The NLC’s ultimatum

Unless an amicable resolution is reached in the next 72 hours, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) will bring the nation’s social and economic activities to a halt.
Penultimate Wednesday, the organised labour unions under the aegis of the NLC, apparently dissatisfied with what they regard as lackadaisical attitude on the part of the federal government to their demand for a new minimum wage, had issued a 14-day ultimatum.
The ultimatum was believed to have been hastened by the comments made by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr.
Chris Ngige, that the 56-member committee constituted by the federal government to consult widely on the wage increase demand should adjourn indefinitely to enable him engage in further consultations with the government.
That declaration appeared to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
The NLC strongly believed that suspending further deliberations on the matter was a ploy by the government to frustrate the upward review of the minimum wage, which it argued was long overdue.
The President of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, while buttressing the position of the unions said the 56-member committee set up in November last year had so far consulted widely and received memoranda and inputs from 21 state governments, specialised agencies of the federal government, the organised private sector, organised labour and the general public and, therefore, did not need any specific individual consultation with the federal government before presenting its recommendations to the government for consideration and implementation.
In the same vein, the President of the United Labour Congress, (ULC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, said issues concerning the minimum wage had been concluded and that the committee was expecting government’s representative to come up with its own figure.
The unions lamented that Nigerian workers were increasingly finding it difficult to cope with the ever spiraling inflation and the N18,000 minimum wage can hardly take them home.
It would be recalled that about one year ago, the unions had demanded N56,000 minimum wage in response to sharp increment in the prices of foodstuffs, goods and services.
This demand can hardly be faulted.
Firstly, the National Minimum Wage Act came into being in 1981 under the Shagari administration and the minimum wage was pegged at N125 per month.
It rose to N250 10 years later, while in 2000, it was increased to N5,500 by the Obasanjo administration with a proviso that it should be reviewed every five years.
However, the proviso was observed in the breach for it was not until 2011 that the immediate past president, Dr.
Goodluck Jonathan, raised it to N18,000.
The present minimum wage ought to have been given upward adjustment since 2016, even though most state governments are in arrears of payment due to various reasons.
Secondly, the value of the N18,000 minimum wage has depreciated owing to the devaluation of the naira.
Besides, since the federal government increased the price of petrol in May 2016 from N87 to N145 per litre, there has been a phenomenal increase in the prices of food, energy, transportation, accommodation, school fees and other sundry services.
Furthermore, oil glut and its attendant drop in foreign exchange earnings particularly during the 18 months of Nigeria’s economic recession led many companies to lay off their staff; some are barely able to meet their monthly obligations to their employees, while a good number have downsized or outrightly closed shops due to the escalating cost of running their businesses.
All these have lubricated the inflation wheel and, therefore, legitimised the demand for minimum wage rise.
Granted that the Minister of Labour and Employment has clarified that his request for more grace was not intended to delay or frustrate the efforts of the Presidential Committee to arrive at a resolution and submit recommendations to the federal government, describing the fears and agitations of the unions as blackmail has further thrown spanner in the works and pulled the labour leaders poles away from reaching a quick resolution to the lingering crisis.
Rather than dilly dallying on the process of arriving at the final conclusion, it would seem logical and indeed, humane to expedite actions to conclude deliberations and submit recommendations to the government in view of the hurdles such recommendations and the final decision would be subjected to before implementation.
It is pitiable to note that the only language government at all levels understands is the one spoken through strike.
When that happens, it is the nation’s economy that bears the brunt.
Much as we agree that the organised labour has every right to push for its members’ entitlements through all means legitimate, their demands should not be lost in the domino effects of wage rise.
Virtually all prices of goods and services would respond accordingly by skyrocketing.
And the masses, who are non-beneficiaries of the wage increases, would feel the heat most since they all go to the same market.
Wage increases should be matched with stability in the economy.
It is the only antidote to ensuring a good purchasing power for the naira.
The federal government should do everything necessary to avert the difficulties and trauma which a strike of such magnitude would visit on Nigerians and their businesses.

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