Sequel to the lingering difficulties in negotiations between the federal government and the Nigerian Labour Congress over a new minimum wage, the union has threatened to shut down the economy from this week, and even boycott the 2019 general election if its demands are not satisfactorily met. The workers’ decision came after a resolution by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to pay N22, 500 as the new minimum wage as against organised labour’s N30, 000 figure after months of negotiations.
The workers’ angst stems from the argument of the NGF that its figure of N22, 500 was reached based on sustainable strategy anchored on the ability and capacity to pay. The governors insist that the figure is reflective of the development needs of each state.
However, the NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, has strenuously disputed the governors’ figure, stressing that the new wage is not an award but a figure that was jointly arrived at through negotiation. He cautioned the federal government to take necessary steps to ensure the enactment of a new national minimum wage act in the overall interest of industrial peace and harmony. Wabba explained that the new national minimum wage was both legally and materially due since 2016, since the Minimum Wage Act prescribes a five-year cycle of review.
We recall that in 2017, the organised labour proposed a new minimum wage of N56, 000 to the federal government. Responding to that demand, President Muhammadu Buhari set up a 30-member Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee to negotiate with labour and come up with a new wage suitable for the nation. While labour later reviewed its proposed wage up, to N65, 000, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, NECA, reviewed its own downward to N25, 000 from the N42, 000 it earlier proposed.
The negotiations heightened in September this year when the labour minister, Dr Chris Ngige, failed to announce a figure agreed by the federal government. NLC had accused the federal government of stalling the process of the new minimum wage, but Ngige insisted that the federal government could not give a figure without negotiating with the state governors. He stressed that the varying wages presented by labour and the NECA were a factor affecting the committee’s recommendation to government.
At the peak of the back and forth engagement between government and labour, the minister, maybe in exasperation, accused labour of subtle blackmail which he claimed was not allowed by different ILO Conventions and the relevant Nigeria Labour laws. Although the planned boycott of the 2019 election has not been officially communicated by the national leadership of the NLC, we remark that the concurrence with the threat in a number of states should be a source of concern to all as it could constitute a blight on democracy.
In the opinion of this newspaper, in as much as the Nigerian workers have the right to demand an increase in salaries, labour leaders must be made to understand the place of elections in a democracy. The NLC should know that asking members to shun any election is tantamount to disenfranchising its members and depriving them of the right to pick and determine those to lead them. It is in the interest of the workers that they be encouraged to exercise their fundamental rights to determine who leads them politically and who will also be in a position to look into the minimum wage issue realistically.
The implication in the unfortunate likelihood that labour makes good its threat to boycott the 2019 election is that labour in general will lose the moral right to demand credibility or accountability from those who emerge winners from the elections.
We hope that labour will allow good reason to prevail and ensure that the threatened boycott does not become a reality as it is capable of returning the country to the dark days of dictatorship when leaders were selected by few and the masses were left at the mercy of the leaders and their kingmakers.
In the subsisting circumstances, we urge labour to devise new ways of making its grievances known to government. The union must begin to strengthen and put to good use political tools at its disposal by fielding marketable politicians in general elections. That way it will be in a position to influence matters concerning its members from the inside. No matter the credibility or the righteousness of its position, we are convinced that a boycott of the polls must not be an option for the obvious reason that it will hurt the working class more. Labour must resist the temptation to play into the hands of the politicians who do not wish them well in the first place