Millions of Nigerian workers, Tuesday May 1, joined their counterparts across the globe in celebrating the International Workers Day, also called May Day. The Federal Government declared the day a national holiday. Workers, both in the public and private sectors, held rallies in Abuja, the federal capital, and in the states to mark the occasion. They were joined by the governors of the states who seized the day to make political speeches trumpeting what they had done for workers or lambasting the opposition.
Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, an unrelenting critic of President Muhammadu Buhari announced that he had approved the promotion of the over 37, 000 workers. He brought the approval instrument to the rally ground in Ado Ekiti to sign. The promotions were to reward workers, especially teachers, for making possible his return to office. He said, “You made me a man of history in our state. I had no trade name, (or) a family, that is recognised but with your support I was able to defeat two incumbents and become the first Ekiti person to be elected governor twice.”
In Rivers State, gov. Nyesom Wike, also an outspoken opponent of Buhari, said organised labour was too silent on national issues for his liking. He was concerned that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) leadership has failed for not condemning the killings by herdsmen all over the country. According to him, labour should do more than demand pay increases for workers. It should side with the political opposition to fight the APC-led federal government. In other words, Wike wanted the NLC to fight his political battles for him.
The APC, which is the governing party at the centre and controls most of the 36 atates that make up the Nigerian federation, tried to be neutral; it did not sing its praise. Its statement released on Tuesday said: “Unarguably, the Nigerian worker remains one of the most dedicated, resilient and hardworking in the world. They remain a key driver of the country’s multifacet development. Despite challenges particularly on the economy, we celebrate Nigerian workers for staying positive and being a partner in nation-building as well as contributing towards efforts to take the country to its deserved heights”.
The ruling party, however, is not right on the worker “staying positive”. Truth be told, resignation is what you read in the face of the average worker. The extant national wage law was enacted in 2011., raising the minimum wage from N7,500 a month to N18,000. That legislation was expected to be reviewed every five years. That has not been done. In the meantime, inflation has eroded the purchasing power of the minimum wage. Today,the monthly salary of the worker hardly can take him home after work, not to talk of putting food on the table for him and his family.
No wonder, the 2018 May Day rallies had a single thread running through them – a demand for a new national minimum wage. NLC is pushing for N69,500 per month at the tripartite talks initiated last year by the Buhari government. Labour minister Chris Ngige said he expected a new minimum wage to be in place before the lifespan of the government expires. However, he would not be drawn on whether it would be higher than the present amount. His position is understandable. As it is, most of the states are unable to pay the current minimum wage. State governments and the federal government, which make up the public sector, form one of the three legs of the tripod involved in the talks; the others are Labour and the private sector.
We expect the negotiations to be a long drawn-out affair, but what we do not know for sure is the result. And when it does come, whether it will be the “living wage” Labour wants for Nigerian workers. To get that, it must be prepared to tackle tough opposition from the other two parties to the ongoing national minimum wage talks.