President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Quadri Olaleye, in this interview, says workers will down tools over the impasse with the FG on the consequential adjustment of the N30,000 new national minimum wage. This is even as he said organised labour was working to forward a proposal on a living wage.
We've been on the issue of national minimum wage, and you're threatening to go on strike, where are we now?
At the moment, there is no official meeting or discussion about the issue; We're having consultations with government - the National Assembly - but there are not official meetings.
Recently, the representative of the joint council and the two labour centres met with the Minister of Labour to have a corridor discussion to look at the situation surrounding the minimum wage versus the mandate of TUC, the joint body, which is 29% for level 7 to 14 and 24% for level 15 to 17. At the end of the sitting, the minister agreed to call a meeting for Tuesday. While that was going on, I was also with the Senate Committee chairman on Labour also trying to look for a soft landing; on how to resolve the issue before the deadline, but I can tell you that so far, there has not been any resolution, there has not been any positive discussion. So labour still maintains the mandate and the ultimatum given.
The talk is on N30,000 minimum wage, but what do you think can really be a living wage in Nigeria?
We all know that the minimum wage as at today, N30,000, can't be a living wage for a worker in Nigeria. When you're talking of living wage, you're talking of salary that is enough to cater for the worker and the family; it must include all the allowances, like the basics, housing, transport and some other things to cater for the family.
Now, when you divide N30,000 by 30 days, it means that the available fund for the family of a worker is N1,000 per day, and out of that money, you expect the worker to transport himself to work. Even where staff buses are provided, at least from the bus stop to his house, he or she needs transport.
On daily basis, we all know either in Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt, as a bench mark, there is no how you will not spend a minimum of N300 to transport yourself to and from work.
When you want to calculate real living wage in Nigeria, you should be taking about nothing less than N72,000 for the worker to make do, for the spouse and family needs.
We all know by Nigerian law, or understanding, a worker is entitled to a spouse and maximum of four children, so how do you want to divide N30,000. Definitely the N30,000 is not a living wage and there's need for a general salary increase in the country, there's need for government to look at what will be enough to take care of a family.
A living wage should take you above the calculated poverty level. And it's the federal government that did the calculation, and the purpose of calculating the poverty level is for them to be able to fix a living wage.
So, presently we don't have a living wage in Nigeria and there is need for us to send a proposal to government to discuss a living wage.
On the plan for labour to shelve strike and go to court, what is the position?
It's an advice which is not mandatory on us and I wonder if we have to take such issue to court when we're not businessmen. We're a labour movement and we have to do it our own way. So, we take it to court, what are we going to tell our members? To suffer until the judgement comes out, we have to do it the Labour way. It has given ultimatum and we have to follow it up.
Since you have decided on the strike option, what is the level of mobilisation now?
We've fully mobilizer our people in all sectors, and I can tell you that if the issue is not resolved before that day, then you'll see us in action. We have our target.
We're going to shut down the federal ministries, and I wonder even if the National Assembly would be able to discuss the 2020 budget because the action will have to start from there.
Our membership cuts across all sectors of the economy, and I'm very sure our families will also join, especially in Nigeria, where a worker caters for up to 12 people. If the bread winner is going on strike what will happen to the rest, they will have to join in solidarity and doing that; you'll see that we've already shut down the economy.
But this is going to be different because it is a general decision; it is a grassroots decision. As a leader we've listened to our people, they are pained, they're not satisfied with the situation, and from the grassroots the decision was pushed to the organs of the union.
And the three organs - which are the CWC, NAC and NEC - took that decision which shows we have taken a decision that will satisfy the grassroots. I don't know how anybody will change that without going back to that grassroots to review it, so this is going to be a different one.
But, if government at the meeting shifts a little and adds some percentage like - an additional three or five per cent to what they offered before. What will be your position?
We have gone beyond that. Yes, as requested by the government, we are ready for consultations and discussions before 16th of October but immediately it is 16th of October, our discussion should be on the media. And I think the media should cover whatever we want to discuss so that the populace, because we all joined hands to elect this government, should be part of it. It should not be a judgement between the government and workers to know who is at fault, and who is right. It is going to be an open discussion.
At this point, what are you telling your members?
We have told them what we needed to tell them. We are well mobilized, but we will continue to review our strategies which I don't want to expose now. A Yoruba proverb says the name you will give to your child; you don't reveal it until the eight day. We have mobilized in all sectors and we are sound, we are ready for it. However, we will continue to review our strategies until we standardise and perfect the strategy and method we are using in organizing our people.
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