There is no doubt that the N18,000 national minimum wage is take home pay that can hardly take any worker home. So it is necessary for the working class to demand and fight for a new national minimum wage which is a living wage. This demand and the campaign for it should start now!
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress have both called for an immediate upward review of the minimum wage. This is against the background of the hardships being faced by many workers. The NLC, in a meeting with the leadership of the Senate in July, declared that it would commence the process of negotiation for a new minimum wage. However, the TUC is only asking for a minimum wage of N46,000. This is 75% of what it considers necessary for the subsistence of an average worker – based on its research findings.
The National Minimum Wage Act, bringing in the current miserly N18,000 minimum wage, was passed in 2011. This was just shortly before the general elections as President Jonathan tried to win the support of organised labour at the polls. It was also after over a year of tri-partite negotiations between the trade union centres (NLC & TUC), the employers’ assembly (NECA) and governments (both the federal government and state governments).
The initial demand of the trade unions was for a N52,500 minimum wage. The National Assembly, at that time, was of the view that such an amount was too much. So it passed a resolution for the minimum wage to be fixed at N32,000. But, the federal and state governments refused to pay even that. Unfortunately, the trade unions bent backwards, almost to the point of breaking. They finally accepted the current pittance of N18,000 which was only a third of what they had demanded.
Even at this, several states refused till date to pay this appalling amount. In those states where N18,000 is paid as minimum wage, workers had to fight, organising strikes and protest marches before it was implemented. The implementation also remains skewed, with tables of payment that fall below those of the federal civil service, even in rich states like Lagos.
The Nigerian state never had the intention of enacting the minimum wage as a law. In the past, wages were unilaterally fixed by the government through commissions such as the: Morgan, Adebo and Udoji commissions in the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1980, the Nigeria Labour Congress fought for and won the establishment of a national minimum wage, by law, as a labour market institution.
Each time since then that national minimum wages have been passed, the bosses have listened to the workers only because the unions mobilised their members. Due to the lack of recent mobilisation, the government has not been concerned with respecting the provisions of the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act which required negotiations on a new level of the minimum wage to be held in 2014.
Wages are never fair. On the contrary, the wage system expresses the enslavement of the worker to the bosses. This is because we are never paid the full value of the labour we expend in work. The source of the bosses’ profit lies in the surplus value of the wealth which we create, but they appropriate it for themselves. As the motto of the NLC says, “Labour creates wealth”.
The struggle over the minimum wage is thus a manifestation of the class struggle, representing an essential progressive reform. It is a fight for workers to win a larger share of the wealth which we create. Negotiations are an important element of the process leading to the enactment of a new minimum wage by law. But the most important element is the mobilisation of workers’ power in pursuit of the demand for a living wage.
Every worker deserves a decent life. Socialist Worker urges the trade unions to demand the full amount necessary for the subsistence of an average worker. This is now a minimum wage of N66,000 a month (based on the TUC’s research findings). We must set our aim high and ensure we win a much bigger increase than in 2010/2011.
NLC and TUC cannot afford to rely primarily on negotiation skills, if we are to win a living wage for the least paid workers, who also have a right to the fullness of life. It is necessary to commence a mass campaign for the living wage of N66,000 as minimum wage, now!