The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, hit the nail on the head when he asserted that Nigerian workers deserve to be paid a living wage, not just the minimum wage they had been agitating for in the last couple of years.
Speaking at a public hearing on the new National Minimum Wage bill organised by the House Ad hoc Committee on Minimum Wage, Dogara insisted that the economic realities in the country had made a living wage imperative for Nigerian workers. He also noted that federal government’s fight against corruption in public service cannot succeed when workers are paid wages that consign them to a life of penury.
Dogara said, “How then do we fight corruption from the roots rather than dealing with its symptoms as is currently the case? The answer is for us to begin to pay workers living wage, not minimum wage. When we do not pay a living wage, we cannot tame corruption; when workers’ take-home is not enough to take them home, the temptation for them to cut corners in order to get home will always be there.”
We agree with his argument that workers keep and process the national wealth and the only way to insulate them from the temptation to take advantage of their positions to help themselves to it is to ensure that they are well remunerated.
In the opinion of the Speaker, if a country so blessed with abundant human and material resources, which should translate to economic prosperity, cannot pay a living wage to its workforce, then it speaks more to the poor quality of leadership that had been inflicted on the country over the years.
The Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives described a living wage as the hourly pay rate a family needs to earn to cover basic expenses, including food, clothing, rental accommodation, child care, transportation, and savings for health care and other emergencies.
Going by the above description, even the N30, 000 that the three labour centres, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) have been pressing the federal and state governments to pay is far from adequate.
In one of their presentations, the NLC noted that the N30, 000 basic wage demanded by workers translates to N1000 for a family of four children and their parents, and approximately N50 per meal. There is no N50 meal anywhere in Nigeria. And that is just food. An average income earner not only supports his immediate family but his extended family members as well, in addition to other societal demands.
That also means that the average public service worker will be living below the poverty line (of $2/day, about N700) even if he/she is paid the new minimum wage, which many state governors are even baulking at paying.
There is no denying the fact that systemic poverty has largely undermined, and will continue to undermine, the country’s democratic institutions and values. It has manifested in vote buying, thuggery, election violence and in the use of money to compromise electoral and security officials during elections, among others. Therefore, a living wage has a multiplier effect on the economy and is necessary to lift more people out of poverty.
Paying a living wage is a vital impetus to higher productivity in workers both in the private and public sectors. Valuable time and income is lost when morale is low due to poor wages; when there is frequent hiring and training of new employees after the experienced ones walk away in search of greener pastures, and when the companies cannot complete tasks due to loss of employees.
In the public service, the failure of the government to deliver good governance has largely been due to a civil service populated by poorly paid and demoralised workers who spend more time and energy trying to cream off public funds than in trying to deliver efficient services. Hence many of them easily and willingly collude to inflate the cost of projects in order to make ends meet.
It is arguable, in our view, that at the moment, due to long time mismanagement of the country’s resources, the country might not have enough to satisfy all the needs of the Nigerian worker. However, we insist that it is imperative to set the economic priorities right to ensure minimum comfort for workers in order to boost their individual and collective productivity.