The Trade Union Side (TUS) of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) appears set to commence a public sector general strike. In a statement issued on 28 June by Simon Anchaver and Alade Bashir Lawal, its acting chair and secretary respectively, the body of organised labour said it had commenced mobilisation of members because, insincerity on the government side has thus far derailed implementation of the new minimum wage.
It should not be surprising that the federal and state governments continue to do all they can to avoid implementation of the new minimum wage and paying any significant increment on the salaries of workers, in general. What could somewhat be considered surprising is that organised labour still continues to expect the government side to be fair or reasonable in negotiations not backed by mass struggle.
The present bottleneck being thrown up by the government side has to do with determining how much increase workers on different grade levels would enjoy. A few weeks before the TUS-JNPSNC’s statement, the federal government set up a committee to look at the consequential adjustments, arising from the miserly upward review of the national minimum wage, for different clusters of grade levels.
This committee then “set up a technical body to work out different scenarios in respect of salaries that would be paid to workers who are in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that draw their emoluments from the Government treasury”. Both the trade unions on one hand and governments on the other hand submitted proposals for this to be done.
But the technical body has been acting out a crafted script, which makes a mockery of negotiations. Despite the agreement reached at its meeting to present the two contending scenarios that emerged to the plenary session for a decision to be made, it presented only the government’s version as if it were a “consensus”!
Organised labour’s initial demand in its submission to the committee was for the 66.7% increase in the minimum wage to be applied across board to workers on all grade levels. However, it reviewed “its demand downward and eventually settled for 30% for officers on Grade Levels 07-14 and 25% for those on Grade Levels 15-17”, after the governments argued that the total wage bill would be too high if all workers got a 66.7% increase.
SWL stands for reduction of income gaps, towards ending social inequality. This should start with the legislators and top executives (in both public and private sectors) who go home monthly with millions of naira.
Permanent Secretaries on consolidated salary structures are also part of the problem even if not as much as the politicians. These top bureaucrats in civil service take home as much as N1.5m home as monthly “consolidated salary”. They are salaried members of the bosses’ class. The government’s side (which included top bureaucrats of course!) had nothing to say about permanent secretaries and consolidated salaries. But it was of the view that middle-level civil servants (i.e. GL 07-14) should receive no more than 9.5% salary increment, and 5% for those on GL 15-17.
The technical committee presented the governments’ proposal as its position, refusing to include the final scenario proposed by the trade unions, even though this was already a compromise position. The committee’s basis for doing so, it said, was because it could not go beyond what was already included in the 2019 budget by the federal government, as its wage bill.
“The implication of this” as the trade unions noted, “is that government has a predetermined position and only called labour in to rubberstamp its hidden agenda.” This must thus be vehemently resisted. The federal government is playing smart but not being clever.
It played “ring a ring o roses” with the tripartite committee to come up with a new minimum wage in the first place, expecting all of labour to fall down. It took mass mobilisation and imminent strike action for the agreement to be signed towards the end of last year, and even after that it tried to and is still trying to wiggle out of ensuring workers’ take-home pay can actually take them home.
Dogs will always bark, and bite and likewise the bosses’ class will always play hanky panky with having to improve the welfare and wellbeing of working-class people, including enhancing our wages, as much as they can. What they fear is not the negotiating prowess of a few trade union leaders. What they fear and can make them borrow themselves some sense, at least for a little while, is workers’ power – we the mass of working people downing our tools and raising our fists.
There is a simple logic to this captured by the indomitable Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, when he said “you gimme shit, I give you shit”. But it appears the trade unions have been doing more of “you give me shit, I continue to talk about giving you shit”. And this did not start only last year with the struggle to win a beggarly N30,000 new minimum wage after seven years.
Even the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act was not respected by quite a few states. Organised labour never held those states’ governments to account. Over the last five years, more than three quarters of the federating states owed workers backlogs of salaries, sometimes for up to two years. And when bailouts were made available by the federal government, primarily to pay those outstanding wages, most governors diverted the monies for other (more often than not, illegitimate) use.
What did organised labour do? It spoke loudly but did not take systematic concrete action. In a number of states, the local NLC/TUC (and Joint State Public Service Negotiating Council (TUS) in some instances) were left to their own devices when they organised local general strikes. These eventually petered out, because they acted as single broomsticks on a matter that concerns the entire bunch of broom.
Thus, while SWL welcomes the announcement of the Trade Union Side of the JNPSNC that it is considering commencing a public sector strike, we hasten to say the time for posturing if it ever was there, is now far gone. If concrete action is not taken which sends home the message to the bosses that we will no longer let them get away with blue murder, many states will not implement even the rotten deal that would have been reached, by avoiding an all-out fight, at the national level.
How the trade unions handle the present situation will go a long way in determining the extent of seriousness states’ governments give to implementing the minimum wage which is already worse than mere pittance. The struggle can also not be restricted to the JNPSNC unions. With the funny history of the public sector negotiating councils, rooted in the colonial “Whitley Councils” as they were then called, only seven unions are in the JNPSNC, despite the fact that there are almost two dozen unions in the public sector as a whole, covering parastatals as well as core civil service.
The trade union federations have to equally be at the centre of a real mobilisation for a public sector general strike to be successful, as we saw in 2003 despite the fact that the strike was called off within a few hours (albeit with some concessions won). This is the time to mobilise massively, with rallies and protest marches across the country and for a date to be set immediately within the next few weeks for a 2-day warning strike.
We are many, the bosses are few. With workers’ power we can win the implementation of the new minimum wage with consequential increments as proposed by the trade unions as a concession i.e. 30% for GL 7-14 and 25% for GL 15-17. The federal government should send a supplementary appropriation bill to the national assembly. It cannot tie our hands with the cock and bull story of limits it set without our consent after short-changing us in the first place with a mere N30,000 minimum wage (which in real terms is a reduction compared to the 2011 upward review).
We should also use the moment of this mobilisation and a general strike to put them on notice; negotiations for an upward review of the national minimum wage must commence immediately. The procedural agreement informing the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act is very clear and still subsists. There will be an upward review every five years. The government defaulted in not ensuring a review by 2016. That does not in anyway erase the fact that a second review since the 2011 Act was passed is due by 2021. The time to start fighting for that is NOW!
We urge organised labour to seize the time and fight. We call on workers to demand their unions take the initiative and fight. Let us shutdown the system for just two days in warning. If their ears still refuse to hear the sounds of reason, let us shutdown the system indefinitely. We will bring them down to their knees. Victory comes only through struggle. The workers united cannot be defeated.
by Segun OGUN