By Victor Ahiuma-Young
IT is no longer news that Nigerian workers are the least paid across the globe including war-torn countries.The subsisting N18,000 minimum wage in the country is less than $38 as compared to the following countries: Algeria – $175 (N83,000); Belgium – $1,738 (N810,000);Cameroon – 36, 270CFA or $75 (N38,000); Chad – $120 (N60,000); Denmark – $1,820 (N900,000); Libya – $430 (N190,000); Japan – $1000 (N450,000); Cote D’ivoire -CFA $72 (36,607); New Zealand -$3,187 (N1.4m); Luxemburg – $2,500 (N1.1m); Spain – $760. (N300,000); Switzerland – $5,620 – (N2.5m) and USA – $11 per hour.
Similarly, it is generally believed that Nigerian politicians earn the highest salaries anywhere in the world. For instance, report has it that in Luxemburg where minimum wage is $2,500, lawmakers are paid $7,400. In Libya where minimum wage is $430, lawmakers earn $3000. In Nigeria where minimum wage is $38 (N18,000), lawmakers earn $65,000 (N29m).
The struggle by organized labour in Nigeria for a new national minimum wage following the expiration of the N18, 000 subsisting minimum wage in 2015, thickened in 2016, culminating in the Federal Government announcement of a 30- man tripartite national minimum wage committee, to fashion out a new national minimum wage for the country.
Following the announcement of the committee, President Muhammadu Buhari, on November 26, 2017, while inaugurating the committee said: “The subject of a National Minimum Wage for the Federation is within the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Accordingly, we should aim to go above the basic Social Protection Floor for all Nigerian workers based on the ability of each tier of Government to pay.I say this because minimum wage is the minimum amount of compensation an employee must receive for putting in his or her labour and as such should be anchored on Social Justice and Equity. Government’s decision after considering your final recommendation will be sent as an Executive Bill to the National Assembly for it to undergo appropriate legislative scrutiny before passage into law”.
Even before the committee was announced and inaugurated, Labour had made its demand known as early as 2016. While the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, initially demanded N56.500, the United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, demanded N96, 000. Later, NLC and TUC upped their demand to N65,500 in view of the nation’s economic reality.
However, as negotiation continued, the three Labour centres, working as Organised Labour, harmonised their demand to N65, 500. As the negotiations progressed, the private sector, it was gathered made presentation of about N42, 000, after sampling the opinion of members and their ability to pay. It was however gathered that the private employers brought down their figure to N25 ,000 for reasons best known to them.
According to sources, the committee received memoranda from Delta, Abia, Adamawa, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ekiti (which said it was consulting), Enugu, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ondo, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, FCT, and Borno.Aside from memoranda, oral submissions were taken as well public hearings from the six geo-political zones of the country.
From the memoranda received, Kano offered to pay N30, 600 while other states agreed to pay as follows: Adamawa, N23,000; Taraba, N20,000; Imo, not specific; Plateau, N25,000, N30,0000, & N57,0000; AkwaIbom, not specific, Bauchi, N25 200; Abia, N42,000; Ekiti, still consulting; Gombe, N28,000; Jigawa, N32,000; Kogi, not specific; Katsina, not specific; Ondo, N22,000; Lagos, will be bound by Southern State Governors Forum; Oyo, not specific; Nasarawa, N24,750, N31, 348.30; Enugu, will implement anything agreed; Delta, cannot accommodate an increase for now on present Federal Government allocation; Borno, N27,000.
Though the Committee was inaugurated on November 26, 2017, it did not begin sitting until March 2018.
When the committee commenced work, it planned to terminate its assignment by August. Unfortunately, this was not to be. While other social partners, presented their figures, the Federal Government did not announce a figure 11 months after the committee was inaugurated.The government was accused of frustrating the committee by shifting the goal post through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige.
Things came to a boiling point at the end of August after Ngige allegedly announced a sine-die (till further notice) suspension of meetings of the committee. Labour decided that its endurance capacity had been stretched to the limit and decided to bark through a 14 day ultimatum to the Federal Government to reconvene the meeting of the tripartite committee and announce its figure.When the ultimatum expired, typical of the government, Labour demands were not met. Labour leaders decided to make good the threat to embark on a nationwide strike.
Unity of purpose
The unity of organized labour on the issue of minimum wage completely took government by surprise unlike what happened in May 2017 when the government jerked up the pump price of fuel from N65 to N145 per litre. Leaders of NLC, TUC and ULC, decided to put their differences aside and resolved to teach government a bitter lesson. When the strike kicked-off, critical sectors of the economy as well as public sector institutions,among others, were completely crippled on the first day of the industrial action. On the second day of the strike, the government announced a reconvening date for the tripartite committee.
During the reconvened meeting of October 4 and 5, the Federal Government presented N24,000 as its figure which was rejected by Labour and OPS.
Yet again, it was the Minister of Labour and Employment who stirred in hornet’s nest when he told the media that the committee had not reached any agreement and that the committee’s work was ongoing.
Labour insisted that agreement was reached and that the committee had completed its work and threatened to return to the the trenches on November 6, if government refused to accept the report of the committee.
The Organised Private Sector, OPS, threw its weight behind Labour that agreement was reached by the committee and indeed, that the committee had completed its work.
The government after realizing that it was unable to break the ranks of Labour, attempted to break the ranks of OPS to no avail. It was obvious that the government was shocked over OPS bond of unity with the labour movement on the issue of a new minimum wage and knew that a nationwide strike was not what the country needed at this time.
As Organised Labour mobilized for the planned industrial action, fear, apprehension and gloom loomed the air. The government once again, tried its old tricks and rushed to the court and secured a restraining order from an Abuja Division of the National Industrial Court, NIC.
Labour remained defiant contending that it was not aware of an restraining order and that the planned strike would go on as planned unless government met its demand.
Sensing an imminent industrial unrest which consequences would be better imagined than experienced, the Labour Minister summoned a meeting with Labour and OPS. As expected, Labour shunned the meeting insisting that the meeting was of no consequence.
Labour leaders said the only meeting important to it was that of the tripartite committee where its recommendation would be signed and presented to President Buhari.
Incidentally, the government equally fixed the meeting of the committee for the next day being November 5, a day before the planned strike was to begin.
Less than an hour to the commencement of the strike to compel government to accept N30,000 new minimum wage, the nation that had been on the edge over labour threat to shut down the country, heaved a sigh of relief when labour suspended its planned strike after a prolonged meeting by the tripartite national minimum wage committee.
Vanguard gathered that during the meeting that lasted for over 8 hours, besides other arguments, the fear of strike was very strident.
It was gathered that neither the OPS nor the government wanted to experience another nationwide strike by a united and determined Labour with total support nationwide. The consequences of the September 27 and 28, were still fresh and nobody wanted to travel through a similar road that might even be more perilous.
So, the N30,000 new minimum wage sailed through with superior arguments prevailing despite opposition from government.
The road to the N30, 000 new minimum wage, was rough and tough, investigations revealed that solidarity and unity of organized labour played a very defining role in making the figure a reality, not downplaying the understanding of members of the organized private sector, OPS.
Like they say, the battle has ended, but the war is not yet over.