President Muhammadu Buhari signed the new National Minimum Wage Act on 18 April. This was after the Nigeria Labour Congress threatened general strike by May Day if he didn’t sign the Act into law, after it was passed by the National Assembly. Based on this Act, every employer of up to 25 persons in the public and private sector is bound to pay no less than N30,000 for the least paid worker.
What is clear now is that the struggle for implementation of this paltry new minimum wage is far from over, even though it is actually less in real terms to the N18,000 minimum wage signed into law in 2011 and has also been rendered almost undervalued by rising inflation as Boboi Kaigama the TUC president pointed out.
The struggle for what was supposed to be an upward review of the national minimum wage has been quite long drawn, with a series of protests and ceaseless negotiations. Based on the provisions of the 2010 tripartite agreement which resulted in the passing of N18,000 ($110) as minimum wage in March 2011, an upward review was due in five years i.e. 2016.
By August 2015, Socialist Worker called for the unions to fight for upward review of the minimum wage to N66,000. This was based on sound research by the Trade Union Congress. The trade unions which initially demanded N56,000 eventually raised the ante of their demand to N66,500. Eventually, after negotiations with the government and organised private sector, they settled for N30,000 ($83) as the new minimum wage.
But despite this bending backwards to the point of breaking, the federal and state governments did everything possible to frustrate this beggarly sum. The National Minimum Wage Bill sent to the National Assembly was for N27,000, as demanded by the governors’ forum and National Council of State.
Socialist Worker immediately joined the working masses in denouncing the resolution of the National Council of State, which was in bad faith, considering the tripartite agreement which the federal government claimed was not binding. The National Assembly’s enactment of N30,000 as against the N27,000 proposed by the presidency was as a result of pressure mounted by the unions and the public support for the workers.
It is important that we draw lessons from the struggle that has brought us so far, in preparation for the fight ahead of us. The last minimum wage was signed into law in 2011 only after the trade unions backed up negotiations with mass mobilisation. And yet, even till date there are still a few states that paid less than the national minimum wage, in contravention of the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act.
To rub salt on an open wound, two thirds of the states have owed workers for several months, at some time or the other over the last four years. And now this is used to arguing that they might not be able to pay the new minimum wage, if we don’t expect them to owe salaries.
Despite the decline in state government’s revenues in 2015-2016, it was not so much that they could not pay salaries as that they did not consider the payment of workers as priority. There was no governor that received less than fifty million naira as security vote, which is totally unaccounted for, and used for patronage. And in many states, the security vote was as high as one billion naira.
The governors also had retinue of political staff altogether running into the thousands, apart from the huge amounts that governors, members of states’ houses of assemblies and other public and party office holders took home and continue to take home every month.
The fraudulent manner state governors handled the series of bailout funds released by the federal government to pay workers salaries further goes to show that the problem was not about availability or non-availability of money to pay workers. The problem is that they don’t care about us.
What was needed but which was not given to them was concerted and coordinated action by organised labour to make them pay. Once again, that is what we now need if we are to ensure the payment of the new national minimum wage across all states of the federation. The trade unions and their civil society allies, including socialist groups like the Socialist Workers and Youth League should immediately shut down all states where the governor decides to break the law by refusing to pay the new minimum wage, with immediate effect.
And it is important to make it clear that the state and private sector employers are not doing us a favour with the passing of the new minimum wage Act. It is our labour that creates the social wealth which they privately appropriate. We are not deceived by the argument of Dr Chris Ngige, the minister of labour and employment who says “labour in Nigeria has for the first time met a labour-friendly government under President Mohammadu Buhari.”
In keeping up the myth that workers earn what they don’t work for, President Buhari said “I expect them (workers) to be more committed to their work at whichever level”, when signing the Act. But it is not the workers that have not been committed to their work. It is the corrupt, overfed politicians who have turned politics into jobs and jobbing.
As workers, we contribute much more to the so-called national economy than whatever we are paid. After all, that is the very basis of our being exploited – our labour and natural resources of the land are what the bosses in government and business feed fat upon.
So, there is no justification to add to our burden by increasing the rate of Value Added Tax (VAT), supposedly, to find money to pay the wage structure based on upward review of the national minimum wage. On the contrary, we should turn a defence of our position to a counter-offensive. Organised labour must not only fight to ensure all employers pay based on the new minimum wage. We also must not wait for another five years to demand a new increment, and one that will ensure the minimum wage is a living wage.
We know that the bosses and their governments will not relent in attacks on we working-class people. That is why we must be ever ready to fight back and resist every one of their attacks. Indeed, our struggle cannot be limited strictly to demands for upward reviews of the minimum wage, as we can see with where we are now with a nominal upward review (after much struggle) actually turning out in real terms to be a reduction of our purchasing power compared to the 2011 minimum wage.
The bosses and their governments will do everything possible to shift the goalposts in the middle of the game. And with inflation and other the capitalist system shifts more and more resources into the pockets of the rich bosses
We have to see how the different elements of our lives as workers are linked. Poor wages, increasing costs of living, subordination at work, despite the fact that our labour creates wealth, being made to pay crazy bills for epileptic power supply etc are all part and parcel of how the capitalists exploit and oppress us.
We must seize every opportunity to demonstrate our anger at this order of things, fighting against the policies and programmes the bosses’ utilise to thus further our repression, and wanting us to be suffering and smiling. That is why SWL as part of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) marks May Day with a demonstration.
The ultimate aim of our struggle is for total liberation from the shackles of exploitative and oppressive system of capitalism. If we are united, focused and unrelenting as workers and youth, we will win!
by Lai BROWN & Nnamdi IKEAGU