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Minimum Wage Saga: Labour, Stand Firm

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As Nigerian workers await further derivatives from union leaders in view of the four-point agreement reached with federal government yesterday, the unions must be wary not not to be swayed and deceived to suspend the industrial action because of the mere promise by the Federal Government to pay a minimum wage higher than N60,000. A commitment to pay even N60,100, for instance, is still higher than the initial amount proposed and with the unseriousness shown by the administration regarding this issue in the past one year, calling off the strike now based on such promises would be a strategic and fatal mistake.

Besides, the Federal Government’s propaganda on the minimum wage demand since the commencement of the strike has been a blatant attempt to deceive and manipulate Nigerian workers. The President and Vice President had explicitly promised to pay a living wage, not just a minimum wage, at various fora. Yet, they now claim that economic reality does not support labour’s demand for a reasonable and realistic wage.

Unarguably, labour leaders and workers know that the N490,000 that they’re currently proposing may not be realistic, but the government must show seriousness and commitment in the negotiation for them to consider a compromise. The government’s tactics of whipping up sentiments using the state and the private sector shouldn’t be allowed to work this time; Nigerians should see through their deception.

It is extremely painful and embarrassing that the same administration that its policies have doubled the inflation rate, making essential commodities unaffordable for workers have failed to do anything reasonable about workers welfare one year after. How do they expect Nigerians to survive under these harsh conditions? The stringent civil service rules forbid workers from supplementing their income, yet the government has made it impossible for them to survive on their meager salaries.

A flexible minimum wage regime, where states and the private sector can operate on reasonable national minimum wage thresholds reflecting their realities, alongside a federal minimum wage, would solve the problem. The government’s one-size-fits-all approach is not helping anybody.

Our leaders must stop using the state and private sector as an excuse to defend their insensitivity to the plight of Nigerian workers with their embarrassing 60k offer. They have failed to enforce compliance with the existing minimum wage, and now they’re using it as a pretext to deny workers a living wage. What have they done to track compliance with the current minimum wage, and what consequences have been meted out to defaulters?

The claim in some quarters that economic reality doesn’t support labour’s demand is a farce. In fact, even if labour decides to be insensitive as government and stand their ground on the current N490k proposal, it’ll still reflect the market reality more than the 60k proposed by the government.

Ironically, the same government that pays political office holders who earn jumbo salaries hardship allowances is expecting workers to survive on peanuts. In Burkina Faso, under military rule, the junta reduced government officials’ salaries and increased workers’ salaries by 50%. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, political office holders earn outrageous pay in addition to provision of every basic needs like transportation, feeding, rent, etc while workers struggle to survive.

If the federal and states government think the 60k they’ve offered is reasonable, they should pay same to their appointees or better still, disclose the salaries of their lowest-paid appointees. Nigerians deserve transparency and truth, not propaganda and deception.

The government’s actions so far on this issue are a slap in the face of Nigerian workers, who have been patient and tolerant. No amount of propaganda can change this truth. The labour unions demand for a living wage is legitimate, and the government must listen. It’s time for a new approach that prioritizes workers’ welfare and economic realities, not just political expediency.

-Inyali Peter, Ph.D.

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