As Nigerian workers mark May Day

Today, the organised labour in Nigeria, represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), joins its counterparts around the world to celebrate this year’s May
Day amidst harsh economic conditions.

It is, indeed, a time for introspection and self-appraisal by the organised labour in respect of the struggle to improve the living standard and work condition of the Nigerian worker.

May Day, Labour Day or International Workers’ Day, began in Europe as a traditional spring celebration to welcome summer, while
the first Monday of every May is usually a bank holiday for labourers
and workers. The US and Canada observe same workers’ holiday on the first Monday of September. The Catholic Church dedicates May
1 to Saint Joseph the worker. What began as a pagan holiday is now
celebrated with marches and rallies across the world.

In Nigeria, it is also a day of speeches and demands for better working conditions and remuneration by Labour leaders. The dominant
narrative today will shift from the minimum wage controversy. The organised labour demanded N72,000, $200 equivalent, as new
national minimum wage up from its earlier demand of N56,000 in
2017 and N65,000 this year. At the end of the day, after protracted negotiations, the new minimum wage was pegged at N30,000 and
signed into law a few weeks ago.

The minimum wage war began in Nigeria in 1981, and the last wage was pegged at N18,000, subsisting for more than five years
before the agitation for a review was launched during the last regime
of President Goodluck Jonathan.

While pushing for the new minimum wage, the combative President of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, had explained: “It
was Pa Michael Imoudu that started the struggle for a living wage through his Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA). But the struggle
for a negotiated minimum wage began in 1981 when labour agreed
for the equivalent of $200. Today, we cannot agree for less because the cost of living has shot through the roof and the naira has been
grossly devalued which, therefore, means that we cannot agree for
something that is not within that range.”

Following the persistent demand by labour for the upward review of the national minimum wage, President Muhammadu Buhari
on November 26, 2017 inaugurated a 30-man Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee, calling on the members to come up
with a fair and decent wage for Nigerian workers.

Inaugurating the committee in the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Buhari said that re-negotiation of a new
national minimum wage had become imperative because the existing minimum wage instrument had since expired. The president noted
that the subject of a national minimum wage for the federation was within the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution. He,
therefore, enjoined the committee members to “go above the basic
social protection floor for all Nigerian workers, based on the ability
of each tier of government to pay.”

However, more than seven months after President Buhari inaugurated the tripartite committee, the issue of the new national
minimum wage is still mired in controversy. It became a hammer and tongs affair between the state governors and the organised labour,
the former insisting that they would not be in a position to pay what
was being demanded from them. But the NLC boss, while speaking during a public hearing of the committee for the North Central zone
in Lokoja sometime ago, said the excuse by governors that they could
not pay the proposed minimum wage due to dwindling financial resources and economic crunch was not tenable. He charged both the
federal and state governments to stop monumental official corruption
and wastages of public funds in order to meet the proposed national
minimum wage of N65,500 for workers. He said the onus lies on the government to make projections for the future when its economy is
flourishing, adding that “economies do bubble and economies doburst.”

We laud the Buhari administration for having the courage to review the national minimum wage upward in spite of dwindling revenue to
government. We also commend the resilience, industry and patience
of Nigerian workers who in some cases go for as long as 11 months without salary as well as contend with a highly volatile economic,
political and social environment amidst high insecurity.

We seize the opportunity of the International Workers’ Day to congratulate the beneficiaries of the new minimum wage in the
hope that it would motivate them to be more productive.

Those who have expressed the apprehension that some state governments may be viewing the new minimum wage as forcing the horse to the river should not be oblivious of the advice given to employees by the
President that defaulting employers could be sued.

Be that as it may, we cannot wish away the multiplier effects of the wage increase on goods and services. Government ought to ensure
that critical infrastructure like power and other vital sectors of the economy are made to function properly for the overall benefits of
non-partakers of the new minimum wage.
Aluta continua!

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