IMPENDING SHOWDOWN OVER MINIMUM WAGE
Non-implementation of the newly approved national minimum wage by the three tiers of government in the country has put Nigerian workers and their employers on war path as the workers' umbrella body, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), has concluded plans for workers to down tools nationwide any time from now.
Initially, only a few states like Lagos, Rivers and Akwa Ibom expressed readiness to pay the new wage while all others attributed inability to implement the new wage to paucity of funds. Some governors argued that their states would grind to a halt if there are no additional handouts from the federal purse to fund the increase.
But, last week, the state governors agreed to pay the new wage on the condition that the extant revenue sharing formula would be reviewed and fuel subsidy removed. While we welcome their resolve to pay the new wage based on certain conditions, we disagree with them on the call for removal of fuel subsidy.
Removal of fuel subsidy will create more problems in the economy. It will lead to sharp increase in the cost of petroleum products and a corresponding increase in prices of goods and services. It will, indeed, make nonsense of the higher wages.
Already, workers at federal and state levels have vowed to stick to their guns until government implements the new structure. For instance, some agitated workers of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, have communicated to the authorities that the payment of the new wage is non-negotiable. Meanwhile, the NLC has directed all its affiliates, the 36 state councils and the FCT to prepare for a major showdown that would shake the nation on account of the non-implementation of the new structure.
NLC General-Secretary, Owei Lakemfa, who maintained that the non-implementation of the new wage structure has reached an unbearable limit, condemned the hide and seek game being played over the matter by the state governors and the Federal Government.
We support the move by Nigerian workers to ensure that the new national minimum wage is implemented without further delay. We say this because of seeming insincerity of the government on its implementation. Government should not unduly task the patience of Nigerian workers on this matter that had been subjected to series of negotiations before both parties agreed on N18,000 per month from the earlier demand of N52,000 a month by the workers.
Why can't government that spends millions of naira monthly on the wage bill of federal legislators pay the least Nigerian worker a paltry sum of N18, 000? Is this not the height of hypocrisy?
We are, indeed, not persuaded by government's argument that there is no money to implement the new wage. On the contrary, the country has enough money to implement it only if those in government can curb their greed and wastages.
Let all the governors drastically cut the money they pocket as security vote and use the money so saved, alongside savings from other areas to pay the minimum wage. They should also strive to increase their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). They should not depend entirely on federal allocation to function, but be creative in the management of resources.
It is contradictory that a few Nigerians feed fat on the national treasury, while millions of our citizenry wallow in abject poverty and misery. Is that democracy? Where are the workers' dividends of democracy if they cannot be paid a mere N18, 000 monthly minimum wage?
Those in leadership position should eschew ostentation and reduce the cost of governance to be able to pay the new wage. There should be no excuses for non-payment. Nigerians have had enough of such excuses.
If the government wants to introduce austerity measures, let it start from the top.
The cut in salaries must commence at the top. Instead of the recurring upward review of salaries of political office holders and their numerous aides, government should slash them and use the excesses to pay the new wage. Dilly-dallying over the new wages shows insensitivity to the plight of Nigerian workers. It shows that government has really lost touch with prevailing socio-economic realities in the country. Let all tiers of government commence the implementation of the new wage to avert the looming nationwide industrial action.