Two years ago, when the federal government inaugurated the national minimum wage committee, it charged the committee to amicably consider the issue of a national minimum wage and all matters ancillary to it.
The mere resolution to meet with the organised labour, raised hopes in Nigerians that the long expected minimum wage issue would be adequately addressed.
The unusually unflinching posture of the labour leaders as well as the attendant responses of the government’s side, even helped to authenticate the people’s hope.
It was difficult for any one to envisage a disharmony in the realisation of an acceptable minimum wage for the Nigerian workers, let alone contemplating the inconclusive dimension it has assumed today.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari, during the inaugural session of the National Minimum Wage committee, had said that the consideration of the minimum wage should be anchored on social justice and equity.
For this reason, the organised labour has insisted on N30,000 as the minimum amount of compensation an employee should receive for putting in his or her labour monthly, which has been opposed by Nigerian governors.
Although the latter had pleaded with the workers to accept the N22,500 they offered, arguing that they are financially handicapped to pay the new wage as proposed by labour. But labour thinks otherwise and insists that the governors are not sincere.
Much as there is no denying the fact that times are hard and that many states are facing huge financial constraints, I think we also need to consider minimising financial recklessness and obvious frugality in managing the finances that accrue to states.
In fairness to all, I am of the opinion that the sustainability of a new minimum wage above the N22,500 on the table, is achievable. And this is possible only if the governors can minimise their financial recklessness and be more prudent in managing the finances that accrue to their states.
As The Sun newspaper suggested in its editorial of January 7, 2019, if the state governors can be prudent with state resources, abolish ‘excessive’ security votes and reduce the number of political aides, I think they can pay the proposed new minimum wage.
However, it is not only unfortunate that negotiations on the new national minimum wage are still unresolved, the prospect of a general strike that looms large in the horizon following the failure of the Federal Government’s team and organised labour to come to terms over the new minimum wage is the writer’s worry.
The frequent nationwide protest by the organised labour, if not checked, is tantamount to leading to a general strike by Nigerian workers, and there is every likelihood that a national strike by workers at this point in time will not only distabilise the economy, it will adversely affect the general election that begins next month.
Although the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, had given reason to the delay in transmitting the new minimum wage bill to the National Assembly, the point still remains that the level of importance one attaches to a project, determines how serious he goes about it.
There is no gainsaying the fact that issues of workers’ welfare in Nigeria is yet to receive the attention it deserves. This accounts for why other projects gain more prominence in governance than what should constitute a living wage for the country’s work force.
It is really sad that all the parties are not shifting ground in spite of all the effort made to lay the new minimum wage issue to rest. These efforts will mean little if a new minimum wage acceptable by Nigerian workers is not fixed and implemented.
Therefore, it is imperative that all the parties involved in the minimum wage issue should iron out the grey areas and resolve the matter forthwith. The N22,500 offer by the state governors is no doubt, far short of a living wage for the Nigerian worker, putting together present economic realities in the country.
The earlier the government and the workers reach a consensus on the new minimum wage between the N22,500 offered by the governors and the N30,000 demanded by workers, the better. It is not debatable that the current national minimum wage of N18,000 per month is no longer adequate for the Nigerian worker, considering the rising cost of living in the country. Moreover, a raise in the existing minimum wage is long overdue.