibilities. This calls for good initiatives towards organisational strengthening, conscious effort to produce knowledgeable leadership with high integrity and above all high moral standing.

Challenges facing Nigerian workers today go beyond legal provisions. It is more a capacity issue in many respect. A situation where the main business of unions is only strikes with hardly no voice on national policy and governance issues will at best project unions and their leaders as pedestrians and opportunistic, which over the years they have proved not to be.

Nigerian unions and NLC in particular have always been source of hope for our country at very trying period. So far, Comrade Omar and his team in NLC can do much more. Their intellectual, political and organisational capacity can provide much more than what they are give the nation today. The danger is that current leadership of NLC and Nigerian trade unions may be presiding over the systematic demobilisation of Nigerian workers. They need to consciously prevent that from happening.


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