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Minimum wage conundrum

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Long before the economy went into recession, the Nigerian labour movement, representing Nigerian workers, had long clamoured for minimum wage review especially in the public sectors.

The reason for the agitation has been too obvious considering the rate of inflation and the inability of workers to meet their daily needs from the meagre N18,000 minimum wage. Specifically, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has consistently proposed that the wage be increased from the current N18,000 to N56,000 due to current inflationary trend in the country.

Besides the extant law, which stipulates that minimum wage should be reviewed every five years, whether or not there is inflation, the sustained spiraling economic atmosphere is enough to compel government and employers in the private sector to raise wages of workers across board.

Even while the NLC appears to be sympathetic with the government in this regard, the Joe Ajaeroled United Labour Congress (ULC), a splinter group from the former, has taken the agitation further by demanding that the minimum wage be increased from the current N18,000 to N96,000.

This is rather making mockery of the situation as both groups appear to be dancing to the gallery by attempting to please workers with their conflicting demands without first resolving the crisis within their ranks.

Although the proposals by the labour groups appear outrageous and unrealistic, recent developments in the polity with regard to flamboyant lifestyle of politicians and their family members put a lie to such perception.

Apart from the fact that wage increase is a constitutional matter, which ought to be observed by government once every five years, it is on record that as at the time N18,000 minimum wage was negotiated with the Federal Government, the exchange rate then was about N145 to a dollar.

Since then, inflation has risen steadily from around 12 per cent to the current rate of 18.5 per cent. To imagine that the N18,000 minimum wage fixed over five years ago would still be sustainable is, to say the least, impossible. The Deputy President of NLC, Comrade Peters Adeyemi, had said succinctly that the value of N18,000 as at when it was negotiated had collapsed.

In a society where education is not totally free, access to medical care, accommodation, transportation and other social services are cumbersome and expensive, there is certainly a limit to what N18,000 can do today.

Little wonder official corruption in public offices is growing by the day despite government’s spirited effort at checking the menace.

To make matters worse, the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari again failed to include anything relating to the new wage increase in the N7.298 trillion for the 2017 fiscal year. Whereas the government pretends it cannot fund a new minimum wage bill, government officials and politicians have legally and otherwise weaved several rapacious nests around themselves to keep attracting free funds into their private coffers.

Beyond the extravagant lifestyles of serving public officials, members of their immediate families and associates are known to live beyond their means from funds illegally appropriated. At the moment, the son of a former minister is being prosecuted for allegedly paying over N1 billion in cash for various properties inside the Federal Capital Territory.

Certainly, this is just a reflection of the funds secretly in the possession of other top public administrators including state governors, some of whom still owe bulk of their workers the meagre N18,000. As at the last count, not less than 27 state governors were reportedly indebted to their workers.

The awkward development is occurring even after receiving over a trillion naira as bailout from the Federal Government as well as recent refunds from Paris Club.

While some of them keep defending their inabilities to meet up with the current wage bill, not to talk of further increase, they have also been known to prepare bills for payment of outrageous pensions and other benefits to themselves after leaving office.

In the current political dispensation, it is common knowledge that some former governors, who are still drawing outrageous pensions from their states, are serving as lawmakers where they also receive mouthwatering salaries.

In the light of the above and in view of the prevailing economic recession, we believe there is need for the government both at federal and state levels to urgently review the current minimum wage and begin to pay an amount that has commensurate value with developments around us.

We also believe that the labour movement should get more serious in this regard as the in-fighting within the body that has led to factionalisation only smacks of selfishness among the leaders.

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