By - Tobi Idowu
On April 18, President Muhammadu Buhari, would sign the Minimum Wage Bill into law, sending (false) hope and relief to workers who had had to resort to strikes and other industrial means to get “reluctant” government’s attention on the need for an upward review of an average worker’s take home as inflation spiralled out of control and salary values nosedived.
However, few people could not have predicted that five months after, Nigerian workers would still be angling, and pleading, to receive the new minimum wage that their unions agreed with the government. What has been happening since April 18 akin to a hide-and-seek struggle between government and the workers in relation to a compromise on the modalities of the adjustment to the existing meagre wages.
The haves (Political officer holders) and the have-nots (the workers)
This struggle has been predicted by Karl Max who posits that society is structured into two broad categories in respect to the economy: the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The “haves” control the levers of the economy and endeavour to repress the “have-nots” by limiting their access to economic might so that they will not be able to reach the position held previously and jealousy by the haves. In other words, the haves (the rich, the bourgeoisies) do not want any competition from the have-nots, so they limit their potential for growth and upward mobility.
In Nigeria, the “haves” are mainly the public office holders and their business friends who need to enjoy the office holders’ patronage in order to keep being buoyant. Moreover, the masses, including the Nigerian workers, belong unquestionably in the “have-nots” category. Whereas, those holding political offices in the country enjoy humongous emoluments, which ranks top in comparison with most countries, the public workers merely slave, in some of the worst conditions in the world, to paltry, inconsequential pay at the end of the month. And at whims political officer holders adjust their own financial entitlements that even the public does not have knowledge. Till today, in spite of some public posturing, the salary package of Nigerian legislators, is shrouded in suspicious secrecy.
Government’s wilful ignorance of the law
It is trite to reinstate that successive governments in Nigeria have wilfully refused to understand that government is a continuum. Another of such behaviour is the disdain with which political officer holders relate with the Nigerian law. When the previous minimum wage was passed by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2011, there was a clause to that bill that there would be a periodic review of the wage every five year. Despite the fact that this was in place, it took agitations from the labour to jolt the Buhari’s administration attention into that subsisting agreement.
What has been the implication of the foregoing is that Nigerian workers have been short-changed by the government for the past three years since they should, by law have been earning a new minimum wage since 2016! It is now quite astonishing that it is proving beyond the wits of the government to arrive at sensible structure for adjusting the salaries of workers after it had taken it more than three years to agree on the minimum take home of the lower cadre of the workers.
The issue that seems to have been delaying the take off the minimum wage is the term, consequential adjustment, which is based on certain particular percentage that will be added across the levels of the workers. However, government had initially pre-empted the workers by (it claims) making budgetary provision for an adjustment of N10, 000 across the board for those already earning above N30, 000. This is according to Chief Richard Egbule, the Chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, was (still is) the government which the workers should grateful submit to. “Labour is asking for consequential adjustment…we told them that the minimum wage was not raised from N18, 000 to N30, 000 through percentage increase but as a result of consideration of economic factors including ability to pay,” Egbule explains. “However, we said that if they want consequential adjustment in percentage terms, we will use a percentage that when we applied will not exceed what has been provided for in the budget. “The computation based on a percentage which government had given to labour, was 9.5 percent from level 7 to 14 including level 1-6 of those salary structures that did not benefit from the minimum wage.”
Workers have, however, refused to budge to government’s part of the bargain as they believe such bargain is disingenuous and, if agreed to, will have rubbished their agitations for the last three years. They had initially demanded for a 67 percentage increase (which is equal to the percentage of the increase from 18, 000 to 30, 000), but would later compromise to as low as 24 percent for workers from levels 7-14 and 15 percent from workers from levels 15-17.
Poor economy: workers to bear the brunt
It is a common knowledge that Nigerian economy experienced its worst state in recent times during the first term of the Buhari’s administration. This would culminate into a recession. Despite a pronouncement that the nation’s economy has exited that recession, much good has not been recorded on the economic front. Unfortunately, expectedly it is the Nigerian workers, and the general masses, that has been the worst hit of the economic troubles that have confronted the country. It is noteworthy that when N18, 000 was approved as the minimum wage, the premium motor spirit, perhaps the most important utility in the country, was sold at N65. Now, that there has been no increase (even when there is an agreement for an increase) of the minimum wage, Nigeria gets a litre of the same product at N145!
More so, as the government has been devising ways to get the economy into a good stead, it is still the masses that government could resort to as a form of scapegoat to appeal to the poor state of the economy. Not only is government undauntedly planning to increase VAT from 5% to 7.5%, there is also a plan afoot to introduce tolling on the road and taxes on mobile communication!
In other words, despite the reluctance on the part of the government to accede to workers’ demands for wage review, there is still a most ingenious plan by the government to rake in whatever it will add to workers’ wage through taxes.
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