Nigerian Workers and the struggle for New Wage: Matters Arising!

May 3, 2019

The celebration of the 2019 edition of Workers Day popularly called May Day in Nigeria has always been used by the labour movement to highlight the issues that are threatening the industrial peace of the country. The most germane issue this year is no doubt the implementation of the new N30,000 minimum wage bill signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The struggle for the implementation of the minimum wage notwithstanding, the two labour centres in the country – Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) – are expected to catalogue the woes of the Nigerian working class in the last one year and score government based on the misery index or otherwise of their members.

However, beyond the procession, speeches, promises by various state governments to implement the new minimum wage and display of camaraderie which sections of organized labour might have embarked upon, there is an urgent need to explore fresh remedies to tackle perennial workers’ problems. Over the years, these problems have grown worse, gravely affecting workers’ wellbeing.

Directly, workers’ predicament in this country is the effect of government’s ineptitude to the sacred duty of governance. At all levels, those at the helm of affairs have failed to enact workers’ oriented policy and programme. Worse, they have misappropriated public funds that should have been used to alleviate workers’ sufferings. These lapses, which government appears incompetent or unwilling to redress, have degenerated into series of economic and social woes, the brunt of which Nigerian workers bear.

While the signing of the new minimum wage into law is important for the Nigerian workers, it is the implementation that means much more. Before the signing of the law, the presidency indeed demonstrated unwillingness to pursue a national minimum wage that would be beneficial to the workers. First, the negotiation took many turns by Ngige, who continued to insist that no agreement had been reached on N30,000.

To further demonstrate the fact that the minister was speaking the mind of the Federal Government, it went ahead to send dual minimum wage figures of N30,000 for the federal workers and N27,000 for other categories of workers. This was seen as a deft move to persuade the state governors that the Federal Government was sympathetic to their complaints of inability to implement an increment to the existing N18,000 national wage floor.

For the Nigerian workers to appreciate this new wage, government must know that in terms of purchasing power, this N30, 000 is less than N18, 000 of 2011. Going by the exchange rate, the naira to the dollar shows that Nigerian workers have not got any increment in the real sense of it. In 2011, N18, 000 could buy three bags of rice, but now can N30, 000 buy three bags of rice? So, not sure there is too much to celebrate.

While labour may not likely have any problem with the Federal Government paying N30, 000, it is always a battle getting the state governors to do the needful even after the president’s assent. Aside from the Cross River state government that has expressed readiness to implement the new wage law which is a major milestone. But it is the beginning of another battle between labour and the other 35 state governments. Hopefully, the labour unions has the capacity and what it takes to engage those state governments that would be unwilling to implement the new wage law, only time will tell.