Labour Demands N436,500, Government Sets Up Minimum Wage Committee, Fight for Wage Award Implementation & Arrears Now!

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The Trade Union side of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC) has called for a new national minimum wage of N436,500 ($300). This demand of the collective trade union body of public sector workers led by Comrade Benjamin Anthony of AUPCTRE as National Chair and Comrade Mohammaed Bomoi of the NCSU as National Secretary during its meeting held at Nasarawa State on Tuesday 30 January.  

That was the same day that Vice President Kashim Shettima, representing President Bola Tinubu inaugurated a 37-person Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee made up of representatives of the Federal and state governments, the organised private sector and the two trade union federations (NLC & TUC) at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. 

During the inauguration, the presidency paid lip service to “sensitivity to the conditions of the Nigerian worker” and “recognition of the need to ensure a fair and decent living wage” during the inauguration. But action speaks louder than words. Last October, it agreed to pay a wage award of N35,000 for six months to workers, to help cushion the effects of rising living costs worsened by the government’s anti-poor policies of fuel pump price increase and devaluation of the naira. 

The Federal Government made this promise to stave off organised labour’s planned strike. But with the threat of a strike off the table, it paid this award only twice for federal government workers. Most of the state governments did not even bother to pay at all. 

As Joe Ajaero, the NLC president pointed out, these include most of the governors on the tripartite committee, who have also not been paying the paltry minimum wage of N30,000. 

It is not only the government side that is not to be trusted regarding workers’ legitimate demand for a living wage of N436,500.00. The organised private sector has also signalled its reluctance to pay a living wage even before the committee was constituted. Earlier in the first week of January, while expressing the hope that negotiations for a new minimum wage would commence soon, Adewale-Smart Oyerinde, the Director General of the National Employers Consultative Association (NECA) also stated that Nigerian workers cannot hope for a living wage, because there is no global framework for a living wage. 

But who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. Capitalists who have never experienced hunger or the struggle to provide shelter and clothing may find it hard to understand what qualifies as a living wage for workers. However, workers know what a wage which can enable them to have decent livelihoods would look like. 

The real reason why capitalists as employers and government officials avoid paying living wages to workers as much as they can is to maximise the profit which they make from appropriating the social wealth which workers create. And the only way that workers can win as fair wages as they can get within the wage-slavery system of capitalism is through dogged struggle. 

The N200,000 minimum wage which NLC and TUC called for last October is not enough today to sustain workers and their families. The skyrocketing cost of living with inflation at a record high rate of 26% and the plummeting value of the naira has left Nigerian workers in penury. That was why unions called for a strike in the first place in October, but the situation has gone from terrible to horrendous for working people. 

Meanwhile, the history of national minimum wage negotiations in the country has always been one of trade unions bending backwards ‌to the point of breaking. The best they have stood up for has been 50% of what they demanded at the commencement of negotiations. This was in 1981! The situation today is much more critical than ever. Working-class people cannot live with business-as-usual negotiations. 

The NLC leadership has said that the national minimum wage it will accept will be based on the cost of living and not just any figure, even when such falls below a living wage, as has been the case throughout this century. It has also highlighted the fact that the struggle and implementation of a new national minimum wage have to be a collective struggle and not just one for organised labour. We welcome these positions.

That struggle has to start now, to send a clear message home to the government and capitalist employers. And the point of departure for that is the implementation of the wage awards. The trade unions should not only complain about non-payment of the N35,000 awards or declare that it is not just for six months, but rather until a new minimum wage is arrived at and implemented. 

This is the time to call for and decisively go ahead with a general strike for the immediate payment of the wage award arrears and continuation of payment of the award until we win a living wage as the new national minimum wage. 

Workers in the construction industry are showing the way as they commenced a 3-day warning strike to demand immediate implementation of payment of the wage award to all construction workers. The two unions in the sector, NUCCEFWW which is affiliated with the NLC and CCESSA which is affiliated with the TUC are torchbearers of what the NLC and TUC must do now, to set the right context for negotiations for a living wage of N436,500.

by Baba AYE

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