Organized labour iš flexing its muscles against employers in the country over a new national minimum wage. The former is represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress(TUC) and the latter by the government and the private sector employers. The current NMW is N18,000 a month. Labour says this is no longer “a living wage” because inflationary trends in the economy have eroded its purchasing value. It now demands N66,500.
The other parties tended to agree with labour on that point. This is why the government, last year, set up a tripartite committee to work out a new NMW acceptable to all. The committee is headed by the minister of labour and productivity, Mr. Chris Ngige. The commiittee, according to NLC’s secretary general, Mr. Peter Ozo-Eson, had been working hard to present a report when, unexpectedly, Ngige called off the negotiation. He reportedly gave no explanation.
The stalemate is the reason the NLC and its allies are calling a nationwide “warning strike” that began at midnight yesterday. This followed the failure of the government to restart the stalled negotiations within two weeks (14 days). Ozo-Eson accused the government of not demonstrating sensitivity, faithfulness and commitment. He said the strike was indefinite and would ground the nation. According to him, it is not only the NLC that supports a strike but “all the trade unions in the country”.
We, at Peoples Daily, agree with labour that the NMW, as it is existing, cannot put a three square meal on the table for the family of the lowest paid worker. We also do not buy the argument that many state governments cannot pay the current N18,000 NMW. As a matter of fact, there are states that are already paying far higher than the NMW. Yes, the states do not receive as much as one-half of what they used to get from the federation account, which is their statutory share of federally collected revenues from, chiefly, crude oil exportation. However, they still can pay a higher NMW if only they can show more fiscal discipline. Their governors need not to be flying into Abuja in expensive private jets, steal ecological funds and divert unaccountable security votes.
This much said in favour of labour, we dare say they will win more sympathy from Nigerians through advocacy than confrontation. After all, has not Predident Muhammadu Buhari assured of a new NMW in his administration’s lifespan? Yes, he did so before flying out to New York, USA, to take part in the 78th UN general assembly debate. He is a man of integrity whose lips can be read without difficulty. Let labour give him the benefit of the doubt.
A strike now is not in the interest of the national economy which must be kept strong and robust for it to accommodate the new NMW demand. In the immediate short term, a shutdown of the nation will jeopardize Thursday’s governorship election re-run and preparations for next year’s national polls. So, we urge the NLC and its allies to go softly softly.