Nigeria: Impending Strike Over Minimum Wage

(file photo)
16 October 2019

The federal government and the labour unions should find a common ground

The battle line seems drawn, once again, between labour unions in the country and the federal government over the implementation of the minimum wage for workers. But as we went to press last night, a meeting between the government and the labour unions was on to resolve the grey areas, particularly on the "consequential" adjustments on the N30,000 minimum wage. We hope they are able to arrive at a compromise and save the nation the agony of another strike - which will further threaten the country's fragile economy.

The labour unions are asking for a "consequential" 29 per cent salary increase for officers on salary level 07 to 14 and 24 per cent increase for those on grade level 15 to 17, a proposal that the government said is unrealistic. It had chosen to pay 11per cent salary increase for the first category and 6.5 per cent for the second. "Collective adjustments is like collective bargaining but has its own limitation," said the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige. "Let's look at the issue and we will resolve."

It is regrettable that the government, at all levels, has been tardy in handling the minimum wage issue. Ab initio, the road to arriving at an acceptable wage for workers has been everything but sincere. In the course of resumed negotiations, which was compelled by the threat by labour to embark on a nationwide strike, the tripartite committee, comprising the government (federal and states), the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association (NECA) and labour had agreed on the N30,000 minimum wage.

It is disturbing that after over two years of intense negotiations on the new minimum wage between the government and organised labour, the battle over workers' emoluments has continued to linger. The move which resulted in N30,000 minimum wage agreement and the eventual emergence of Minimum Wage Act 2019 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in April this year was a long tortuous battle. But six months after the bill was signed with the promise of immediate implementation, the stand-off continues.

While insisting on not going back on the implementation of its demand, the organised labour argued that since the depreciation of naira from N150/$1 in 2011 to N360/$1 in 2019 as well as the hike in fuel price from N87 to N145, workers have been at the receiving end, particularly with huge inflation and various charges and taxes by the government. The labour body also argued that conditions of workers would be worsened by the recent decision of the federal government to increase the value added tax (VAT) from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent.

The federal government has the responsibility to avert this strike because it will not only grind the economy while the action lasts but will also compound our economic situation. Whatever maybe the constraints on both sides, both parties must shift grounds at this juncture in the overall interest of the country. It is imperative that both labour and the federal government find a common ground to avert a situation where economic activities will be crippled by any industrial action.

Indications that another nationwide strike action will be counter-productive for an ailing economy like ours are evident in the contents of the recently presented 2020 budget proposal. The proposal showed that N2.43 trillion of the N10.33trillion budget will be used to service debts, N4.7trillion of the proposal will go for recurrent expenditure while about N3trillion is projected to come from the proposed increase of the VAT whose legal framework has not been amended. Nothing like the above indices can further explain our precarious economic situation.

Against this background, any strike that will further result in the loss of billions of naira will not be healthy for the economy. We appeal to the Minister of Labour and Employment, and other relevant government functionaries involved in the negotiations to explore the power of dialogue to stop labour from embarking on this industrial action. We also implore both sides to allow common sense to prevail and resolve the face-off in the overall interest of our already troubled country.

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