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Minimum wage, now the hard part

ORGANISED Labour – the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba, and Comrade Joe Ajaero’s United Labour Congress, ULC – are floating on the euphoria of a historic achievement. They squeezed out a new National Minimum Wage of N30,000 without actually embarking on indefinite strike, burning down the economy and subjecting the people to untold hardship.

minimum wage
minimum wage

The success owed mainly to the excellent timing of the “warning strike” (Thursday September 27 to 30, 2018) and “indefinite strike” (Tuesday November 6, 2018). The campaigns for the 2019 general elections are billed to flag off on November 18, 2018. It is most likely the Federal Government quickly capitulated to the demands of Labour because it did not want to risk electoral backlash from the scheduled indefinite strike.

This was a stark contrast to the May 2016 strike over President Muhammadu Buhari’s hike of the price of petrol from N97 to N145. Apart from the two wings of Organised Labour being divided, the Federal Government had simply ignored the Wabba NLC which, after days of street protests, called off its strike. Labour has since been seen as a toothless bulldog that barks without biting.

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By forcing its will on the Federal Government which had offered N25,000 while the state governors grudgingly tabled N22,500 (many governors blatantly said they couldn’t pay even that) the leadership of Labour has regained some confidence among its members.

However, here comes the harder part. The President immediately started preparations to table a New National Minimum Wage Bill before the National Assembly as soon as the Chairperson of the Tripartite Committee, Ms Ama Pepple, had submitted the N30,000 resolution to him on Tuesday November 6, 2018. But it is left to be seen if the Federal Government will reflect the new salary structure in the 2019 Appropriation Bill which the President will submit to the National Assembly any time from now.

More worrisome is what the various state governors will do in the same regard.

In truth, the economy is still slowly and painfully recovering from recession, with a marginal 1.9 GDP growth. The Federal Government has been borrowing heavily to meet its bills. The states, apart from burdensome debt profiles, have depended much on Federal bailouts and Paris Club Debt refunds.

Yet most states owe their workers and pensioners months in arrears.

The outlook for Labour stability in the country for the immediate future is bleak. There will be rashes of strikes at all levels. Getting the N30,000 new Minimum Wage implemented will be an uphill task, unless a major paradigm shift takes place. A total system rejig has become inescapable to ensure a living wage for workers without sacrificing vital developmental needs.

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