By Godwin Amunde
The Director General of the Progressive Governors Forum, (PGF) Dr. Salihu Lukman has described the N30,000 minimum wage campaigned by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in the present day Nigeria for any family an apology, adding that the minimum wage for any optimally productive Nigerian worker should not be anywhere less than N100,000.
The PGF DG, who made this known in a statement titled “True Federalism and Labour Issues,” on Sunday in Abuja, argued that it has become apparent that the leadership of labour unions in Nigeria have been weakened so much that their negotiating power is hardly oriented based on knowledgeable disposition about workers input in the production process.
He however cautioned that using federal government capacity to fix minimum wage is going to be suicidal, noting that challenges bordering on ensuring availability of enough financial resources to guarantee higher levels of wages in the country must be addressed.
Part of the statement reads: “No one can dispute that as a nation, we are faced with the challenge of developing a framework for minimum wage review, which should be indexed with workers productivity as well as cost of living realities. The mere fact that often it takes upward of five years for minimum wages to be reviewed in the country is both an anomaly and a reflection of our stagnant labour relations reality which also is a reflection of the weakness of the labour movement. If workers have been able to contribute their role in the nation’s revenue, why should it be difficult to ensure annual or even quarterly review of minimum wage? Part of the distortion so far is that the question of workers’ productivity is hardly a reference point in matters of wage determination especially in the public sector.
“It may be convenient for the leadership of labour, including the NLC, to retain current framework of determining minimum wage based on the capacity of federal government. Unfortunately, our union leaders have weakened themselves so much that their negotiating power is hardly oriented based on knowledgeable disposition about workers input in the production process at all levels in the country. The only weapon they seem to use so often to win concessions and agreements is strike. Blackmails and muscle flexing has become an important integral strategy to discredit perceived opponents. Name calling and campaigns by the NLC leadership aimed at blocking any consideration of proposals to change our harsh realities as a nation are now very common.
“Today, we have a minimum wage of N30,000, which unions have been unable to achieve implementation in many states and many private sector establishments. In fact, even at the time of negotiating the minimum wage of N30,000, there were problems of getting the old minimum wage of N18,000 in many states and private establishments implemented. Some of the states that were able to implement the minimum wage are barely surviving. Rather than objectively reviewing our challenges, our labour leaders imagined that name calling and threatening political leaders with strikes is the way to go. This is most unfortunate. NLC leadership may want to share the full picture of status of Implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage, both in the public and private sectors, with Nigerians.
“Elementary analysis would caution about the consequence of continuing with a centralised framework for minimum wage legislation based on using the financial capacity of Federal Government to fix national minimum wage that is hardly informed by economic indices of work output across the country and reflecting all sectors of the economy. Such a framework can only result in either shortchanging workers in high-revenue states/areas or over-stretching employers in low-revenue states/areas. Certainly, a review of wage fixing theories would highlight these challenges and perhaps dangers.
“It needs to be stated emphatically and unequivocally that although there is increased revenue in the country, which has resulted in improved financial profile of especially states and federal governments in the country, it has not favourably altered the structure of government finances. Some of the underlying factors would include factors of corruption, which the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari is committed to fighting and has been taking initiatives. While we may debate about the level of success, it should be a welcome development to have input from our leaders of non-governmental organisations such as the NLC in terms of what needs to be done at all levels in order to strengthen our fight against corruption and therefore increase the financial capability of all governments especially at state levels to be able to accommodate increased wages for workers. In all these, beyond the lamentation against political leaders in the country on the issue of corruption, what are the specific demands of NLC on fighting corruption in the country given that it is a problem that have ravaged all sectors and all levels of society, including the labour movement.
“Besides, given characteristically unstable international oil market, current levels of oil revenue are on decline. It is to the credit of the Federal Government that non-oil revenue is increasing and in the case of many states, capacity to mobilise internally generated revenue has increased. What all these suggest is that the nation should be able to assess these emerging realities and accordingly reconfigure wage determination process in recognition of revenue realities of the constituent units of our federal system and as well as ensuring that our national capacity to affirm the ability of private sector employers to operate and therefore create more employment are not undermined. Therefore, to use the capacity of Federal Government as determining variables for minimum wage fixing would be almost suicidal.
“Be that as it may, there are certainly challenges that need to be addressed. The challenges border on ensuring availability of enough financial resources to guarantee higher levels of wages in the country, in the context of which issues of minimum wage can be correctly computed taking both production and cost of living indices into account. NLC should approach this based on a strategy of strengthening its own organisational capacity to negotiate improved conditions in the country and not look for easy approaches of centralised minimum wage fixing that are not sustainable, which include retention of a faulty constitutional provision such as the provision of item 34, Part 1 of Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
“As it stands, item 34 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule is not is not sustainable and could only expose Nigerian workers to greater risks and danger. Being conversant with internal logic influencing leadership thinking in the Nigerian trade movement, it is quite worrisome that NLC is approaching these matters less objectively. It has never been the case that workers will get justice on matters of employer/employee relations bordering on pay and entitlements with simple reference to the law. Had that been the case, there would be no need for unions. The business of unions will always be to develop strategies and carry out actions that can result in improved working conditions and better pay. These are issues bordering on workers input to the process of revenue generation.
“The big worry is when matters of pay and benefits are delinked from these factors, which appears to be the logic of the NLC argument with respect to national minimum wage legislation in Nigeria. Of course, it could be argued that this has been the case, perhaps since the 1970s. That it has been the case does not make it right. What has been the tradition of NLC and Nigerian trade unions is the courage to campaign for what is right especially in relation to workers benefits and welfare. It is a matter that requires good measure of intellectual and political capacity. The position of NLC with respect of minimum wage fixing in Nigeria is weak intellectually and politically unfounded.
“Informed by the need to respond to our national challenges bordering operating a centralised minimum wage fixing framework that the APC Committee on True Federalism argued that ‘each state should be free to decide on its level of remuneration based on its resources and productivity. In fact, the committee is of the view that all labour relational issues should be federalised, and each state is free to determine its own labour laws.’ With all our challenges, which is reflected in the failure to enforce minimum wage legislation in many sections of the country, ideally, the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Movement should be effectively preparing itself to develop new strategies of ensuring the emergence of a new framework to strengthen mechanism for justice in the workplace, covering issues of wages, benefits and other entitlements. They should be able to ensure that negotiations for states labour laws are properly guided by relevant international standards, including International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions.
“A major difficulty is that the Nigerian Labour Movement represented by NLC and TUC are operating a centralised model of organisation whereby every issue regarding labour relations is concentrated at national level. This has inadvertently weakened the capacity of state councils of both NLC and TUC to successfully negotiate issues affecting workers at state levels. This is also why there is so much difficulty in getting state leaders of NLC to achieve implementation of minimum wage even when it has become law.
“It is important we recognise that our current challenges as a nation require a complete overhaul of existing frameworks. Whether in relation to minimum wage or all the other issues affecting all sectors of our national economy, we are faced with a reality that question all the existing frameworks. Any suggestion to hang on to all the frameworks that have become source of our national pain and crisis in the country can only create more problems. In many respects, it can be argued that the question of negotiating new proposals aimed at addressing these challenges is a democratic obligation. If at all our democracy can prove its relevance and capacity to move our country forward, it is dependent on how much openness and tolerant Nigerians, including all our interest groups, can be.”