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June 4, 2024

Govt. reforms should not push Nigerians into poverty – Ajaero

NLC advocates quality salary, pension, insurance for journalists

Joe Ajaero, NLC President

President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero, while speaking at the Vanguard Economic Discourse charges the government to fix the economy and not allow the citizens to continue to suffer due to its reforms.

By Godfrey Bivbere, Rosemary Iwunze, Cynthia Alo & Juliet Umeh

On what fundamental are you making the demand of 450k minimum wage from the FG knowing that it might push for more inflation in the country?

Ordinarily, I would have asked you to convert this money to dollars and see that it translates to about 20 dollars and that’s the least minimum wage all over the world.

You know that the cost of living index determines the wages. I want you to benchmark it with probably a bag of rice which is about 84,000 naira today. I would equally want you to ask people that refill their cylinder maybe at the price of N16,000 or N17,000 in a week or twice in a month which is like 30-something thousand naira. I would equally want you to benchmark it to a plate of mama put at N500 without meat and when you do that, with a family of six, you are going to get N270,000 in a month without meat. So it goes on and on, on and on. I want you to equally look at the UN provision that no human being should live on less than $2 per day. And for a family of six, that would amount to $12.

Multiply it, that’s N3,600. Convert it to the current exchange rate. So do you want labour to suggest that people should live on less than $1, not even $2 per day? Then match it with Mr. President’s position that he is going to give Nigerians a living wage. And a living wage is different from a minimum wage.

A living wage is that which will keep you and your family at least to eat till the end of the month. The fact that the government has so much devalued the naira that it doesn’t have weight again, should not make us not to feed.

No worker, including those in this hall today, goes to work and back without spending N2,000 a day. In a month, it’s N60,000. Now check all these things and see whether a worker earning N615,000 in a month, will have one naira in savings.

We deliberately didn’t put communication. We deliberately didn’t put tithe, we assume that a worker doesn’t have parents in our calculation.

There is the argument that the minimum wage that Labour is demanding will create inflation
It is a real wage that generates a good economy because when workers earn, they purchase. When you increase the purchasing power of workers, the economy will grow and you will have proper productivity.

I have not seen any conscious effort by the operators of the Nigerian state today to reform the economy.

Well, an increase in the pump price of petroleum products, is that a reform? The answer is no. Increase in electricity tariff, is that a reform? The answer is no. Floatation of the currency, is that reform? The answer is no. So I want to understand the reforms that are taking place in Nigeria.

Is expanding the net of taxes reform? And all these are bringing a lot of burdens on the workers. If you check, workers are the main people that pay actual tax, they don’t even have options because it’s deducted from their salary and it’s remitted. Also, the percentage at which the PMS price was increased from N185 to about N700, now where in the world can you get that? And the very moment the government touched PMS, all other issues in the country were affected.

The cost of food, education, housing, and transportation has all increased. The food inflation is about 40% plus.
When this issue of PMS increase was brought up, and we challenged them to reverse it, they said we should negotiate wages. And when we negotiated wages with them, the only thing we could get them was what they call a wage award as an interim relief measure.

But even before then, President Buhari had realized the nature of the salary workers were collecting. And for the federal civil servants, he brought what he called peculiar allowance which added 40% to their earnings.
Unfortunately, the present government deregulated and removed subsidies before looking at what will cushion the effect. One year later, that cushion has not come.

And the government decided to adopt a palliative policy. That is what the government is in today, the government of palliatives. Even the palliatives, they say, there should be cash transfers to the most vulnerable. As of today, there has never been any cash transfer.

There has never been any cash transfer to anybody. The wage review system is five years. In Ghana, they review wages annually. Even in the UK, it’s based on the level of inflation that they adjust. But we can’t keep wages here, even if the government give us N615 for the next five years, it will be meaningless.

Also, the government is talking about foreign reserves. You can’t continue to keep reserve when people are dying of poverty. What are you going to do with the reserve?

The purpose of any government is for the good of the people, whether workers or whatever. So you are talking of reserve, saving money, economic policies, and people are going into poverty? Unfortunately, one of the eight-point agenda of Mr. President is to eradicate poverty. But how many people have descended into poverty between May 29th 2023 till date? More people.

So the policies we are having are leading people into clear cases of poverty. Money is what money can buy. There is no way you can eat today if you can’t buy something. And for you to buy, you need money to buy. So that is what has brought Labour to where they are.

Thirty thousand of any currency is a very big money. You can’t pay people thirty thousand dollars. You can’t pay thirty thousand pounds. But when you destroy the value of that currency, we now continue to mention the issue of hundred thousand, two hundred thousand.

You look at the payment per hour in the US. They pay fifteen dollars per hour or more. So, why don’t you adopt it here? So that we know we are working based on that index. And the payment of salaries in Nigeria, like I said, should be calculated based on hours. And let us see whether we have up to thirty naira per hour in Nigeria. So let us work all these since we are bringing all these economic policies.

Does it not make sense for the government to keep foreign reserves?

It looks like you are having a kind of situation where people are dying and you are having reserve. You didn’t mention the corruption in Nigeria in building reserves. Some of the reserves were eroded by corruption in Nigeria. If you identify that point of having billions and billions being taken away by people, you can’t build a reserve in the face of corruption. It’s not possible.

Now that oil prices are going up, you can’t continue to refine abroad. The period you are supposed to make money through your growth. No refinery is working in Nigeria. Nothing is functioning. It’s just like a theory of producing cassava on your farm, then you sell cassava and buy cassava products.

Now, between the time this last subsidy was removed and now, is Nigeria not paying more money in subsidy? Now we have to face reality. Not for sloganeering. We have removed the subsidy and we are paying more subsidy.

We should tell ourselves the truth. You know, there is no need to talk about reserve when we are going to deplete the reserve. If in time of oil windfall, during the Okibo Commission, all the 12 billion reserves disappeared. In this country, even when they take a loan, the loan disappears.