Home UPDATE Minimum Wage: Labour’s Showmanship And The Real Issue, By Usman Abdulfatai

Minimum Wage: Labour’s Showmanship And The Real Issue, By Usman Abdulfatai

The main question agitating the minds of millions of Nigerians as the minimum wage mantra trends is why don’t we subject the emoluments of our political office holders and top civil servants to the same ruthless debate as we are with those of the underclass?

Why don’t we open the books of the pay and allowances of our rulers for us to talk about the way we do over the minimum wage issue? Why are the labour and trade unions not looking into the incomes of the President, governors and legislators, seeing it is the constituency of labour unions?

We deserve to expose for scrutiny the pay of our leaders as part of the effort to review the wage regime of the worker. When we know what they earn, we should then begin to work out corresponding adjustments downwards to the lowest levels of workers. If, as an example, a federal legislator takes home N 13. 5m monthly as revealed by one of them, by the time we begin to move down the ladder armed with the lawmaker’s benchmark, the compatriot at the lowest rung should earn far more than the final N30, 000 on the table at present.

Let us also know what our President and the governors (and their deputies) earn, both what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission is giving them and the bottomless security votes it is not recommending but which they’re taking. When again we travel down the steps, we can’t but arrive at living wages for the labourer laying the golden eggs. I don’t see anything sacrosanct about the pay of those we elect to serve us.

Workers are the people making this nation of ours work. These civil servants are resilient and hardworking, even in ‘unfavourable’ work environment. Giving such environment, their counterpart outside the shores of Nigeria may not work!

It is common knowledge that civil service is the engine room of any state. And folks who make the civil service deserve a better living- a take home package that could really take them home and pay their bills.

I think the angst of labour is that high and exorbitant cost of living has devalued their retainer. Really the ‘prices of key consumables’ have increased since the last minimum wage review in 2011

But whereas it is the right of the trio of the Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), The Bobboi Kaigama –led Trade Union Congress and the Joel Ajaero- led United Labour Congress to campaign for increased minimum wage for workers, I am of the view that their approach bothers on showmanship – their success may mean more money in circulation and its attendant inflation where the naira might suffer more devaluation- and before too long, they may return to the strike action starting point.

There could have been a better way to package the negotiation and the implementation process without the uproar the issue has generated. This happened in 2011, and traders raised prices of their goods.

Labour is on the neck of government without asking for a stable pricing policy nor considering the revenue strength of each federating state to meet their salary obligation. There is the issue of what I will call “cyclical unemployment” where individuals lose their jobs as a result of a downturn in aggregate demand (AD), forcing employers to overuse existing staff while refusing to increase workforce. This is what I also call ‘Engwukata’ effect.

The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) chairman and governor of Zamfara State Abdulaziz Yari was reported to have said: “We are willing to pay any amount, but the issue is the capacity to pay.”

Yari was realistic for even at the current N18,000 minimum wage, some states have been finding it difficult to pay and are owing their workers.

Of course, if Bayelsa, Edo, and Delta states are ready to pay N30,000 as reported in the media, they should not wait for labour strike before pleasing their workers. Government should not cave-in to labour’s high demand as that would not occasion increased revenue both in allocation and internally generated revenue to states coffers to satisfy raised payroll

What workers really need is value for their money where we are producing and patronizing our own “key consumables” and providing a competitive market system. Minimum wage increase is not the solution.

Patriots think and act for the interest of their society. Given that we just came out of recession, one would expect labour leaders to show patriotism by “advising government to demonstrate adequate planning and fiscal discipline” and be democratic by allowing each state to tactically set their own minimum package based on her financial strength.

Labour could force the hand of government favour part-time ‘legislooters’ to save us the burden of lawmakers going home with over N500 million per annum whereas the real civil servants make do with miserable weak purse