The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) insists workers across the country will embark on strike if state governors make good their threat to stop the payment of N18,000 minimum wage.
NLC President Ayuba Wabba vows that the organized labour will resist any attempt by state governors to stop the payment of the minimum wage.
“Governors should prepare for the mother of all battles. They should not underestimate the resolve of the NLC to protect the interest of workers. We will shut government in any state where the governors stop payment of N18,000 minimum wage. What is N18,000 that these governors say they can’t pay. Some of them spend more than N100,000 to feed their dogs, lions and other pets they keep monthly. If they can feed animals with N100,000, why can’t they pay their fellow human beings, an average worker, N18,000 monthly. It is an insult, we are not going to take it,” Wabba declared in Lagos.
Wabba also spoke on the lingering fuel crisis, the clamour for petrol subsidy removal, and the proposal for a new national minimum wage, among others.
What is the latest on the face-off between the state governors, and the NLC over the threat to stop the payment of the N18,000 minimum wage?
We are still in a state of shock that our governors could make such pronouncement. What is N18,000 in view of the current economic challenges in the country? Speaking realistically, what is N18,000 in a month? We were thinking that these governors will make an upward review of the minimum wage, but what we got in return was a shock. N18,000 is not a living wage, and our leaders know this and yet they are saying they can’t pay it.
Are Nigerian workers fools? It is not as if the governors don’t have the wherewithal to pay this money, their problem is that of misplaced priorities.
There are a lot of leakages in the system which, when blocked, will ensure that governors have more than sufficient funds to pay workers – look at the duplication of political offices and appointees by many state governors. What about jumbo salaries these political appointees collect every month? They run into hundreds of millions of naira.
Why should the NLC now fold its arms and allow workers to be made sacrificial lambs by the governors? Never. Some of these governors, apart from living opulent lifestyles, have also embarked on projects that have no relevance to the lives of the people. The cost of governance should, at all levels, be drastically cut down. The hundreds of billions of naira our public office holders fritter away in the name of governance is what is not sustainable.
Has there been any moves for an amicable settlement of the crisis?
We are open to dialogue. However the sustenance of N18,000 minimum wage is non- negotiable. We are even planning o demand for an upward review of the minimum wage in view of the present economic hardship. Many states are in the poor financial state they are in today largely on the developmental choices they have, largely on the basis of priorities they have chosen which has nothing to do with public good.
We insist that workers salaries can’t be sacrificed on the altar of the challenges of the economy which is not the making of workers. It has never happened in the history of our country and it will not be said that it is during our leadership of the NLC that this calamity was allowed to happen to workers.
The governors should reorder their priorities and, instead of going cap in hand to Abuja at the end of every month to collect allocation, they should look inwards to increase their internally generated revenue, IGR.
In the ’60s when Nigeria didn’t have oil as the main source of our revenue, our founding fathers raised funds through efficient tax system, and other forms of internally generated revenue to provide development and also pay living wages to workers. Our current leaders who put themselves up for election to different government positions must not only endeavour to deliver on their electoral promises, they must also pay workers living wages. This is non-negotiable.
But the state governors were reported to have claimed that apart from financial challenges they were having, the minimum wage was imposed on them.
It is not correct that the minimum wage was imposed on the governors. For the records, the 2011 National Minimum Wage came into existence after almost two years of negotiation by the three tiers of government represented by the federal and state governments. The Nigeria Employers Consultative Association represented employers in the private sector, and there was the organized labour.
As the organized labour, we submitted a request for N52,000 minimum wage, but out of patriotic disposition and consideration, we reluctantly agreed to the N18,000 minimum wage even as it was grossly inadequate as a living wage. Many of the state governments who submitted memoranda then to that tripartite committee even recommended figures that were far above the N18,000 that was eventually agreed upon. The governors can’t therefore claim that the National Minimum Wage was imposed on them.
Some people sympathetic to the state governors over this issue say things are not rosy with the governors, and that it was one of the reasons they got bail-outs from the Federal Government. Does that not tell you the governor’s position is valid?
Like I said earlier, we strongly believe that there is no state in Nigeria today that can’t pay N18,000 minimum wage. The problem with the governors is about getting their priorities right.
Even look at the bail-outs, the NLC had to raise the alarm when we discovered that some governors were making attempt to divert the money to other uses instead of using it to pay workers and pensioners. Some of the governors were diverting the bail-outs into fixed deposit accounts for personal gains.
It is sad that some of the governors elected to play politics with the welfare of their workers with some of them even quoted to have said that they reserved the right to do whatever they liked with the intervention fund since it wasn’t a loan. This is unacceptable to the NLC.