By Victor Ahiuma-Young & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
LAGOS — THE Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday warned that attempts by the governors through the Governors’ Forum to renege on the N18,000 national minimum wage signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in March 2011, was an open declaration of war against the Nigerian workers.
Congress equally told President Muhammadu Buhari to prepare to receive the proposal for the review of the minimum wage as contained in the agreement, noting that the proposal was delayed because the NLC wanted to give the government time to settle down before coming up with the demand.
While insisting that the ability to pay even above the wage was not the problem of the economy, NLC recalled that the 2011 national minimum wage came into existence after almost two years of agitation and eventual negotiation by the tripartite of government (represented by the federal and state governments), the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, NECA, representing other employers (in the private sector) and organized Labour.
NLC, in a statement by its factional President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, told the governors to prepare for war and organised labour would have no alternative than to mobilize to respond appropriately to this act of aggression by the political class on workers’ welfare.
The statement read in part: “The Nigeria Labour Congress is shocked by the statement credited to the chairman of the Governors Forum, Governor Abdulaziz Yari, that the N18,000 national minimum wage promulgated into law in 2011 was no longer sustainable because of the fall in the price of crude oil. The governor, who was speaking on behalf of his colleagues at the end of a meeting of the forum, also claimed that the national minimum wage was ‘imposed’.
“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this attempt to reverse the national minimum wage is a declaration of war against the working people of this country, and we would have no alternative than to mobilize to respond to this act of aggression by the political class on our welfare.
“For us in the Nigeria Labour Congress, we know as a fact that ability to pay minimum wages is not the problem of the economy. What is the problem for states and other tiers of government is the amount many political office holders and their unproductive aides take away as wages. For the private sector, the greed to accumulate more and more profit is also always a motivating factor to keep wages down.
“Similarly, we have been in the forefront of campaigning that the cost of governance at all levels needs to be drastically cut down, to free enough resources for development. The hundreds of billions of Naira our public office holders continue to filter away in the name of governance is what is not sustainable.
“For instance, the annual cost to the public purse of governors ‘security votes’ which is an unaccountable drain on the public resources, is worth several thousands of minimum wages per state. Secondly, Nigerians who have the means to travel by air would recall that in the last 6-10 years, majority of, if not all our governors, no longer use commercial airline regular flights as a means of transportation from one place to another. They now have ‘official’ aircrafts and helicopters, which they maintain at huge costs to the state treasury.
“Their less ‘fortunate’ counterparts charter aircrafts and helicopters at the cost of millions of Naira to tax payers to attend any manner of functions from marriages to child naming ceremonies.
“States are in the poor financial state they are in largely on the developmental choices they have made; largely on the basis of priorities they have chosen which has nothing to do with the public good. Workers salaries cannot be sacrificed on the altar of challenges of the economy which is not the making of workers. It has never happened in the history of our country, and it will not be said that it is during our leadership of the Nigerian labour movement that this calamity was allowed to happen to Nigerian workers.
“Governors and other political office holders were not elected and/or appointed to only go and share proceeds from crude oil and petroleum products sales monthly in Abuja. Any one putting himself or herself out to serve does so on the assumption that he or she have intellect above the average which would be leveraged to provide good and responsive governance to the rest of the populace.
“In the 60’s when Nigeria did not have oil as the main source of our revenue, our fore bearers raised funds via efficient taxes, agricultural produce and other forms of internally generated revenue to provide development and pay living wages to the workers. Our current crop of leaders, who put themselves up for election to high government positions, must deliver by paying the working masses their due pay. This is not negotiable.
“As early as May 2015, we gave notice that the N18,000 National Minimum Wage was due for review, and that we would be submitting a new proposal once the incoming government settled down. We have been patient and waited for the President Buhari government to appoint ministers and thus have full compliments of officers to run the government.
“With the recent devaluation of the Naira, and the attendant increase in inflation and cost of living, even without the last minimum wage Act reaching the mandatory five years when it is due for review, we would have been justified to request for review.
“Now the five years is here – we are at the end of 2015, and with the cost of living being so high, we will soon table our new minimum wage demand to the federal government. If the recent statement by the Governors Forum is intended to manoeuvre them away from addressing this imperative, then it is bound to fail as we are ready to do battle to raise the living standard of the Nigerian working people.”